Is Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee one of the best restaurants in Paris? Certainly, the man currently regarded as the god of French cooking has the prettiest room in the most glamorous hotel in town and three Michelin stars.
But Ducasse’s flagship restaurant is a sharp deviation from the temples to classic French gastronomy he has fielded in the past. It may well be a little avant-garde for the taste of those who come expecting oceans of white napery and politically incorrect meaty treats like foie gras and milk-fed veal.
Indeed, there is technically no meat at all on the menu(technically because, despite all the hype about Ducasse going meat-free since reopening, the small print at the bottom of the menu invites clients to: “Please ask about our meat offerings”). So what is a super-bold move for a French chef to try to persuade diners to be content with fish, vegetables and pulses is more a mission statement than an absolute dictat to ban flesh from the premises.
Luxury is preserved in a menu offering caviar and lobster amongst other prized fishy treats – though lentils with the caviar and smoked cabbage with the homard de Bretagne will not be to everyone’s taste. And actually, more than meat on the menu I missed the white tablecloths which kick off every morning at the Plaza Athenee with a shimmer, reflecting the light from the magnificent chandeliers. In the name of praising nature, Ducasse has dictated the tablecloths come off after the last guest has finished the best breakfast in town in favour of bare wood as the texture on which he prefers his lunch and dinner dishes to be served.
On the night I dined, dinner was that rare thing, a three-Michelin-starred meal which did not have that sense of theatre and special experience you expect of meals which cost hundreds of euros per person. The waiters were stiff and more than a little sniffy, insisting the chic men in our party, who had come to dine in designer shirts and sweaters, keep on the ill-fitting restaurant jackets kept by for modern men who do not know that some establishments still insist on an old-fashioned dress code. Ironic, since so many paying guests with deep pockets but little sartorial flair, were dining in jeans and non-designer sneakers – topped with jackets, it’s true, but still not dressed in line with five-star dining.
While always an honour to be invited to dine chez Ducasse, I could not help wishing I was across the river on the Left Bank, enjoying pate en croute laced with foie gras, duck with olives, sweetbreads cooked in an ocean of butter and ile flottante at Allard, one of several traditional bistros within the master’s culinary empire. Ducasse knows how to do traditional French food as well as anyone – he just doesn’t believe it’s sustainable anymore, and he is determined to drag his followers kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Tell me more about Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee
Getting there: Eurostar serves Paris from London, Ebbsfleet and Ashford from £29 one way.
Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee
25 avenue Montaigne
75008 Paris, France
Telephone +33 1 53 67 66 07