This year, Ledoyen turns 240 years old. The restaurant, as one of Paris’ oldest, is steeped in history. It was an establishment favoured by artists like Monet. Here was where Napoleon met Josephine. Here was where Robespierre ate, a mere two days before his head parted ways with his body. Do they still teach the French Revolution in history any more?
But who knows if any of that is true. Hearsay is after all, just that. However, the romance of such a storied past is difficult to ignore, and nowhere is this more particularly true in Paris. The restaurant was – is – something.
Yannick Alléno, Ledoyen’s current head chef, unlike the restaurant he helms, turns a relatively ripe young 51. Anything about him is far from rumour: seven Michelin stars, 15 restaurants around the world in the Yannick Alléno group, and a prolific author with seven books to his name. One of them, Ma Cuisine Française weighs in at 1200 pages and a whopping 1500EUR for the oversized French-only edition. It’s on display at Ledoyen’s foyer and is perhaps one of the most beautiful cookbooks I’ve ever seen. You could make an argument to visit the restaurant just to flip through those pages. Indeed, you wouldn’t even have to splash out on the 380EUR required to dine there, as the bar downstairs – from what I hear – serves walk-ins a perfectly reasonable plat du jour.
So here we have a renowned French chef in an equally renowned French restaurant in the heart of Paris with all the accolades that matter for a Euro-centric audience. Did I mention Ledoyen is ranked #10 and #27 in France and world categories respectively on the French Government’s La Liste? More trophies on a crowded shelf. But such is France, one of the few countries that takes its culinary tradition to levels that few others match.
So earlier, I mentioned the outlay: 380 euros for the tasting menu. It’s a curiosity that the best bang for buck to be had for a Parisian dinner is actually to opt for the long-format option. This is a universe where a 3-course a la carte menu will run you up to and beyond 100EUR per course, so ten of them – albeit smaller – at a similar price point is not even up for debate. If you want to impress – whether it’s your date or yourself – you’ll have to splash out and regret your decisions afterwards. If you want a bargain, visit the bar, or during lunch.
However one might feel spending this kind of money on a meal, regret was assuredly not one of the emotions for a Ledoyen visit. Sauntering past the bar and up the stairs to the main dining room exposes an effortlessly elegant space, despite the restaurant’s long and storied history. Or rather, it’s Ledoyen’s history that defines the timeless perfection that’s been put in place. It’s not the over-achiever’s King George-level of opulence that you’d find at Le Meurice or the Plaza Atheneé, but a level of reservedness that’s still a hundred per cent paree. Despite its proximity to the busy Champs-Élysées, adequate soundproofing keeps the focus where it’s supposed to be. It’s the kind of dining room I would be happy to find myself in again and again.
Something must be said of the service as well. High-end dining in Paris is sometimes stereotypically denigrated as a stifling experience. As an Australian, our larrikin, happy-go-lucky attitude can be challenging to French sensibilities, their establishment way of hospitality conduct. Try to crack a joke with the waitstaff and don’t be surprised to receive a *whoosh* in reply, lots of blanks stares and no change whatsoever in register, emotion or expression. It can be…stiff – call it a clash of cultures.
Ledoyen was not like this. Or to be precise, it didn’t get nearly as bad as I’ve experienced elsewhere. While banter was still a mythological construct, Ledoyen’s servers were relaxed, conversational, and happy to explain things. As such, I felt the same way: relaxed, conversational, and happy to make a fool of myself pretending to know things I don’t.
No matter, as the quintessential start of any fine food experience in Paris allayed all nerves: the glide of the champagne trolley, and a glass of
Moët (Alléno’s an ambassador of the champagne house). What nerves?
My tasting experience was a typical French orchestration: a progression of many small snacks, with a tighter number of more substantive courses, finished off with a dessert selection that would give Willy Wonka a challenge. It left me, in every sense of the word, gasping. An incredible amount of food, a dazzling showcase of flavours, textures and technique, all with Alléno’s deft touch. Examples were aplenty. Take the seaweed pie w/vegetable risotto: deft mastery of French pastry, with a finely-tuned ingress of Japan in the form of nori. Easily passing the ‘I hate that they only gave me one bite’s worth’ test with flying colours.
Or, perhaps, the morel mushroom veil. This was made with pricey morels and a corn starch puff pastry, which sits atop a dark-as-my-heart (with flavour intensity to match) mushroom reduction, and Scarmorza cheese (from Puglia). This dish is a large part of the reason why Ledoyen has cemented itself as a top-ten restaurant; Alléno’s command of sauces is present in most dishes, but was best realised here; a dish so fantastically delicious, I may have swooned a bit upon taking my first bite. The depth. The complexity. The flavour! And I’m not even a huge fan of mushrooms to begin with!
As is the French way, vegetables were no less respected. Two spears of white asparagus, slowly braised and bathed in butter and coconut fat were perhaps the best I’ve had outside of Japan, while finely chopped celery stems – an underrated vegetable in yours truly’s opinion – were amped up with a savoury langoustine broth and white strawberries.
While savouries certainly had their misses (see picture captions), what ultimately clinched Ledoyen’s position as my favourite French meal of 2018 was the desserts, for which the only adjective I could use that doesn’t undersell this portion of the meal is epic. It consisted of over ten courses, and more if you count the smaller, amuse-style one-biters. ‘Well that’s not all that much then’, I hear you say. That’s what I thought too, and then I had it.
Get ready. The desserts, in all their bountiful glory:
Suffice to say, it was as close to a near-death experience as I’ve ever encountered in a restaurant setting. My stomach was turning off life support all the while my mouth was revelling in all the glory of French dessert technique, presented in the one meal: creams, ice creams, flaky and buttery pastry, luscious chocolates, fresh honey, and of course: cheeses. I would not be exaggerating things when I say that the spread of desserts Ledoyen served me would go a long way to constitute a full meal all by itself. While I won’t say ‘and I wouldn’t have it any other way’ (because honestly, I would have been happy to have received less), I will say that every bite was – in and of itself – worth the calories. Alléno’s mastery of desserts receives absolutely no questioning from me. Being half-comatose by the end of the meal might have had something to do with it.
These days, French cuisine doesn’t have the sway over the hearts and minds of modern foodies as it did since the days of nouvelle cuisine. The attention is all on Japan, South America, and the Nordic countries. The reality is that the appreciation is still there, even if foodies themselves don’t know it: French technique is everywhere, being the bedrock of so much of modern gastronomy, enhancing and complementing whatever style is in vogue at the time (in my experience, this seems to be Euro-Japanese at the moment).
And so when I do actually find myself in a ‘proper’ French restaurant, and one of the best in Paris no less, I am reminded of the French influence, its power, deliciousness, and how the cooking itself is no less stunning. Of course, Ledoyen itself is also pushing the envelope, like any 3* restaurant must. As far as poster children go, Ledoyen is right up there in reminding the world that there was a pretty damn good reason for French cooking originally defining modern cuisine as we know it. Merci beaucoup.
Date Last Visited:
Address: 8 Avenue Dutuit, 75008 Paris, France
Price Guide (approx): 380EUR + drinks ($602 AUD at time of writing)
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Pavillon Ledoyen
- Boundary-pushing cooking while respecting the essence of French techniques
- Incredible setting
- Very polished service as one expects of a French institution, although…
- …can be a little stiff from an Australian’s POV
- Some otherwise technically excellent dishes didn’t deliver on the flavour
Would I return: yes
F8 | S4.5 | A3