You may never have heard of the ingredients but there’s no denying the talent and skills required to create the amazing food at Le Clarence, one of Paris’s finest dining establishments
Paris did not look its prettiest as we scrambled from the Gare du Nord into our taxi, eager to avoid a drenching as the heavens opened. The rain-soaked streets passing by our windows did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm however, as we were on our way to one of France’s finest dining establishments, Le Clarence.
Discreetly housed behind the elegant facade of Hôtel Dillon, just off the Champs Elysées, the two Michelin star restaurant is the Parisian extension to the esteemed Bordeaux wine domaine, Château Dillon.
Wine buffs will be in heaven in La Cave du Château, the wine boutique on the ground floor. Showcasing some 2,200 of the finest French wines from 250 estates, it offers rare vintages (at a price to match) as well as relatively affordable bottles.
An impressive collection of Jeroboams, Imperials, Marhusalems and Salmanazars sit alongside regular sized bottles! The vaulted cave is the perfect place for a tasting, and whether you’re a wine aficionado or just starting out on a Bacchanalian voyage of discovery, you can guarantee expert advice from the charming staff.
Climb the sweeping staircase and you enter the realm of Le Clarence, an intimate space that feels miles from the busy city streets. You’re immediately enveloped in a sense of discreet decadence, from the ornate decor to the impeccable service, it’s like stepping back in time.
The food is anything but traditional, however. From the talented mind of executive chef Christophe Pelé, the array of tasting dishes that made their way to our table were nothing short of culinary genius. Combining ingredients you would never imagine could work together, he and his team create a feast for the eyes and tastebuds. We were told Pelé only has to look at a table to decide what type of dishes his guests would appreciate!
As our waiter presented each dish, I presumed my French wasn’t up to some of the ingredients, but on later seeing an English translation I realised it was simply that I hadn’t heard of them before! After amuse-bouches, our first dainty dish comprised red mullet on a mochi (Japanese rice cracker), with rocket, gwell and nasturtium flower.
A trio of scallops followed: one served with figatelle (sausage), pilpil sauce (made with salt cod and garlic) and potato spaghetti; another gratinée with parsley butter and lobster coral (roe); and one raw with buffalo milk, nori seaweed and barba di frate.
Continuing with fish, delicate sole arrived paired with calves’ instestines (fraise de veau), xo sauce and candied lemon. Alongside it two more plates contained a fromage frais ravioli with wilted spinach and asparagus, and a gambas prawn in a vin jaune sabayon with seaweed powder.
Tender lamb came next, with a dripping jus, cuttlefish ink and avruga caviar, accompanied by a potato puree absolutely smothered in truffles, plus an artichoke tart and périgourdine sauce for added wow factor.
Following a suitably pungent cheese course, our desserts arrived – yes, plural! A lemon cream with shiso jelly; a rice pudding with honey yoghurt ice cream; an apple and ginger sorbet; a chou pastry filled with almond and vanilla cream; waffles with maple syrup; and chocolate parfait ice cream with a pecan crumble.
Naturally, fine wines had been carefully chosen to complement the dishes: Pessac-Léognan, La Clarté de Haut-Brion 2014; Pessac-Léognan, Château Haut-Brion 1995; Pessac-Léognan, Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2000; Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Château Quintus 2015; and Monbazillac, Clarendelle ‘Amberwine’ 2015.
Diners are seated in one of the various rooms, all featuring different decor and ambiance, and with a feeling of a private members’ club rather than a restaurant. From our table, we could see through the window across the courtyard to the kitchen where the talented chefs were preparing all these amazing dishes.
After dinner – if you can move – you can retire to the lounge or bar upstairs, sink into one of the sumptuous sofas and enjoy a digestif – or, if like us you have a Eurostar to catch, a coffee to try and revive yourself!
There is nothing understated about Le Clarence, from the decor to the fine dining. From start to finish it’s an experience like no other, something to savour and look back on with a faint sense that perhaps you just dreamt it all.