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lizziee

Pre Catelan

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Lunch - Pre Catelan in the Bois de Boulogne.

The room is unbelievable. 50 foot ceiling with bas reliefs in stone--nymph type figures around the base of the ceiling. A huge mirror on one wall is highlighted by Grecian columns. Huge door windows flanked with salmon-colored brocade tie-back curtains look out over the gardens and woods. It has been described as a wedding cake building and it is.

With the rose of champagne we were served a demi-tasse cup of gazpacho with chopped tomatoes and cucumber jelly. It was topped by a white quenelle that was chewy like gnocchi. I don't know exactly what it was, but it was tasteless.

1st course--

My husband--thinly sliced artichoke with capers, parsley and parmesan shavings in a butter based sauce served warm. Nice but not real exciting.

Me--langoustines tempura presented on a starched white napkin accompanied by a pool of green basil cream sauce in a shallow glass bowl. On the rim of the bowl was a caviar cream sauce dusted with paprika. Both sauces were to be used as a "dipping sauce" for the langoustines. The basil sauce was too much but as I could adjust how much I used, I used it sparingly. The caviar cream was perfect and the langoustines were non-greasy, light, crunchy and just wonderful.

2nd course--we split roasted sole served simply with thick scallion ends and figs.

The most interesting touch was a lemon that had been scooped out to serve as a serving "bowl" for the lemon sauce which had the texture and mouth feel of applesauce. A small spoon was provided to coat the sole with the lemon sauce. A very interesting touch--more effective and more interesting presentation than saucing the plate or a slice of lemon.

We had planned on a light lunch as we were having a major dinner later. We passed on cheese and had coffee. Again for Robert Brown, there was a dessert cart with the most amazing array of chocolates, small pastries and the best macaroons.

Wine:

99 Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos, Dauvissat--one of our favorites, drinking well.

As an aside, to let you know we do more than just eat, we took a 2 1/2 hour walk after lunch from the Louvre to Les Halles and back to the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, I had to stop at Dehillerin, the famous cooking store near Les Halles to pick up a couple of necessities. Some people get turned on by haute couture on Rue St Honore, I get thrills looking at knives, tart molds, pastry rings etc.

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I had dinner there about a year ago. IMO it was just allright. Its a beautiful place. I imagine its really lovely during the daytime in the Bois de Bologne.

I thought that the food was rather staid and decidly not innovative. I hear that they are destined to receive their third Michelin star in the upcoming guide. This surprises me, since I thought my experience was at best a one star performance. I had heard so much about their famous millefeuille for desert. So I ordered it. What a huge(literally) disappointment. Its enough for six people. If you want loads of booze in a desert, then order it. Any other taste it might have is overtaken by that of alcohol.

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I have resisted commenting on PC since the last time I ate there must be seven years ago, and who knows how many commis and souschefs have gone through since, but my recent reading of Bon Appétit, Messieurs, by Léo Fourneau, resto critic for Elle for 15 years reminded me that not all of us have had consistently great, through the entire meal, Wow experiences there. And yes, I should be posting my Book Notes on this terrific book soon.

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I have a tendency of writng mostly about worthy restaurants but eating in a disapointing place makes one realize how important and pleasurable a good one is.

Les bookinistes a guy Savoy venture is just that, a business that provides food and that at a price.With JOhn Talbot i had lunch recently, we both opted for a la carte ,as the fixed menu was boring and had 2-3 choices only.All i have to say is that both appetizers and main dishes were at best average and not worth 40-45 euros.

Le casier du vin was worse .THey make a big deal about wines from all over the world matched with its food equivalent .Their wines were on display on 2 walls and was limited.There were a few spanish and chilean ones .I guess that makes it international.Their cold cuts looked good ,so i just should have had that ,instead i fell in the spell of Mme with her description of salmon cooked with coriander,curry ,etc.I forced myself to eat half of it as sustenance as it was dry and unappetizing and i was starving.I have to be fair to say that their foie gras was decent.However has any one heard of bad foie gras.?

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As a friend of mine says about ice cream "Even bad ice cream(fois gras) is good!

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Hi,

This is a report from my lunch at the restaurant in early January.

Click here for the full write-up with photography: HERE

As of 1976, Le Pré Catelan has been part of Lenôtre, the eponymous and celebrated catering company founded by one of France’s foremost pâtissiers, Gaston Lenôtre. This former dairy farm, however, was first opened by a respected Parisian restaurateur as du Pré Catelan in 1906. To attract customers, he charged what he advertised as bourgeois prices. To his own cost though, locals did not agree with his interpretation of bourgeois whilst the moneyed Americans that pervaded Paris turned their noses up unanimously at any thing that even smelt of cheap. Therefore, he was forced to quickly sell out to the eminent Monsieur Mouriez, who already included the Café de Paris, restaurant d'Armenonville and the Abbay Thélème in his stable of iconic dining/drinking institutions. He made immediate changes, namely raising prices, which actually worked wonderfully well at attracting hordes of American tourists, but he also kept some of the restaurant’s old customs like bringing cows into the dining room to be milked by the more adventurous clientele.

