mercredi 28 janvier 2009

Ledoyen : inside the noodle castle

De Ledoyen

One of the biggest fallacies of food critic these days is the notion that one visit is enough to know what to expect from a restaurant. I am guilty of this myself, as evidenced by my former post on Ledoyen, among others. I blame the overall competition between bloggers, and my misplaced ambition, for sometimes posting reviews on restaurants I don’t know well enough.

In any case, at Ledoyen last December I had one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. What struck me was the search for perfection in cooking, the utmost seriousness, which, as I have been arguing lately, I find lacking in most restaurants. What happened to the idea that a top restaurant is, you know, top? That it should only offer you the best there is? My sense was, Le Squer at Ledoyen often succeeds where the Pacauds and the Passards of this world don’t even try anymore, to busy that they are imitating themselves.
De Ledoyen

It started with an amuse that was exactly what I expect from very fine dining, showing how ordinary ingredients treated with skills and care can create a wonderful experience. On an onion purée, which was in itself poetry, capturing the flavour of the onion while being absolutely smooth and gentle, came a simple crispy parmesan tuile, and a quenelle of rosemary sorbet on top. Three raisins surrounded the tuile. The whole thing, like food that has been prepared with utmost care and sensitivity, was fresh and exciting and almost told a story to your taste buds, it had several dimensions, sweet and sour, crispy and melty, warm and cold, but mostly had that harmonious, musical way to evolve in your mouth from the moment you bite in to the moment the last flavors dim.
De Ledoyen

A cause for anticipatory satisfaction was that I ordered the 88€ prix-fixe lunch menu. But the real good news is that this lunch menu is nothing less than your regular Ledoyen food in terms of the care and the quality of the ingredients. The first course for me was the “oeuf fermier soufflé à la truffe”: the white is whipped then the yolk is reintegrated in the snow-like white inside a cylinder mold in which the whole things cooks. It is therefore lighter than air (or, to be fair, every bit as light as air, since that is what it is), and has a heart of warm and runny yolk of high quality egg. And there are some truffles on top. So far, it sounds pretty much like the Piège dish (at les Ambassadeurs) I made fun of last winter. It is, actually, the same. But this dish made very apparent why Piège is busy admiring himself and le Squer wants to make good food. It was nothing, really: a crisp of parmesan on top and a creamy truffle sauce at the bottom, but it changed the dish from a cold beauty to a frickin’hot babe, if you’ll allow me.
De Ledoyen

As a starter in the lunch menu, I could have had what my neighbors had: they call it “quenelle de merlan”, which is a bit misleading as the said whiting quenelle has great scallop, langoustine and lobster on top. The bites I had were pretty awesome, truly exceptional seafood and mastered execution.
De Ledoyen

The main was a sweetbread on salsify and truffle sauce which I’d call not only perfect, but also better than the regular A la Carte sweetbread, which is yet a Ledoyen’s signature dish. As I reported last time, the herbs and vinegar sauce in the regular sweetbread dish overpowers, in my opinion, the specific taste of the sweetbread, especially the delicate balance achieved by having roasted the sweetbread with lemongrass skewered. In contract, this very classic alliance of sweetbread and salsify could be called a marriage made in heaven by someone less afraid of stereotypes. Now a creamy truffle sauce (yes, like in the starter) makes everything better, and it worked with that dish too.

At that point, I need to confess that I annihilated the financial benefit of having ordered the lunch menu by supplementing it with a dish who, by itself, was more expensive than the menu itself. Worse again: it was a plate of pasta. A 90€ spaghetti dish. Totally worth it. As can see, calling it a spaghetti dish, if technically correct, is misleading. It is a sophisticated construction involving spaghetti, and some dices of ham, and also some nice dices of truffle. Inside the “noodle castle” is the sauce. Of course the dish is decadent. In fact, it should be subtitled “Twilight of the gods”, given as it equally consists of a castle being destroyed by lust and desire.
De Ledoyen

