Monday, 21 October 2013

Chateaubriand, Paris

There is an attractive, pared-back dining space, chalkboard menus, dark furnishings unencumbered by tablecloths, and a charming young staff that all speak very good English. The menu is modern but accessible, taking cues from all over the world, with fresh ingredients cooked to a high degree of skill and colourfully presented on a variety of interesting tableware. It cost around €80 a head and we enjoyed ourselves very much indeed.

No, you haven't accidentally re-read the Septime post. I probably could have gone for a bit more variety in my Paris restaurant picks, but I was determined to steer clear of anywhere with a Michelin star, and wasn't brave enough to risk an evening queuing for one of the excellent no-reservations Japanese or Vietnamese places I keep hearing about. So Chateaubriand it was, and I have no regrets, you'll just have to ignore the faint sense of déjà vu.

Whilst at Septime you could choose between 3 and 5 courses, at Chateaubriand (for dinner at least) you just get asked if there's anything you can't cope with and they sort out the rest. With the Pescatarian on board, and given experiences at lunch the previous day, I was half expecting another awkward moment, but there were no plates of ham to share, and no hidden bacon in any of her courses, so well done them.

Gougère ("cheesy puffs" our waiter explained, cutely pre-empting our query) were a fantastic way to start the meal, soft and warm with a gently moist filling and a lovely colour. These were, in fact, better than the ones I'd had at 3 Michelin Star Alaine Ducasse in the Dorchester. I'm never going to tire of using that phrase.

Another amuse, little metal bowls of sea bass ceviche, impressed as well, the mixture not too bitter or too sweet, and (although you can't see them from the photo) with plenty of chunky fish.

The next sharing plate, of deep-fried prawns, were fantastic. I have no idea how they've managed to deep-fry these to get a super-crunchy coating on the outside while still keeping the flesh moist and meaty, but they were, and the citrus powder of some sort they rested on did the work of a squeeze of lemon without making them soggy. Very, very clever stuff.

Beneath the spinach and slices of radish on this plate are hiding a handful of huge, juicy cockles, with a flavour - think sea spray and rock pools - that brought gasps all around the table. I don't think I've ever had better cockles.

A mini bowl of bouillabaisse was next, and packed with rich, seafood flavour. By this point we were barely past halfway, and enjoying every second of it.

The next course was interesting - squid (large chunks, perfectly cooked and seasoned), with cep mushrooms, only some were braised and some left raw. The flavour from both kinds of mushrooms was great, and added into the mix was a pile of chopped sorrel, adding an earthy/bitter dimension.

Monkfish with green chillies next, notable for great big chunks of delicately cooked monkfish paired with some pomelo (or grapefruit) cells and chunks of powerful chilli. It was remarkably spicy, in fact, considering the style of what had come before, but they deserve all credit for not wimping out on the chilli as it added an good sweet burn to counter the bitter citrus.

Last of the savoury courses was this remarkable pile of black trumpet mushrooms, under which hid some very good seared beef and a few chunks of bone marrow. You can't really go wrong with beef and mushroom, but the intense flavour of these fried trompette de la mort was really something. The Pescatarian had something that looked similar but didn't have any beef in. Probably fish. I can't remember. But there was no meat in it, that's the main thing.

So far so bloody excellent, then, which makes the dessert courses all that more difficult to explain. First was a small piece of dry shortbread topped with a caramelised egg yolk. I'm guessing they were so pleased with themselves for perfecting this sugar-encased-yolk technique that they forgot to make it edible, as the yolk was entirely untreated and jarred horribly as an element in a dessert, like the deconstructed ingredients of an unbaked spongecake. No thanks.

And the second dessert, whilst not inedible, was nonetheless fairly unimaginative - a dark chocolate mousse with mint sorbet. Fine, but the kind of thing I've had many times before - though maybe that says more about the amount of times I eat out than whether anyone else would enjoy it.

Some fresh figs served as petits fours, and with that we were done. The crying shame, of course is that up until desserts Chateaubriand was heading for a 9 or a 10 score, and only the drastic derailing over the sweet courses prevented that from happening. Everything else - the savoury food, the amuses and between-course treats, the service, the atmosphere, the sheer pleasure of being a part of this slick operation, is worth the (actually very reasonable) bill and then some. So I can still say, with only some slight hesitation, that Chateaubriand is worth your while. A largely hugely enjoyable meal, with only one or two glaring errors to watch out for. Déjà vu.


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