In its current incarnation, Le Pré Catelan spent most of the nineties under the charge of Roland Durand, during which time Thomas Keller and Andy Needham both passed through the kitchen. In 1997, incumbent chef, Frédéric Anton took up the reins. He had prestigious pedigree. Originally from the Lorraine spa town of Contrexèville and graduating from l’École hôtelière de Gérardmer in 1978, he had his first employment at the nearby Grand Hôtel. He then went to Le Capucin Gourmand (1*) in Nancy to work under Gérard Veissière, whilst simultaneously pursuing a diploma in pastry and chocolate making. Next came Le Flambard (2*) in Lille with Robert Bardot before the big move to Gérard Boyer’s Château des Crayères (3*) in 1986. Five years on, Joël Robuchon took him on as chef de partie at his fabled restaurant Jamin (3*), where he rose to chef de cuisine by 1993, the same year that the pair moved to avenue Raymond Poincarré together. In 1996, Robuchon relinquished his stars to Michelin and his restaurant to Alain Ducasse; Anton stayed on for the next six months, supervising the transition, prior to eventually joining Le Pré Catelan.

Robuchon’s protégé, who as a youngster had no desire to cook and ‘thought it was for women’, was given full control and total freedom of this kitchen. Within two years he repaid this faith shown in him with two Michelin stars. The following year he was named Meilleur Ouvrier de France. More recently, in 2005 he was endowed with an espoir ahead of the real thing two years later. Anton has a reputation for being meticulous and precise. He is said to run a tight ship and have a keen eye for detail.

Le Pré Catelan itself is found deep within the Bois de Boulogne, a forest on the western fringes of the 16e and of Paris proper. These woodlands, which can trace their origins to the fifth century, were once filled with oak trees and a royal hunting ground. Actually, it is from Louis XIV’s Captain of the Hunt, Théophile Catelan, that the particular pré or meadow that the restaurant rests within takes its title. Le Pré Catelan, whose gardens date from the mid-eighteenth century when Baron Haussmann was hired to redesign the whole bois before it was gifted to the city, is housed in a Napoleon III style lodge and its property shares an entrance with the Jardin Shakespeare, which holds specimens of all the plants mentioned in the poet’s plays.

Arriving at Port Dauphine almost late already, I stood near the large roundabout in an attempt to attract the attentions of any passing taxis. For some time, none came. Then a few finally did appear, though these were all filled. At last, one stopped. ‘Où?’ He demanded. ‘Le Pré Catelan, s’il vous plait,’ I squeaked. ‘Jamais entendu cela,’ snapping that he had never heard of it, he drove off. It’s a restaurant, I called out, but it was too late. I started walking. I should have been at the restaurant fifteen minutes earlier, so I called to let them know I would be a little tardy, but I was still coming. On the phone, they asked me where I was, but after informing them that I was making my way there on foot, they would have none of it and ordered me back to the roundabout with instructions to wait there. I did as I was told. Within five minutes, a car had pulled up alongside, a tuxedoed and bow-tied gentleman behind the wheel, ready to whisk me away to my destination…

The main dining room sits in the larger of two small châteaux on the site. In 2007, Pierre-Yves Rochon redesigned the interior; his briefing was ‘to celebrate the natural surroundings’ of the historic building. Inside, a sprinkling of spotlights on the fifty-foot high ceiling, quadruple-decker chandelier suspended in its centre and triple-forked wall sconces that surround its sides make the space glisten. Tall mirrors, intermingled with marbled Grecian columns, rim the room. Classical capitals are intricately crafted and carved friezes follow Caran d’Ache stencilling. A fireplace is the focus of one wall, which is also bordered with lush, myrtle banquettes; opposite, a spacious bay is wrapped with tall windows. The floor, carpeted fern-green to evoke the garden outside, is filled with circular tables and dark wooden serving stations topped with black vases bearing white orchids, chrome urns and onyx pots. Grey silk curtains correspond to the grey undercloth beneath the white that has been laid over the well-sized and spaced tables. These are straightforwardly set with silver salt-and-pepper shakes; a single white rose stowed in a small, sterling boule; and monogrammed ebony and ivory Bernaudaud crockery. The room is elegant and ornate but clean, fresh and open. The mood was comfortable, merry and spirited.

I was welcomed and shown to my table by maître d’hôtel, Monsieur Jean-Jacques Chauveau. After speaking with him, I asked if he would order for me and he obliged with the Menu du Pré…

Amuse Bouche 1: Potage chaud d’oignons; crème de champignons de bois. Frothy wild mushroom cream was poured at the table into a bowl of warm, silky onion soup. Earthy, woody and sweet trompettes de mort, pieds de mouton and champignons de Paris came combined with caramelised onion. This had strong and comforting savour.

Les Pains: Baguette et pain des céréales. The bread basket brimmed with baguettes and cereal rolls made on the premises. The former were crunchy if a little dry, whilst the latter were nicely flavoured, light and seedy. Circular cakes of Pré Catelan-embossed butter, both salted and unsalted, were supplied by Pascal Beillvieve. This smooth, rich beurre was very good.

Entrée 1: La Sardine: A l’huile, Capeaux de Beurre et Pain aux Olives; Sardine et persil plat frits; Gelée de Bouillabaisse, Sauce Rouille. A triptych of pearly plates of differing size and shape were served.

First and largest of these was a big bowl bearing shallow gelée de bouillabaisse de sardines; its ritual rouille rested atop, embodied as creamy white dots of garlic and gold of saffron with interspersed silver spots of sardine. Reduced and jellified fish stock, vegetables, tomato and white wine had clean, lively savour and smooth consistency. Its topping had subtly spicy bitterness and conspicuous fishiness. The presentation of the plate was appealingly unusual, but the overriding flavour was an underlying slight harshness.