Other proofs of a style made of absolute technical mastering and food loving included an eel dish, of which I only had a bite, but that was based on a red wine sauce and offered amazing sophistication and balance. The dish was powerful and yet the subtle own taste of the eel was absolutely apparent through the acidity and sweetness of the red wine, which were like backed by the toast on which the eel was served.
De Ledoyen

As I write this I’m thinking “isn’t it the best restaurant in town? Isn’t it exactly the utmost serious restaurant offering perfect preparations of awesome ingredients?” Well, to a point it is. But I would have some issues some Ledoyen before I can grant them the “best in town” status.
De Ledoyen

First, sticking to food, there are some plain bland dishes, which seem to be here more to make a statement than to produce actual satisfaction. In my first report I mentioned a few, and this time, two belonged very obviously to that category: the first one was white truffle and “gnocchis soufflés”. The white truffle, shaved in the kitchen, was basically tasteless (too bad for such an expensive and apparently generous dish). The gnocchi soufflé seemed like a very vain exercise. The gnocchi dough that is apparently whipped and gently cooked in order to feel almost like an Italian meringue. It is in no way an enhancement of classical gnocchis, eventhough it sure involved lots and lots of hard work. Actually, given the natural stickiness of the potato, it has more of a snot consistence than anything else. Tastewise, an overpowering, if excellent, olive oil, just kills the dish.

Still in the food department, the famous Turbot dish is remarkably boring. Most remarkable is the way that this very fine piece, which is obviously cut in an enormous, and therefore very hard to get, animal, has none of the gelatinous texture that make Turbot so special. It is somewhat elastic and perfectly cooked, but plain bland. Why Le Squer keeps such dishes on the menu is beyond my comprehension, given as his other dishes demonstrate a truly excellent palate and a very skilled chef.

But those limitations are easy to overcome – just order what you know is good (Julot told you, it’s easy). What I found less easy to overcome is the general “old lady” feeling of the place and, to put it bluntly, its coldness. The setting, as glorious as it is, is unmistakably old and somewhat depressing. There is a feeling that this is a place for shushing only. A family party that day looked pretty depressing, everybody including kids dressed up and not enjoying themselves.

The place is therefore not festive in any regard. And service does not help. No major blunder this time, mind you (there were some last time), but the same overall feeling that they are, in the end, here to charge you. And indeed Ledoyen is one of these places that practice inelegant billing. As disappointed as I am, I can look over the fact that there is never a good surprise, a little present. I probably should. But the way that we were charged EIGHT bottles of water for the ridiculous amount of 48€ without having ordered more than one glass to start with is very revolting to me. If you renew a bottle without being asked or without asking, you should not charge it.

So I’ll be back. I’ll specifically order tap water and tell them that this is because of their billing policy, but I’ll be back, knowing that there are some dishes that do not live up to their exciting description and reputation, but knowing also that, when it comes to trying to offer you the best food there is, this place has little competition that I know of.

3 commentaires:

Julian Teoh a dit…


Thank you again for another excellent report.

I was hoping that you could expand on the differences between Le Squer's and Piege's interpretation of the oeuf fermier dish; was it only in the quality of ingredients, or was it also seasoning, other factors?

Julot-les-pinceaux a dit…

Hi Julian,

Actually, the quality of ingredients was comparable -- the truffle was better at Ledoyen but this is not the same season so that comparison is somewhat unfair.

The Piège dish at les Ambassadeurs is impressive but not really good, because it lacks crisp or crunch and it lacks peps. By adding the parmesan tuile and the onion fondue on top, under the truffle, le Squer brings coherence to the texture of the dish and also the salty point that allows the truffle to shine. The creamy truffle sauce also brings a transition in terms of flavour and texture.

Julian Teoh a dit…

Oh, I was the victim of the "eternal spring of bottled water" scam last week here in Singapore. TWO members in our group (of nine) were offered "still or sparkling". When the bill came, we had paid $53for five bottles of water. Would you believe it - three-course lunch menus only cost $40!

This is an outrage and must be stopped. It is exploitation of the worst sort. I must say that I never encountered it in France - where the water ran freely, it was always gratis beyond the first requested bottle.