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Paris 'Branché' Restaurants

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Restaurants remain 'branché' only for a couple months in Paris. What happens after that? What is a branché restaurants anyway? And most importantly - how good is the food?

Paris restaurant guides sometime indicate a restaurant is branché - meaning local celebrities congregate there for a few months before moving to a new fashionable spot. The food is usually not the reason a place becomes branché although it can be outstanding. Most branché places lose that status within 12 months. But just how good are they if you don't care for Parisian celebrities? I visited three of them - here is my report.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Now a booming international gastronomic franchise, this tiny restaurant in the 7ème Arrondissement treats a well-heeled clientele to light gastronomic dishes of the highest quality. They only take reservations for lunch and you'll need to call a week or so ahead. Or just wait in line for a client to finish his meal, New-York style. No thanks. You sit at a horseshoe-shaped bar around an open kitchen, everything in a black marble reminiscent of a funeral parlor or a discotheque.

The service is affable, knowledgeable and efficient, but the cooks invariably have the sad looks of a battered dog. They look at you like if they wanted to tell you but fear receiving a saucepan on the head in reprisal. Apparently Mr Robuchon is a demanding boss and both Gordon Ramsay and Giorgo Locatelli report boot camp discipline in his kitchens. You can't help that but if you are one that wants everybody around to look happy that's not the place for you.

Dishes are lean equations centered around one gastronomic sensation. I had beautiful ravioles in a consommé and a roasted quail with Mr Robuchon's legendary truffle potato purée. A Chartreuse soufflé finished the meal:

The maître d' gave me a tip about tarragon sorbet which I was able to make the week after.

The other guests seated next to you at the bar, invariably you have some contact with them. A lovely young Parisian couple, the man answered his cellphone discreetly and said 'Yeah, we are here at l'Aaaaaatelier'. The other person apparently didn't understand and he had to explain 'Yes, you know, l'Atelier de Joël Robuchon'. A proof, if one was needed, that the restaurant is no longer branché and has entered adulthood.

The Atelier concept seems to be working as Robuchon opened one in Tokyo, New York, Las Vegas, London and Scotland, apparently exact copies of the Paris original. I would definitely go back.

Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5-7 rue de Montalembert,
Paris 7ème
+33 (0) 1-42-22-56-56

 

Spoon and wine
This Champs-Elysée restaurant was Ducasse's first foray into fusion food and, for a while, a big success. Now it's quieter but every bit as enjoyable. And where else can you eat Ducasse's food under one hour and 1000 calories?

Food at Spoon is served in the spirit of tapas or dim sum. You order a bit of this and a bit of that and end up with a table covered with plates. Or at least that was the idea. I think most people just order three courses and take a discreet bite from the neighbor's plate to see what they missed.

Service is fast and very pleasant, and the light, airy room on a Champs-Elysee side street attracts young professionals working in one of the many large French companies with headquarters nearby.

Readers of FXcuisine.com know how much I enjoyed Mr Ducasse's Bubble Gum Ice Cream. Well, I won't be asking for the Tagada Ice Cream recipe. Tagada are chemical candies shaped like martian strawberries (see picture below) and made into an ice cream they give a most awful texture. I couldn't finish the huge portion. I still think somebody has been overly generous with the plaster in the ice cream mix that day.

I love the place and visited twice, only to find the same menu. I promised to not come back until they changed it. And they just did, with a complete overhaul of the restaurant. I will be back.

If you really loved the food and have a large budget, there is a huge Spoon Food book for about €150.

Spoon Food & Wine
www.spoon.tm.fr
14, rue Marignan
75008 Paris
+33 (0) 1 40 76 34 44

 

Market
New Yorkers like to think that theirs is the dining capital of the world. Well, maybe they're right, but when a New York chef tries his luck in Paris, even if he's European by birth, he know the mark is high. Jean-Georges Vongerichten's answer to Spoon has one of the fanciest location there is, set in a huge space next door to Christies, facing the French Presidential Palace gardens and Lenôtre. But that's not enough to compensate for well-executed, poorly designed dishes.

You are greeted by two spectacular Grace Jones clones who operate as maîtresses d'. With grace and energy they lead you to your table in a rather noisy room. The menu looked very promising and, having tasted Mr Vongerichten's talent in his Shanghai restaurant, my expectations were high.

Their 'iced infusions' looked nice on the menu but both the passion fruit and the lemon-ginger tasted like hydrochloric acid mixed with Perrier and filled with tap water ice cubes.