Secondly, a long rectangle featured three sardine/pilchard cross-sections, lightly breaded, filled with parsley then fried; the middle morsel bore some butter whilst a slice of lime lay on the side. The simply and well cooked fish, coated in crunchy breadcrumbs and egg, were completely greaseless. Their herb farce had crisp grassiness, whilst the lime was a competent and classic acidic counterpoint.

Last, little olive oil suffused sardines, garnished with coriander, Thai garlic, thyme, stitchwort flowers and another curl of butter, were teamed with toasted olive bread. These literally flash-fried filets had surprisingly delicate taste and were distinctly infused with quality, fruity oil. There was faint citrus and freshness from the trimmings as well as slight sweetness from the garlic (Thai being less aggressive than European). Brittle bread with great olive essence went well.

Entrée 2: La Saint-Jacques: Cuite au Plat, Jus de Pommes à Cidre; Galet « chaud »; Crème de Noix écrasées et torréfiées; Fines Lamelles juste tiédies, Zestes de Citron vert. A second course of scallops was composed of four component-plates.

Upon a big, black, white-hot basalt pebble, a single half-scallop, soused in soy sauce, was sprinkled with spring onion. The shellfish was decent with a soft and creamy texture; the onion offered crunch; whilst the soy, nice saltiness. Although the sizzling stone was to some extent sensational, it was certainly more for show than anything else. The Saint-Jacques – which had unwontedly (in France anyway) and unwantedly been bisected – was heated only from beneath, which meant that without one’s immediate attention, the scallop would either be left raw on one side, cooked on the other or cooked on one side, overdone on the other.

A whole scallop, firm without yet moist within, sitting in an apple, cidre brut and honey emulsion was crowned with chive and Grenoble nut kernel pulp that also contributed an interesting consistency. Reinette d’Orléans and Granny Smith apples added sweet acidity as did the dry cider, zing. The garlic and shallot in the sauce struck a chord with the chive crest, whilst the honey in it offset the slight bitterness of the nuts (the only in the world classified as A.O.C.).

Another Saint-Jacques, nicely caramelised, came floating atop a zephyr of hazelnut oil and sprinkled with more of the same nut, crushed and roasted. Made also with cream and agar-agar, this zephyr was light and cool in contrast to the hot shellfish and had strong, noticeable nuttiness.

The fourth formulation of this theme comprised a tepid trio of scallop-slither sandwiches containing caviar d’Aquitaine and covered with lime butter. Each ‘sandwich’ consisted of a couple of thin, supple slices of Saint-Jacques (each segment one sixth of a single scallop) that made a pocket packed with French caviar. This caviar was rather salty and lacked the creamy burst of Iranian and Russian variations, but the aromatic beurre de citron vert was invigorating yet light.

Plat Principal 1: La Langoustine: Préparée en Ravioli, Servie dans un Bouillon á l’Huile d’Olive vierge, Au parfum « poivre et Menthe »; La Coque, Beurre de Corail; Nem de Langoustine frit, jus de Romaine et Cacahuètes torréfiées. An Eastern-influenced, four-pronged play on langoustines was presented next.

Opaque olive oil foam, perfumed with pepper and mint, mewed a langoustine raviolo. The shellfish filling, sweet and confit-like in consistency, had been poached in stock before being stuffed into the delicate, soft pasta. Both pepper and mint were rather faint. This was somewhat reminiscent of a Cantonese wonton.

A tray had two tempura, one of langoustine and another of romaine lettuce, on one end, a cup of peanut sauce on the other; a demitasse, on a different dish, held dark green romaine lettuce jus. The shellfish, wrapped in warka pastry with a little mint and fried in peanut oil, was clean and crunchy; again the meat had nice savour. Romaine leaf, prepared in the same manner, had pleasing springiness but was a touch greasy. The cold lettuce jus had a very vegetal concentration with a hint of bittersweetness from nutmeg; neither was it unpleasant, nor particularly pleasing either. The peanut concoction, conversely, was intriguing and addictive. It had complex, heady flavour – spicy, nutty, smoky, sweet heat – that came from a mix of lime, Birdseye chilli, sugar cane and poussin jus (fish sauce – fermented fish paste popular in Southeast Asia) and may have been an adaptation of traditional Thai satay sauce, just without coconut milk.

A langoustine, still resting in its shell, was roasted in coral butter and brought out with broccoli froth brimming forth. This example had good firm texture, but tasted quite mild, whilst the broccoli was bland. The fact that it was the final plate of four also meant that, once eventually reached, it was no longer warm.

Plat Principal 2: Le Chevreuil: A la façon du « Senateur Couteaux », Pâtes au Beurre demi-sel. The meat main course meant a return to customary one-plate convention, although all creativity was not lost, as the crockery used was quite unusual. The recipe itself was classical too: venison confit, smothered in sauce poivrade partnered with penne pasta, layered with parmesan wedges and drizzled with truffle butter and more poivrade. The roe deer had been cooked long and slow until it had begun to melt and lose its solidity – this was the first time I had had this meat prepared in this fashion, but found it very agreeable. The superimposing peppered brown sauce was of vegetable and venison stock, reduced and thickened with the deer’s blood and red wine to which bouquet garni and juniper berries had also been added. These ingredients imparted intense flavour – the wine, from Rhône-Alpes (I assume from north of the river), was full-bodied, meaty and slightly spicy; the hearty juniper, always good with game, worked well here again; whilst the blood brought a new unexpected, but not unwelcome punch. The pasta, prepared in milk, was harder than expected however, but at least its garnish gave off some whiff of truffle.

