I am able to write this week thanks to the very generous acts of Apple France who replaced my damaged laptop within 8 days. I highly recommend Apple to everyone who does not already use it as having used their Time Machine back up programme, my new laptop has everything in exactly the same place as the old one. Merci Beaucoup Apple!
The Michelin Guide, an annual guide providing information on hotels and restaurants around the world is well known for the stars they award to high quality restaurants. With 3 being the maximum, and only 81 restaurants in the world holding them, France is home to the most – 26.
I knew I couldn’t leave France without trying out a Michelin Star restaurant, so I decided to go all out and went to L’Arpège, the not one, not two, but THREE Michelin Star restaurant of Chef Alain Passard. We came across his restaurant in a guidebook, and were particularly interested as he is renowned for vegetarian cooking.
One chilly night, along with 2 other friends, we found our way to the restaurant which is located in 7th arrondisement of Paris. Unfortunately there had been some confusion with our booking which the staff couldn’t seem to locate however they prepared a table for us nonetheless.
My first warning to you – be concerned if the menus don’t have prices! We had a look at the menu online and no prices were listed however at the restaurant, the waiter handed the single priced menu to the person they assumed was paying, and unpriced menus to the other two. We almost fell out of our chairs in shock.
I realise that Michelin Stars award a certain level of fame to a restaurant and subsequently the right to elevate their prices… But I was astounded nonetheless. Soon after we were seated, we were each given mini vegetarian tarts in two different flavours (probably to divert us from the shock of the price list). Between the three of us we opted for a dish with celery cooked three ways and the special of the day – freshly made sea bass with a variety of vegetables for two.
While waiting, we received another gift from the chef.
The perfectly cut eggshell contained a poached yolk with a combination of things including whipped cream, vinegar and a few other things I can’t quite remember. I don’t normally eat egg yolks but this was very tasty! We were also served a wholesome country-style loaf with butter from the Bretagne region (where the chef hails from).
Some time later a man came into the room, wished us a good evening and asked whether we enjoyed the butter. He told us many good things were to come and left. Only after that we realised that was the chef himself! Another mark of a high class restaurant – the chef makes a special visit to his guests.
The first of the celery dishes arrived some time later.
I had never tasted black truffle before this, and only knew it to be very, very expensive so to find it generously topping this dish made me understand the menu prices. It was unfortunate that my friend only realised at this point that she didn’t really like celery and still had two plates coming!
The waitress returned with our 3rd gift from the chef for the evening, 3 types of ravioli in a vegetable consommé.
One things about this restaurant – each dish is so complex, by the time the waitress left, I had already forgotten what I was eating. I do remember however that each ravioli had a different filling of about 3 vegetables each!
By the time the 2nd celery dish came, my friend was certain that she didn’t like celery, and was wishing she had opted for something else. Luckily she only had one more to go!
The final dish was one for true celery lovers as carpaccio is a near raw form of the food (typically meat). With a determined crack of her neck and armed with her fork, my friend launched herself at the last amount of celery she expected to eat in her life.
Around this point, another waiter appeared carrying a huge platter heaped high with what looked like sand on which was a whole fish – head, scales and all. I was somewhat shocked that I was paying astronomical amounts for such a crude meal. As we attempted to clear the table to fit the huge platter, the waiter quickly informed us that he was merely showing us the fish before it was plated up. Oops. It had been cooked on a mountain of salt (not sand) for about 45 minutes, and they still had to prepare it for us to eat. This is the point we realised it was good that we were secluded from the other guests who would surely never have made such a gaffe!
A short while later, we were given the two plates of fish we were actually supposed to eat.
Once again the dish was so complex I cannot for the life of me remember what was in it. Besides various vegetables, the only thing I remember was a smoked red cabbage purée which was exceptionally tasty. Soon after we began eating, we were surprised to see the waitress return with another plate. The chef had sent us yet another gift – a fourth celery dish!
Biting hard onto my fork, I was able to hold back my laughter until the waitress was well out of earshot. It was very thoughtful of the chef though, who must have thought my friend would be feeling left out if she had already finished her 3 dishes while we were just starting ours. Either that or he must have just believed that she REALLY liked celery!
One thing about eating small amounts spaced out over a long period – you get extremely full. Despite being absolutely stuffed, we couldn’t leave without dessert so we opted to share one between the three of us. Before this came, another plate of sweets was served to us.
The plate contained a variety of goodies including nougat, chocolates, baked apple roses and sweet vegetable macarons. The flavours were carrot, beetroot and, I kid you not, celeriac (which is a form of celery). They didn’t taste bad as such, but with such wonderful flavours available today, I cannot understand why anyone would opt for vegetable ones!
Finally we got our dessert which had been split into 3 – an apple tart which was completely topped with more of the baked apple roses and served with a tasty caramel sauce.
A better view of the apple rose can be seen in this picture.
And so concludes my Michelin Star experience. For 1 starter, 2 main meals and 1 dessert between 3 people, we still paid in the region of €120/head. Be prepared for these kinds of prices if you wish to try out fine dining yourself!
Finally, I have to say with all due respect to L’Arpège, people with a more refined palate than mine would no doubt appreciate the experience a whole lot more. We were constantly informed about the quality of the products – butter from Bretagne, salt from Turkey, oil from somewhere else… It’s all the same to me! Since I’m the kind of person who absolutely loves 50c Mi-Goreng noodles, I am clearly not cut out for this level of dining or lifestyle. On the way out, the staff repeatedly offered to call a taxi for us. I declined, but didn’t mention that we arrived using the metro – clearly fine diners would never do such a thing!
In summary, I would probably never repeat the experience but I’m still glad I went because it felt like one of those MasterCard moments. You know…
- Four part celery starter: €80
- Fish for two with various vegetable combinations: €200
- Clearly demonstrating your lack of knowledge of such dining to all and sundry: PRICELESS