The truffle pizza was baked in a gas oven and tasted like some paper-thin flatbread with some fontina on top. A huge amount of crunchy salad hid most of the pizza and provided so much distraction you almost forgot the truffle. Not good. I asked the waitress for recommendation and she said 'The crispy tuna rolls'. Help me. Oversalted raw tuna in a tasteless green bean cream, I almost couldn't finish it. Another dish was slightly more encouraging. They didn't spoil and excellent meat but what can I say about the pumpkin raviolis? Deep-fried with no pre-blanching, their crust managed to be greasy, dry and flaky at the same time. I had to think of New York to finish them. When the bill came, it was accompanied by two chocolates in a chipped glass. The waitress was so nice I didn't say anything, but they won't see me back at Market.

Although everybody complains about Market being loud and poorly lit, I kind of like the decor. If you go to the washroom, at the bottom of the stairs you can grasp the busy open kitchen, the entrance of the toilets and right next to you what must be the chef's table- hardly the best location. I love the designer stainless steel sinks in the toilets.

Market
www.jean-georges.com
5, Avenue Matignon
75008 Paris
+33 1 56 43 40 90

 

More about branché...
But what does 'branché' mean? I asked a well-connected Parisian friend. She says that 'Branché means famous people go there, Parisian celebrities most foreigner will not know. Movie actors, TV presenters, music producers, singers, reality TV stars.' How long are they branché for? She says 'A place remains "branché" for about 6 months, sometimes a year. There are some exceptions, like "Rue Balzac" at Rue Lord Byron 8, Johnnie's restaurant (popular French singer Johnnie Hallyday). This one is always branché because the food is good.' So the food is not that good normally? 'Well ... you just don't there go for the food.'

The glitterati are indeed a fickle lot and restaurant owners have a hard time keeping their joint branché. A very bright exception is L'étoile ('The Star') 12 Rue Presbourg, a discotheque-restaurant run by a brilliant nightlife professional, Tony Gomez. He is on first-name basis with most of Paris' stars and manages to get some of them inside his establishment almost every night. And not by chance or his good looks. When a singer promises to come after his concert, Gomez goes himself in his loge after the concert with a few bottles of Champagne and drives him personally to 'L'Etoile' to make sure he doesn't change his mind. Needless to say, few restaurateurs can compete.


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This ice cream by Alain Ducasse is flavoured by the king of the French bubble-gums, the Malabar.


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If you do this recipe at home please let me know how it worked for you by submitting a comment or send me a picture if you can. Thanks!



7 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by ben wolfson
You say you made the tarragon sorbet—I would love the recipe!
  • #2
  • Answered by fx
Ben, I'll make it again some day and post it here.
It's really simple though, just a 10 minute infusion of two bunches of tarragon in hot milk, then sugar, then cool down and finally churn. That's it. It's served with an apple pie (not the American style, very flat) in a restaurant in Burgundy. I hope it helps!
  • #3
  • Comment by liam kerr
Joel robuchon does not have an outpost of l'atelier in scotland.
  • #4
  • Comment by Ana Gabriela
Jean-George Vongerichter... A name that definetly rings a bell seeing as I worked as a waitress for Rama, his restaurant in London, during my erasmus year. He is an interesting man: grew up in a working-class environment and loves to learn about everyday food in the countries he travels to. His kitchen team in London was mainly composed by guys who had worked with him either in Shanghai or Paris. However, JGV needs to watch over his IT restaurants in NYC, London, Paris, Shanghai... I feel that if the local team isn't strong it shows in food very quickly. I went to his Shanghai restaurant in 2006, loved it and was later disappointed by it in 2007... Coming back to Market in Paris, all these elements are definetly at play and intensified by the fact that French customers rarely, if ever, dare tell the restaurant manager, waitors, of maitre d' that they are dissapointed. There is no constructive criticism and in a way this has doomed many good restaurants (the Petrosian is another good example).
  • #5
  • Answered by fx
Thanks for the visit Anna Gabriella, I agree that running a fashionable restaurant is a tricky business. As for criticism from the customers, in such establishments the chef-owner is rarely on the premises and the staff has probably not much levy over the menu anyway. Maybe they should have a feedback form like they do in India, it could lead to quicker reactions when the menu slides off course.
  • #6
  • Comment by Kalieris
I enjoy your site tremendously, and all this exposure to beautifully photographed and lovingly described cooking is slowly converting me from the ranks of those who consume mostly microwaveable pizza, overcooked pasta, and takeout chinese.

What is that absolutely gorgeous thing in the very first photo?  It looks like an egg yolk on a scallop...

  • FX's answer→ Kalieris, this is a goose egg baked in a rectangular pan, not a scallop!


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