L’honneur referred to here is Senator Aristide Couteaux, alleged creator of the legendary lievre à la royale. In November 1898, instead of his usual political column in Le Temps newspaper, he published notes of his week spent in Poitou hunting hare and of, once catching the ‘right one’, taking it Paris and having his famous chef-friend, M. Spüller in Rue Favart, prepare it. This recipe, also retold in Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food, was included: one requires (and I summarise) a hare, ‘cleanly killed…so not [to] have lost a drop of blood’; goose fat; bacon; good wine vinegar; red wine; twenty garlic cloves; forty shallot cloves; carrot; onion; bouquet garni; plus optional cognac for the hare’s blood. The meat is stewed for hours in wine and sauce thickened with blood; if properly prepared, it is ‘needless to say, that to use a knife to serve the hare would be a sacrilege. A spoon alone is amply sufficient.’ These instructions must have inspired Anton and, with mild mitigation, he applied them to roe deer. For the record, he serves it with a spoon.

Dessert 1: La Pomme: Soufflée croustillante; Créme glacée « Carambar »; Cidre et Sucre pétillant. Seated in the centre of the plate was a perfect shimmering sphere of harlequin green, its shadow traced by spots of silvery apple sauce of ascending size. Ostensibly impenetrable, access in was allowed with the aid of a spoon and a smart smack. The fruity-fragranced, sugary shell withheld a milky, effervescent mousse of sweet-sour cider scattered with small squares of Granny Smith. Underneath this was concealed crushed Carambar (a caramel bonbon each child in France would be familiar with), caramelised riz soufflé (rice crispies), crushed Bréton biscuit and pop rocks; all upon a Génoise sponge stand. It may read like a mishmash collage of confectionary, but it was fun, individual and, most importantly, yum.

Dessert 2: Le Café « Expresso »: En Saboyon, Ganache fouettée; Créme glacée « Brûlée »; Amandes ecrasées. A slim biscuit Joconde, the base beneath chocolate mousse layered with crushed, roasted almonds then topped by ‘burnt’ ice cream, was finished with overflowing coffee sabayon; this verrine was enwrapped in a sugar candy cylinder. The Joconde, an almond sponge named after the Mona Lisa (la Joconda), naturally matched the roasted nuts, while the chocolate mousse, thick and toothsome, was a classic combination with the strong coffee cream. In between, the cold ice cream had good taste with distinct caramel that was neither overpowering nor sticky.

Dessert 3: La Banane: Tartelette fondante au « Peanut Butter »; Crème glacée rhum raisin. Pâte sablée surrounded banana compote, suffused with rum and spread with salty peanuts, below a bavaroise of peanut butter and single slice of banana; this tartelette was teamed with rum and raisin ice cream. An excellent crust was well-flavoured and crunchy; the buried nuts were excellent; but the peanut butter was very plain; it had none of the dense savour or the gooey viscosity one expects. This was enough to make the dessert a disappointing one. In any case, the quenelle of ice cream contained both plump currants and golden raisins and had a good shot of oaky brown rum.

Petit Fours: Nougat chocolat; Guimauve; Pâte de fruit; Café chocolat; Caramel au beurre salé. A box boasted squares of chocolate nougat, marshmallow, apple fruit jelly, coffee chocolate and salty caramel. The nougat was full of hazelnut and pistachio, but hard; the very light guimauve had little taste; and the nutty caramel was decent. Apple gelée and café chocolat were the best of the bunch – one, strongly fruity and with a pleasing wobble; the other, sapid with good grainy texture.

The staff were quite terrific. Each serveur was friendly, full of smiles, attentive, informative and knowledgeable. Monsieur Jean-Jacques Chauveau was charming and warm whilst the gentleman who took more constant care over me, but whose name, I regret, I forget as I write this (maybe Jean Claude – answers on a postcard please…), was amusing, engaging and talkative – his having worked previously at Le Gavroche in London meant we had plenty to discuss. The general mood is a relaxed one; service may be in bow-ties and tails, but it is certainly not stiff. There was animation, bonhomie and enthusiasm; it was actually perfectly suited to this belle époque retreat, deep in the fanciful Bois de Boulogne. I mention once more the utterly lovely and unforgettable gesture of picking me up from Port Dauphine. Needless to say, when I finally arrived at the restaurant, I was in a decidedly merry frame of mind, eager to see what would follow.

The single amuse was nice, but nothing thrilling; that said, apparently, one should always start a large meal with a warm soup (it being better for one’s digestion). From the sardine course, naked filets dressed in only a little olive oil and three slices of well-fried fish, a lime wedge left alongside for the diner to squeeze themselves, showed well-measured simplicity and well-placed confidence; deconstructed bouillabaisse however, without a doubt attractive in appearance and applaudable for effort, thought and inventiveness, did not deliver on taste, for me. Saint-Jacques were better; my only complaints would be practical – the hot stone, curious and exciting maybe, was not effective – and with reference to the inferior French caviar – at this (price) level why not use the best ingredients and if costs prohibit this, why use any caviar at all; as it was, it did not add anything benefic. La Langoustine was forgettable really. Once again, nothing was necessarily awry (slightly oily lettuce leaf excluded), but bar the superb peanut sauce, nothing stood out. The next course, le Chevreuil, was more traditional yet interesting and actually more pleasing; the meat was toothsome, the sauce had force, however the pasta was possibly surplus. The kitchen seemed to shift into a higher gear with desserts. The apple soufflé was very good and maybe the most memorable dish of the meal. I thought the playfulness of it accurately judged and never at the expense of one’s eating enjoyment. The second dessert, a customary combo of coffee and chocolate, was well-executed and able indeed. On the contrary, le Banane failed to fulfil its promise – its peanut butter bavaroise was unforgivably vapid. The petit fours were again average and migniardises noticeable only by their absence.

