My family history has made me, for better or for worse, I’m not entirely certain, into a person who is extremely demanding when it comes to gastronomy. The meals we eat at home may be quick and simple but when I dine out, I want to be blown away.
Who’s fault, you ask? Perhaps my father’s. He was, after all, a talented restaurateur turned grand banker. He took me out to dine at Bocuse’s restaurant when I was four, to celebrate the bankruptcy of his restaurant (yes, don’t ask).
Who’s fault? Perhaps also my little brother’s. Nicolas opened Le P’tit Nicolas, a “bistronomic” restaurant in La Rochelle without any prior experience in the area but with true talent.
The only issue is that, when you invite Nicolas out to diner when he comes up to Paris, you have to step your game up, if I may speak frankly.
Which brings us to the Lutetia’s restaurant, the Saint Germain, which is where I invited my brother, with the secret desire to find out what he thought of the Lutetia 2.0.
In a nutshell: Nicolas was stunned. I was stunned. We were stunned.
(Nicolas is capable of vocalizing his amazement – I quote: “wow, this butter is seasoned with black lemon from Iran”, when I just say… nothing and think “indeed?”).
But let’s not reduce this to a nutshell. Let me take you through the experience. I am truly convinced that gastronomy, alongside music and sex, are the gifts given to us by the Gods in order to transcend our simple human state.
This belief was brought back to the surface when I tasted the executive chef Benjamin Brial’s divine cuisine. The flavours were such subtly arranged, harmonious and yet unique pairings. I was expecting a beautiful melody to play out on my palate, but it was a symphony that exploded instead.
I will not write an article about Benjamin Brial, a talented chef who’s travelled the world, from Shanghai to Hong-Kong and London: gastronomic journalists do it better than I could.
What I can tell you, however, is that behind a relaxed, open and sociable face, I suspect work. A lot of hard work. I also sense that Benjamin injects all his heart, talent and vision of gastronomy into each and every dish that is served. I know this because my Nicolas is a restaurateur and I am thus familiar with the worry that plagues those who are cooks to their very core: can I be proud of every dish that leaves this kitchen?
Back to the dishes, for a minute.
The opening act is very convincing, with a warm loaf of bread, accompanied by the famous butter with black lemon from Iran (indeed).
The starters, as well as the mains are wonderfully fine, subtle and light, touched with herbs and an oriental touch. The foie gras is enhanced by the black Sarawak pepper (which is quite convenient, given that I always feel the need to add pepper to regular foie gras), but also softened by a Hardy pear chutney.
The scallops’ delicate taste is highlighted by a combawa emulsion and Ceylon curry, whilst the poached poultry is accompanied by a delicious cocoa sobatcha crust and roasted salsifies.
Shanghai and Hong-Kong are never too far away. Neither are the herbs.
The wines suggested by the expert are of the same standard. And though I expected a satisfying yet conventional choice, I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself drinking a lovely Collioure wine that perfectly complimented the very French “blanquette” (nothing like the one your grandmother makes, I can reassure you) I was enjoying).
And now, to desserts. I am very picky when it comes to the former. Simply because, in my opinion, very few pastry chefs live up to the meals presented by the cooking chefs. I was nonetheless very impressed with my dessert. Maybe it makes sense, seeing as the pastry chef is none other than Gaëtan Fiard, World Champion of the Sweet Arts in 2014 and that what he creates is, once again, divine. Gaëtan is also the kind of chef who pours his heart into each dish he sends out.
The poached pear is delicate, flavoursome and generous.
The rum baba? Or is it rum with a touch of baba? I’m not sure which one wins but even then, it is marvelously light and tasty.
There is dedication in each of these dishes, and a lot of sentiment. Above all else, and the “all else” was already so much more than expected, I was utterly conquered by the strong humanity that reigned in each dish and everywhere in the room. Benjamin brings out Gaëtan, the other restaurant room chefs showcase Benjamin, everyone is incredibly devoted to the clients and it’s wonderful because that’s life at its best.
Do run there, but book first 😉