Plaza Athénée: Grand dining, slight doubts

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Reviewed on 09/10/2013 | No Reviews

Photo: © Ducasse in his new restaurant at Le Meurice, AFP, François Guillot, MAP

When I had lunch with Alain Ducasse in 2010, he had just re-invented his concepts of haute cuisine at the Plaza Athénée „in a spectacular way“ as I wrote back then. Ducasse was playing a radical new tune that he called „Gothic“, he had thrown out old conventions, trying to hit the nail with every dish.

A menu like a futurist manifesto

The Plaza restaurant has closed in August due to huge renovation and enlargement works at the hotel. But meanwhile, Ducasse will survey the kitchen of Le Meurice in the future, abandoned lately by his colleague Yannick Alleno who left the hotel for new adventures in the Alps at the famous Cheval Blanc in Courchevel. In other words:  Dining at the Plaza this summer was the last chance to get an idea about what you’ll have to expect at the New Le Meurice.

Austerity and grand quality

Will Ducasse reproduce his Plaza concept at the Meurice? If so, the menu will no longer read like an old-fashioned French poem but like a futurist manifesto: „Crevettes“, „Légumes et fruits“, „Lobster, sea potatoes“, that’s the way the great chef works now. We had dinner at the Plaza recently to double-check. Yes, there it was: the austerity. And yet: the same, grand quality.

Heavenly pleasures served in a cocktail glass

To dig your spoon into the marvel of Ducasse’s „tartare de langoustines“, served in a cocktail glass and on a crystal-clear jelly, still means heavenly pleasure that leaves you speechless. The lobster with the sea-potatoes is one of the thousand dishes you should taste in life. Yes, at the Plaza, they were able to create those sensations, those three-star-explosions, those moments of happiness. But when we ate there, they were mixed with some dangerous disappointments.

Can a Bress chicken be “bland”?

The main course, built around a generous slice of Bresse chicken, was called „bland“ by my companion, and rightfully so. The cheese selection was, well, not good enough. The very first amuse-gueule, served in bistro-style baskets, felt like a weak joke. Such things – where dinner costs as much as a week-end vacation to New York plus the airfare – aren’t easy to accept. Ducasse shouldn’t go down this alley at the Meurice, “the nicest dining room in Paris” as he calls it.

I’m aware that we expect maybe too much from all haute cuisine nowadays, a string of Usain-Bolt-like, inhumanely perfect performances. But I can’t help it: Ducasse in Paris makes part of the global culinary formula one, meaning that it simply has to be flawless, sensational, bite by bite, or otherwise you feel betrayed.

Tremendous desserts wiping out earlier impressions

Well, let me add this: Across the board, we didn’t feel betrayed at the Plaza. The tremendous desserts wiped out some weaker impressions before. And yet: It was the first time that I had a slight doubt during a meal at one of the grand restaurants by the great Alain Ducasse.

Maybe the rôtisseur who was in charge for the chicken just had a bad day. I sincerely hope so. And I do hope that Ducasse will open a new chapter at Le Meurice, bringing back the splendour to this great restaurant just across the street of the Tuileries gardens. It’s not an easy stage. Expectations will be sky-high. All food must be as good that miraculous „tartare de langoustine“ served at the Plaza Athénée. Or those sea-potatoes. Or those vegetables cooked to rare perfection. We’ll keep you posted about that adventure.

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