As an aside, having disapproved of the use of pop rocks in my review of Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road last December yet contrastingly complimenting Le Pré Catelan for it, I should attempt to pre-empt any criticism of my critiquing now. The cause of my contraposition is basic: at RHR, the dessert that comprised these gastro-toys was a rather rudimentary vehicle (SPV if you will), its lone purpose being just to deliver the pop rocks (for the record, they came buried in a fruit cocktail); on the other hand, at Le Pré Catelan, the sucre petillant was but one aspect of the recipe which would have been agreeable still, if admittedly a little less, in their absence. Additionally, unlike at RHR, their inclusion was not a gimmick, but spelled out clearly in the course’s description.

Thus, unfortunately, the food proved a disservice to the service. That may be a touch harsh as there was nothing catastrophically wrong with the fare or any unforgivable errors in execution – there were even some favourable moments and my meal was a pleasant experience – but, and it is a big but, I do feel that within the three-star ‘galaxy’, there are other restaurants I would want to revisit or try before returning to Le Pré Catelan. If I were to go back, it would be more out of appreciation for how welcome and comfortable I was made to feel (…or as someone else’s guest) rather than for the simple deliciousness of the cooking.

I am a big fan of beautiful food so I appreciated the extra attention and care that went into the arrangement of Anton’s dishes. The absorbing patterns, elaborate layouts and parade of plates that topped the table were emphatic and attention-grabbing. It was an impressive performance. Additionally, the visual expression and structure of the courses also revealed two things about the chef: first, he is a big fan of Pierre Gagnaire – ‘J’adore l’homme, son côté artiste décalé, un peu marginal’ – with his favourite table, the rue Balzac; secondly, in his spare time, Anton is an artist, a painter in fact. Neither detail should come as a surprise.

Le Pré Catelan is certainly different. In creation, composition and construction, the chef seems to want to differentiate himself and shape a distinctive, identifiable style of his own. I admired his willingness (possibly even determination) to be different. Connoisseurs do claim that one ought to be able to tell great chefs apart from just the look and taste of their food and, if this is true, Anton is at least on the right track. Another aspect that I liked was his choice to centre an entire course on the sardine, thus giving it the same respect he showed the noble scallop, langoustine and deer. These humble fish are tasty and versatile and the chef showed modesty and deference to nature here serving them so minimally.

That being said, upon contemplation, ‘all that glisters is not gold‘ is one expression that comes to mind; ‘everything in moderation’ is another – these two slogans seem to sum up well what was amiss with my meal and, as it so happened, what I had at first liked was what I turned out to dislike the most.

As I alluded to above, originality and inspiration in presentation are to be esteemed and encouraged, but should be applied precisely and effectively. I hate to see this taken too far with savours suffering for superficiality’s sake and I must confess that sometimes it felt like additional dishes and elements on those dishes were there for reasons other than to please my palate. Some items seemed present solely to appease the eye or excite the diner, which though (rarely) justifiable, can really never be so when it is to the detriment of the food itself. Another critical point pertains to the multi-component courses, which indeed rousing on arrival, occasionally proved impractical. La langoustine was an example of this: by the time I had worked my way through the raviolo and then the spring rolls, the roasted langoustine was already cold. This same issue applied to a lesser degree to the ensemble of scallops (and especially the afore-addressed galet). The first course, in retrospect, seemed better planned, in that the last plates to be had had come already cold. In addition, there was a paucity of and plainness to the presents that came before and after the meal proper. I do not pretend to have left Le Pré Catelan hungry, but after being spoilt at Paris’ similar-standard restaurants, the singularity of the starting amuse, dearth of pre dessert and deficiency of friandises were keenly felt – not to mention in confusing contrast to the pageant that proceeded in between. I have always thought these occasions as opportunities for the kitchen to have some fun, experiment or indeed amuse the diner – here they appeared to be but an afterthought. In all fairness though, any glaring lack of generosity on the table was made up for by the hospitality of the house.

These concerns could almost be overlooked or may never have arisen, if it were not for this next contention.

Anton apparently has a motto, ‘even if perfection is not of this world that is no reason not to try to achieve it’. He also has a reputation as a scrupulous and rigorous cook, who believes that quality raw materials are paramount to quality cuisine. I was therefore a little let down by what I found at Le Pré Catelan. I cannot say any of the produce was substandard, but I can state that it was not of the very highest standard that is the standard amongst three-stars. I feel right writing this only after having had both langoustines and scallops vastly superior in taste, texture and measure everywhere else. To tell the truth, I am surprised that produce condition and calibre would be a matter that warranted any comment at all as, for years, Anton was the very man responsible for buying, then checking, every morsel of meat, each cut of fish and all the vegetables that entered the Jamin kitchen.

