Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

L’EPICURE – Cuisine close to perfection

January 2019. I’ve  just made my sixth visit to l’Épicure restaurant in Paris, a three-star establishment in the deluxe Hotel Bristol. The first of those widely-spaced visits took place some 6-7 years ago.


This latest meal was no letdown. The food was superlative from start to finish. At many such places today the quality of the service sometimes surpasses that of the food. Not so at l’Épicure (though the service couldn’t be faulted).


Each and every dish was a masterpiece, an edible work of art that, while soon out of sight, would linger in the memory for months, even years.


There’s a precision to the cooking, a cooking that, while full of exquisite detail, keeps a foothold in reality. No ingredient is made to look like something else, but every item looks like a work of art.


That being said, the feather-light trio of amuses-gueules that arrived at our table looked like creations by Fabergé. They tasted wonderful, melting in the mouth. Of main dishes, I remember in particular a single langoustine, sweet and succulent, dotted with microscopic dice of taste-enhancing vegetables and some tiny, edible petals of flowers. The langoustine’s delicacy and subtlety were exceptional.


A trio of scallops looked great – and tasted great. They also LOOKED like scallops. Half raw – so as not to spoil their delicate texture – they’d been given a golden caramelized surface that added grist to their tender flesh. This dish had the delicacy of a silver-point drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. (noix de saint jacques dorées à la plancha avec sa purée de topinambours, son émulsion au jus de truffe noire).


The humble onion has an indispensable role to play in cooking – in stocks, stews, sauces, and so on.


“Noix de saint jacques dorées à la plancha avec sa purée de topinambours, émulsion au jus de truffe noire”.


But master chef Eric Fréchon, the Mozart of gastronomy, placed it in centre stage, as main ingredient, where it excelled itself : oignon rosé de Roscoff carbonara, royale de lard fumé, truffe noire et girolles (Pink Roscoff onion carbonara, with smoked lard, black truffles and chanterelles).


Here was an onion that was one of the most inspired and most delicious culinary creations I’ve ever tasted. The great Degas once said that the art of painting consisted in the ability to make an indian red (a dull red) look like vermilion (a glowing red). Only a supremely talented chef could make an onion taste as sapid, complex, and complete in itself as say, a truffled wild turkey à la Brillat Savarin.


All three of us tried to analyse what the chef had done to achieve this culinary chef d’oeuvre; but in the end we simply succumbed to its sheer deliciousness.


I always say that the dessert is invariably the most silent dish of a meal. The only sound to be heard at our table was the scraping of spoons and suppressed moans of delight. My wife retained enough objectivity to register the incomparable lightness, and refined intensity, of her millefeuille with quince.


We left the place feeling as if we were floating a metre above the ground.


We’re counting the days to our next visit to a restaurant that more than merits “a special journey”.


And that criterion would apply even if the place was on a different continent, not just a different country. Or even on a different planet, were the means of transport to be available!


© Frank Ward 2019

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