jeudi 23 avril 2009

Cinq you very much

La version française viendra plus tard.

De Le Cinq, Briffard
(Photo Ptipois)

News from my favourite active chef : Eric Briffard. Followers of the Parisian food scene know that Eric Briffard, once the almost three star chef of the Plaza Athénée, then ousted for cause of Ducasse-isation of said palace, then lost in the Parisian desert, then sheltered at Les Elysées where he used to offer the best value in town, is now heading the many kitchen of the Four Seasons hotel of Paris, a hotel historically known as “George V”, whose gastronomic restaurant is called “Le Cinq”.

De Le Cinq, Briffard

This means that this brilliant, yet skinny, (maybe the two are unrelated after all?) chef moved from a kitchen with maybe six cooks where he finished every cooking himself and would let no one else chop the vegetable juliennes, to managing an army of app. 90 cooks: gastronomic restaurant, room service, bar, banquets, etc. Now, I won’t lie to you: it is a rough transition.

De Le Cinq, Briffard

This is made rougher by Briffard’s very subtle cooking. First he’s a Robuchon boy, which makes him demanding as far as ingredients and techniques are concerned. Second, his specific talent is one of bringing together a high number of ingredients and making the whole dish feel simple and obvious. He’s somewhat of a symphonist, in that sense. See for instance his raw foie gras dish, in fact a salad of vegetables, fruits and flowers with slices of raw foie gras. The experience of eating this dish is very basic and intense – it’s fresh and fatty at the same time. And it feels perfect and simple.

De Le Cinq, Briffard

How do you manage to get two or three teams of unionized palace cooks to implement and respect the subtle balance that your food requires? Since Briffard took over Le Cinq, there clearly have been tough times in that regard. This leads me to suppose that maybe, the reason the former chef, Philippe Legendre, left, had to do with the staff being difficult. The restaurant is open everyday and some friends and clients, taking advantage of this feature, went to Le Cinq on days when Briffard was off and only had so-so meals. Luckily the waiting staff is world class, led by the legendary Eric Beaumard and an army of Maître d’ who all manage to constantly look delighted to serve you and keep the goodies coming. And the wine list is unimpeachable.

I myself, on a sad February night, had the sad experience of spending a comfortable amount of money on a tasting menu that was a mean caricature of the food of my favorite chef. The subtle compositions of Briffard and their magical effect in the mouth had turned into arbitrary juxtapositions of incompatible flavors with approximate cooking and seasoning. Not to mention, a waiter came to us at the end of the meal saying it was on the house, and then a captain came to apologize – no, it wasn’t on the house and this was the bill.

De Le Cinq, Briffard

(That's good pastry: when there are toys inside)

Even when Briffard was in the house, food was not always as good as it was at Les Elysées, Briffard’s former restaurant. The good news that prompts me to write this post is twofold. 1/ The excellent meal I just had relied on perfectly conceived and typically Briffard dishes. There had been, in recent months, a temptation to offer courses that were fundamentally unworthy of Briffard’s talent; at least in the lunch menu (I remember in particular a pointless palace interpretation of Osso Bucco).

De Le Cinq, Briffard

(This is a whiting dish, but the stars here are the fava beans)

2/Even better, my latest excellent meal happened to be once again when Briffard was not in the house, which strongly suggests a leap in the hold he has on his teams. Maybe he got a new sous-chef, or the right one was handling business that day. I don’t know.

One good meal is not enough for a definitive statement, but this is going in the right direction and consistently has been in the last few months. And there is the precedent of the Plaza-Athénée, where veterans say the food was just great. And this was not my first great meal at le Cinq – just the first great one when he wasn’t in. This requires confirmation, but I have the same message I had in a recent posts about bistrots: you can go out again.

De Le Cinq, Briffard

One more thing: among the many traps of managing a palace kitchen is the sacred independence of the pastry chef. Apparently, Briffard just doesn’t have a say when it comes to pastry and dessert at le Cinq. That’s too bad, because all my experiences in the last year demonstrate that the pastry chef is nowhere near Briffard. Desserts are dull, academic, over-sugared. If you have a sweet tooth, rely on the mignardises: there’s more than enough. But just skip dessert until I tell you otherwise.

De Le Cinq, Briffard

(Feuilleté de pigeonneau, not for wusses)

Oh, I forgot: lunch menu is 85€, everyday. Go.

3 commentaires:

Unknown a dit…

Good to see the Le Cinq Cuisine is slightly reaching Briffard's levels. I myself did not have yet tried Le Cinq since Briffard has moved in, i was really scared, as you were, to discover that all the subtility of his cuisine could have vanished amongst the cook army he has to manage there. That would have really spoilt all the superb memories i have from Briffard at Les Elysées du Vernet. Guess it's slightly becoming time to try Le Cinq & Briffard together now ;)

Jon a dit…

Julot, I wish you'd post more. I went to Le Cinq on your recommendation late last month and thoroughly enjoyed it, although the experience was more like your earlier ones (everything a bit heavy, not precise; mains were only warm). I posted a longish review with lots of pictures. Please post something soon!

Adrian a dit…

Water too? Not for wusses?