Something else that I have noticed since, but had no bearing at the time, is the staleness of the carte. The menu degustation especially appears to have evolved very little. Reading the reviews of others, the same dishes – la Saint-Jacques, la Langoustine, la Pomme and le Café « Expresso » – are each cited repeatedly (along with l’Etrille, le Ris de Veau and l’Os à Moelle). This lethargy is also common in the aesthetic methods employed: the bouillabaisse’s deconstructed jelly-and-dot design, which I liked, is one that is regularly employed including with such combinations as tomato-mozzarella-basil and urchin-paprika. This might be explained by Anton’s studied, serious technique that favours careful, meticulous and calculated recipes. If proof of this was required, one need only to look at his recently released cookbook, Anton, Le Pré Catelan, wherein instructions call for 4g de sel, 3 grains de poivre, 4g de beurre etc. A slow-to-change carte is, however, a complaint mutual to many ‘modern’ restaurants. The Fat Duck, for example, has had practically the same tasting menu for two or three years. This ‘stagnation’ is a result of the research, experimentation and preparation that this kind of cookery calls for. It is not easy or always possible to devise new dishes or amend and modify them in the heat of the kitchen or even every couple of months. Personally, provided that the result is successful, this is not a problem. Provided the result is successful.

With regards to Anton’s style, besides the prevalence of his proclivity for the pictorial, the most pertinent impression made was that of the chef’s readiness and, in fact, keenness to manipulate his raw materials. This is another manifestation maybe of his drive for differentiation. Whilst many other kitchens are adamant, in adherence to the nouvelle norme, to preserve the integrity of their ingredients – pure flavours, total forms are fundamental – this chef is not afraid to play with his produce. For example, he splits a scallop into six slices; melts down his venison meat; bisects a sweetbread gland; and, removing the fat from a marrow bone, refills it with vegetables. Anton the technician is not an unfitting epithet, but he supplies his own; ‘moi, je voulais être ébéniste’ – ‘I wanted to be a cabinetmaker,’ he says. ‘I am a handyman, and what I like in the cabinet is the transformation of matter. But at hospitality school, I realised that cooking is taking a raw material and changing it.’

In summary, a meal at Le Pré Catelan can certainly be enjoyable. I thought it an interesting cuisine, highlighted by an enthralling aesthetic and reinforced by charming service in an attractive setting. However, I also found myself rather growingly concerned and disheartened by the superficiality of it. As mentioned, the dependence on display, but principally, the unexceptional produce, left a sour taste. There is nothing wrong with pretty plating, original recipes and novelty so long as it is governed by a genuine goal (which should be something loosely along the lines of achieving the tastiest flavours actually achievable).

Unfortunately, I found the cuisine distracted. However, I – ever the dreamer – would like to imagine that my issues with Anton’s cooking arise from his trying too hard. A little refinement; a little more focus; a greater effort in sourcing; these are what are required here, in my humble opinion. As it is, I hesitate to recommend Le Pré Catelan to cultured diners. That said, I do think it might be a restaurant with which to introduce one to fine dining. Though it could come across as such, this is not meant to be condescending to any of its fans. Instead, I think the show and sparkle of the food and plethora of plates, as well as the impeccable service and great setting, will be enough to satisfy and charm many. More cynically though, as I do think there are better places one can eat, this would set up an abecedarian diner well for the future – after all, it would be nice if one’s first experience was not their very best, maybe.

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Le Pre Catelan (LPC), in the centre of the Bois de Boulogne (west side of Paris), is a respectable fine-dining restaurant with a rich history. It’s often associated with Gaston Lenotre, the guru of modern French patisserie. In 2007, Pre Catelan became increasingly popular in the gastronomy world when it, along with Barbot’s Astrance and Alleno’s Meurice, was elevated among the finest restaurants in France. However, despite having received 3-star michelin, Pre Catelan has not been considered to have the most delicious food in town. Probably for this reason, in addition to its location that’s a bit off from the Paris, LPC has not been under my radar. But this changed when last month, I finally had the opportunity to visit this grand pavilion located in the middle of lovely gardens.  

 

There are not that many French chefs with more impressive ‘pedigree’ than Frederic Anton, the current head chef of Le Pre Catelan who recently has become a jury in the MasterChef France. He used to work for the legendary chefs such as Gerard Boyer (for a short stint) and Joel Robuchon for about 7 years. Some even have claimed that Frederic Anton was Robuchon’s most talented and capable protégé and he’s pretty much Robuchon’s right hand man during the peak of Jamin and avenue Raymond Poincare in the early 90’s. Ultimately, Anton was the recipient of prestigious Meilleur ouvrier de France and Chevalier the Legion of Honour. With these impressive CV’s, how would his creations be like when translated into dishes served at the splendid Pre Catelan’s dining room?  I ordered the full menu of Le menu du Pre and let’s dive... 

