Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hélène Darroze

As a wedding gift from the boy's company, we received a "Forfait Lys" from the Relais & Chateaux, which is, essentially, a gift certificate.

We received the Lys de Cristal, which entitled us to one dinner or lunch, without beverages, at a selected list of restaurants.

Looking through the restaurants, most of the Michelin starred ones were for lunch rather than dinner and we settled (ok, the boy gave in to me actually) on Hélène Darroze, a two Michelin starred restaurant.

I was excited to eat there for two reasons. For one thing, it was meant to be a birthday lunch for the boy, as it was a few day before his birthday and also, it was a female chef so I had a cliched moment of "Girl Power" (how very Spice Girls of me).

Anyhow, we had applied to the website for lunch on Saturday but since we hadn't heard back, I gave them a call on the Friday and although they didn't receive the request, was able to accommodate us. The lady on the phone was surprisingly nice. I had been expecting some hoity toity-ness for the last minute request and for the fact that the Michelin Guide was put out just a few days ago which had them maintaining their 2 star status, but it goes to show that I really shouldn't expect the worst.

I should mention here that all of the staff were incredibly pleasant and in particular our waiter with the devastatingly beautiful eyes. When asked if I was permitted to take photos, the maitre d' wheeled over the gorgeous machine with the ham to the best possible angle, patiently waiting for me to adjust my camera and encouraged me to take as many photos of the restaurant, personnel and food as I wished. After Umami's experience, I was well chuffed!!

He then sliced off some of the ham and presented it with a thick bread stick rolled in toasted popcorn kernels, which gave a nice crisp fragrant texture, both sweet and salted butter and a gorgeously fragrant green olive oil.

But the ham... OOOOH the ham.... it was simply magic. Thin slivers that melted on your tongue and coating it with the most delicious essence of porky goodness.

The boy kept eyeing the plate of two Taiwanese ladies next to us who were pescetarian and thus did not touch their ham. He desperately wanted to snatch it from them and was near tears when their plate was taken away whole.

We were then presented with a trolley of breads. Yup, a whole trolley of breads of which we were served some of the pain aux cereals and pain tradition to start with. He graciously offered to let us try all of the breads but it turned out we couldn't even finish what little we had. When asked if the bread was homemade, he told me that no, they didn't make their own bread but sourced them from Poujauran. From the bread I tried, I clearly need to move my arse over there to try some more.

Of course all thought of bread flew out of our heads when we were presented with our amuse guele of foie gras creme brulee topped with green apple sorbet and crushed pistachio nuts. Unusually but very very nice. Perfectly crispy, sweet, crackly top of the brulee, the tang and chill of the sorbet and the richness of the foie gras with the crunchy pistachios somehow worked really well together and got us excited for the food ahead.

Which was the "Comparaison de deux foies gras confit: foie gras de canard des Landes confit aux epices douces, foie gras d'oie des Landes confit au naturel, chutney de fruits de mendiant". So basically 2 foie gras. Two sizable portions of the foie gras, I might add. The boy preferred the richness of the goose foie gras but I liked the slightly spiced taste of the duck foie gras. I didn't like the chutney, which tasted a little too similar to Christmas pudding and really overwhelmed the flavor of the foie gras when paired together. By the end of my starter, I was starting to feel just slightly full... that was when our main arrived...

Our main of "Lard de porc basque de la valee des Aldudes confit longuement puis roiti a la broche, puree de carottes aux agrumes, jus en infusion de coriandre". What a mouthful. DAMN, what a mouthful of fatty, caramelized meat. However, that being said, I must admit that I could taste the star anise rather a lot, which is not something I enjoy as a dominant flavor. And while I appreciate that the fat adds to the flavor of the meat, the amount of it was quite shocking. I am quite happy to eat some gelatinous fat from my meat but when the fat portion was equal if not more than the meat, I start getting a bit squeamish. The meat itself was delicious and soft, infused with flavor but it was the skin, chewy, caramelized and unctuous that won me over. I found the carrots (which the waiter, in an attempt to explain the dish in English, appetizingly called it, 'mushed carrots') way too sweet. It was sweetened with orange juice but it seemed to turn it into a too sweet baby food. I couldn't do more than taste it.

The cheeses.....OOOOH, the cheeses..... the cheese trolley was a delight, which cheeses under huge glass bells to keep the smells separate. The selection included a great crumbly, 48 month Comte, a brebis cheese of 7, 12 and 24 months, a cow's cheese washed with a nut liquor and our absolute favorite, a particularly pungent and strong Spanish blue cheese, Cabrales. This latter was sooo good... tangy, astringent and rich. The boy finished before me and started giggling, leaning across and telling me that the aftertaste was just a little bit like after being violently sick. It is a little bit true... and if someone had not served it to me in a restaurant, I might have taken one whiff and agreed with them that it was time to throw it away... as it was, we were both enamoured and must buy more!

The dessert was a pinacolada creme glacee a la vanille Bourbon, gelee au citron et au curry, ananas Victoria et croustillant a la noix de coco. It was a nice, light refreshing dessert tasting mostly of well chilled pinapple with light whipped coconut cream.

But the mignardise served with the coffee. Now THAT is something to talk about.

Another trolley, this time laden with sweets such as salted caramel macaron, passion fruit marshmallow, myrtille marshamallow, lychee and rosewater gelee, apricot and coconute pate de fruit, pistachio and cherry financier, chocolate praline (like a wonderful ferro rocher), dark chocolate covered almond slivers and a bitter chocolate caramel and another one of milk chocolate with ginger.

When I said I couldn't decide, the waiter told me to have one of each and really, not to hesitate. So I agreed, with much shaking of the head from the boy.

I admit. I suffered afterwards. Even after a 2.5 hour walk and much peppermint tea at home. I couldn't face eating until the next morning.

Absolutely wonderful experience. That being said, I don't think we would have gone if we'd had to pay for it ourselves.... it was very pricey... so our thanks to the boy's company!

Hélène Darroze
4 rue d'Assas
75006 Paris
Tel: + 33 (0)1 42 22 00 11
Metro: Saint Suplice

20, rue Jean Nicot, Paris,
France 75007
Tel: 01 43 17 35 20
Metro: La Tour-Maubourg


Susan said...

Oh Jess, this sounds fab. What kind of ham was it? But wow, what a rich meal. Did you two share the courses? If so, it's a good thing you two can agree; I don't think Nigel and I could.


Sui Mai said...

I'm a bad blogger.... I can't remember where that delicious ham came from. I plan on calling to ask. I forgot everything once it was in my mouth....

The lunch was for 2 but unfortunately we weren't allowed to choose the courses, it was a set menu so we had the same thing. Interestingly, the starter we had would have been 75 euros normally a la carte. Shocking!

Belle said...

I'm reading your blog from afar (Sydney) and am SO jealous. My bf is from Paris but we are yet to visit France together. I dream of that day (after the lottery win) when we can dine in Michelin-starred places like you! Love that you took great photos, too.

Beau Lotus said...

Sui Mai, how much is their lunch menu if one has to pay for it? Looks really good the foie gras and mignardises, just for that I'm really to go claquer des tunes chez Darroze!

Sui Mai said...

Thanks Belle!! Actually I was a bit frustrated as I had to whack up the ISO really high for them to come out not blurry so actually there's a lot of noise!

Hi Beau!
I *think* the lunch menu was 75euros and I think the difference was mainly in the starter. I believe there was a foie gras starter but not the same as the one we had. That price is not including drinks (coffee and mignardise).

Hope that helps!