 

-The tasting menu began with crab serving 3 ways: the foamy and flavorful crab soup with crab meat inside; a container consisted of succulent crab meat mixed with cream fresh cream, sour lime and topped with the salty caviar – fresh and quite rich; the last part was a light salad (nutty & crunchy) with Asian sweet dressing and crab meat. A decent start

-Langoustine prepared 2 ways: the delicate ravioli of poached langoustine with olive oil & pepper mint foam. The big prawn was tender but surprisingly & sadly rather tasteless. The next preparation was better; fried langoustine (with seaweed) in ‘tempura’ style. The ‘wrapper’ was light and crisp; both romaine sauce and ‘Thai’ fish sauce were flavorful but a bit too intense for my palate. Good presentation but did not taste that great. My wife’s lunch special had 1 extra langoustine item, that’s served in basil curry – she said it’s good but nothing special

 

-The poached turbot, wrapped in seaweed, was meaty with good texture except it’s rather bland. Perhaps it’s cooked in fillet instead of troncon (prepared with bone-in). The savior for the turbot’s taste coming from reduced sauce of vinegar. The side dish of ‘mashed’ potato with seaweed was quite tasty but I was not too fond of its texture; it was not that smooth or creamy. Overall, it’s somewhat an ordinary dish even though turbot was usually my favorite fish species to eat in any high end places

-Finding good quality sweetbread outside France or Europe was very difficult, let alone eating a good dish executed flawlessly by an expert. Luckily, we’re in good hands here. The ris de veau, cooked in a casserole, served with its juice was tender, creamy and delicious. The veal stew with mushroom and onion was also good. A display of excellent old school preparation of French rustic dish. My favorite dish from this meal

-For the lunch menu, my wife’s main course was squid in 2 ways (the portion was big): one was served with tomato confit and herbs; the other one is fried in tempura style. It didn’t reflect a kind of highly cooking technique while the ingredients were alright. Taste wise was nothing special; we felt that we could get this kind of dishes at any restaurants even outside Europe. Quite disappointing that the restaurant at this caliber would prepare this dish, you’re welcome see the picture if in doubt

 

-My spouse didn’t like cheese so the kitchen gave her a pretty and colorful salad instead. For me, I decided to stick with the cheese course this time. I picked 36-month comte, saint-nectaire, coulommiers and vacherin mont d'or and they’re generally very good except the comte was a bit too “young” – yes, I have been spoiled by Anthony’s 4-year-old comte

-My menu had 2 desserts and she had one; the kitchen decided to bring all of them together and we’re overwhelmed. They all were pleasing to the eyes and served in ‘giant’ portions although they’re only part of the degustation menu. We appreciated this generosity

 

The desserts:

+Le citron happened to be my most acceptable dessert here. The combination of meringue, sorbet, mousse and biscuit were nice, but the issue was that the sweet flavor was very dominant; I had difficulties to savor the lemon mousse distinct sour flavor, moreover the basil sorbet was a bit weak. Instead of (lemon & basil) generating a balance and elegant taste, this dessert became a one-dimensional sweetness

+I really look forward to trying the famous Le pomme. The sphere looked perfectly round without any blemish. I found the sugar encasing thick (not too pleasant to eat) though brittle enough to be broken easily. Inside was really too much ‘sugar’ – I expected to taste more of apple (tangy) flavor for a lack of better word. The overall sweetness was even stronger than the one I had from the previous lemon dessert. I could barely able to taste the saltiness from the salted caramel ice cream and when the pop rock and the sugar sphere were bitten concurrently, it’s not a fun ‘texture’ to experience. Any combination I tried, sadly, it was not that enjoyable – better to see than to eat     

+Lastly, my spouse’s dessert was the classic Le Paris-Brest with praline cream. The choux was not soft, but compensated by the thick and rich cream. I thought it would be nicer had they put more fig compote and/or salted praline with rather intense salt flavor to harmonize it

To be honest, despite the generous size given, I was quite disappointed with all the desserts. It’s just sweet flavor all the ways – I bet the chocolate dessert might be the same; I like chocolate (dark/milk) to have some recognizable bitter taste; not just a hint/subtle bitterness. The same would be expected when I eat lemon, apple or salted caramel that’s to be able to savor its respective unique flavors.

 

Having dined at all of Joel Robuchon (JR) restaurants (except the latest La Grande Maison, but have tried Tomonori Danzaki’s cooking), I could not help but notice some similar dishes at Robuchon’s vs Le Pre Catelan – it should not come as surprised I suppose. For instance,

-the crab and caviar – the presentation was very similar (https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/JoelRobuchonLasVegasUnitedStates#5534521763453197890) but Robuchon has superior (Oscietre) caviar quality and has more sweet flavor from the coral gelee whereas Antony’s more on the ‘sour’ note – let’s call it a tie

-another example will be langoustine ravioli. Robuchon’s version (https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/ChateauJoelRobuchonTokyoJapan#5272627905530341442) is head and shoulder above his disciples’ creations (this will include the one from Ramsay RHR) – JR’s was sweet and succulent, well-enhanced by the rich & creamy duck liver’s sauce; it’s been proven in more than 2 occasions. Initially, I thought it was not difficult to create it given Frederic’s and Gordon’s talents but it’s not the case in reality.

-lastly, Le pomme vs Le sphere (https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/RobuchonAuDomeMacauChina#5882313154576465250). The technique and complexity were similar, but the master won in the flavor. All the elements (flavor, texture and color contrast) at Le sphere worked well together

From this meal, my admiration towards Joel Robuchon has just grown – one of the world’s greatest chefs even in the 21st century. He’s capable of producing more superior dishes with similar concepts (to be fair, he probably created those dishes too) even when none of his top gastronomy restaurants is in Europe, thus often interpreted to have disadvantage on accessing the incredible (French) ingredients. Should I give benefit of the doubts since Antony was not in the kitchen during my lunch (He was in the meeting with the “big bosses” who own the restaurant in the suburb of Paris)? Maybe not since my meal at JR restaurants also took place without Robuchon himself present

 

The food at LPC was traditional and highly technical; from the artistic presentation with its details, we could see that Antony commands his brigade to be meticulous. Given his skills, I expected him to be more creative, yet we can see the Robuchon’s influence was all over the places – not really his distinguished style. Hence, I can conclude that Antony’s food rather lacks originality. In addition, I learned that the majority of dishes at Pre Catelan rarely changes over the years. The service was friendly and flexible; my maitre d’ Mr. Thierry was really hospitable - comical, kind and always made us feel comfortable. When we looked bored waiting for the food, he often came up some funny stuffs. The ambiance was without a doubt one of Paris’ finest – Belle epoque style with luxurious chandelier and marble fireplace. The tables were huge and generously spacesd. There were about 20+ guests showed up for lunch. I didn’t remember complain about anything, but the restaurant was very nice when it charged my full tasting menu at the price of my wife’s set lunch. In spite of this generosity, I have to honestly admit that, Pre Catelan is not a convincing 3-star place (more like 2 ½* level aka 94/100 – the same level as Guy Savoy and Epicure Bristol). My main reason to visit this famous institution is that by doing so, after 8 years of travelling for serious dining, I finally can say that I’ve been to all of Paris current 3-star Michelin restaurants. Yeah, more like for personal ‘achievement’. Here is the link for the pictures of this meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157649499390717/

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A return visit to Le Pre Catelan (in last May) was rather unexpected. I decided to accompany my parents and siblings for the Euro trip half way. I met them in Paris and staying only for 2 nights there before moving to Madrid and Lisbon; arriving on Saturday afternoon. As they’re not too keen on having meals at formal restaurants, I only brought my sister and treated her for the maiden visit at Europe 3-star Michelin restaurant – preferably a standalone one outside hotels. L’Ambroisie was a natural initial choice for me, but alas somehow, they’re closed during that whole week. I ate at Guy Savoy in the same month one year earlier and the menu was almost identical, thus a return there would be unnecessary. That’s how we ended up with Pre Catelan.

 

Since it’s my sister’s first visit, I let her try the tasting option (Le Menu du Pre) but only for a shorter option - a right decision since she started to feel full half way and could not finish the food from the main course onwards (only tasting 50-60%). Since 5-6 dishes out of 8 in total from the degustation menu were the same as my lunch 4 years ago, I decided to go for an a la carte. The a la carte was more like the ones in Pierre Gagnaire (albeit less ambitious and less grand). Diners would eat 2-3 different preparation of the main ingredient mentioned in the “titles”.

 

I began with the tail season of Morel mushrooms whose main preparation was similar to Robuchon’s / Anton’s winter dish named Crispy tart with sweet onions confit. Instead of Perigord truffles, the kitchen replaced them with meaty and nutty French morels having deep flavors. The sweet onions and crunchy tart were good. On the sides, there were soft Zephyr and crispy bread with some morel underneath as well as “asparagus” sandwich. Simple, satisfying but not overly creative

 

For the main course, my (sweet and a bit firm) blue lobster tail was beautifully cooked (until red). It was enhanced by the flavorful Maltaise sauce – sweet with some citrus flavor. The 2nd-ary preparation was, again, inspired from Chef Anton’s tenure at Jamin … smooth & tasty lobster jelly with briny caviar + some small lobster; safe and good. The claw part was the least good, served with decent emulsion and radishes. Dessert was the weakest part last time – one dimensionally sweet; having tried 3 of them (the apple, Paris brest and lemon meringue). This time, I went for the least sweet option possible was Tiramisu. My favorite part was Zephyr coffee and amaretto; there were the biscuit, intense coffee, strong powder etc. Altogether these elements worked harmoniously altogether. The more “normal” part like crusty Gavotte with mascarpone cream was fine – slightly better dessert, but in general still rather disappointing when compared to the sweet creations at Epicure, L’Arpege or ADPA.

 

I did not expect much honestly. The most important part was that my sister was happy with the meal – she said Pre Catelan cooked better food than the one at Jean Georges and per se. The restaurant was about 80% full; half or more of the clienteles were foreigners. My two neighbors, if not mistaken, were middle-aged couple from Japan and Korea. I noticed at least 3 tables speaking Mandarin / Cantonese in the main dining room. Service wise, there was a slight drop since Jean Chauveau was off, thus my favorite maître d’ taking the role of his boss by standing between the entrance and main dining room most of the time. For example, after my sister’s 3rd course, the service of the dishes became slow. We’re waiting 15 min or more even after the previous plates were cleared (one time nearly half-hour). There was an occasion when staffs were a bit confused on who’s eating what so they put the wrong course. Re-fill of water sometimes late as we’re in the quieter side of the restaurant (fewer staffs checking out the tables). Well, it’s not really a big deal but by the highest fine dining standard, it’s the little details that count.

 

At the end, my impression of the restaurant pretty much stayed the same that: Le Pre Catelan is a (very) good 2-star restaurant (2 ½*). In 2014, I came here in October. The fact that this time was in May 2018 but many of the dishes are the same or very similar (at least half of them) – unfortunately, I have to say that the kitchen / head chef was kinda “lazy”; simply stick in to the safe status quo and not too seasonal. As usual, below was the pictures of our meals - my a la carte and my sister’s tasting menu

 

Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157672684584288/with/43292809035/

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