Nothing lasts forever. Luckily, one beautiful non-perennial favourite blooms once a year.
As you are reading these words (if you hail from LUSSO’s own part of the Northern hemisphere), the days are drawing shorter, pleasingly-jaundiced leaves are gliding down to mulch pavements, morning skies are brushed by strata of smoke and peach strips and, as the air begins to crisp around your mouth, the well cut wool-based layers of your wardrobe are due to make their annual first-night appearance. In short – it’s Autumn. Or Fall. And for many of us of a more…reflective nature, perhaps our favourite time of the year. Yet one doesn’t necessarily need to be a committed heliophile to pine the departing summer.
For the cultured Parisian, the last week of September is a particularly poignant time, because September 25th is the final day one can sample the very summery delights of Le Cour Jardin, before it wraps up until the following May.
Paris in the (late) Spring has many things to coo about, but stepping off Ave. Montaigne in to the lush, palatial lobby of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, past the exterior’s crimson awnings and into the courtyard garden, must be one of the very highest highlights. Here is where those in the know come to escape the cosmopolitan bustle – a serene, vine-conquered, marble-floored quadrangle, with the red geraniums and shades drinking in and absorbing the beams of sunshine, like some forgotten classical temple. Which of course, in a way it is.
Whilst Alain Ducasse’s main altar to the god Michelin – a baroque dining hall as designed by Stanley Kubrick – hosts gastronomic transubstantiations inside the hotel, Le Cour Jardin is the blessed cloister. And in keeping with the high priest’s own doctrine of purity and serenity, the menu reflects his passion for lightness and freshness, as drawn from his training in the Provençal liturgy. To ramp up the beneficence even more, he and Lawrence Aboucaya, owner of Pousse-Pousse, a local vegetarian restaurant, have concocted a special high-energy menu for the models and fashionistas. Caviar of germed lentils with crackers and sliced vegetables does sound amazing, daahhlink. However, I’m here for serious worship.
If the soul is lifted just be sitting here and taking in the harmonic ambience, the spirit is nourished by chef Frédéric Larquemin’s (totally unburnt) offerings. First, the olive oil. Literally the most mouth pleasing emulsion to ever pass my lips on some bread. You know you’re in for an experience when the first drizzle redefines your expectations. Having been keeping it rich in Paris for a couple of days, I eschew foie gras and the compelling old style tomatoes with “Rove” cottage cheese and start with the famous La Cocotte de Légume – Mediterranean vegetables, cooked very slowly in their own humidity, with just a tiny amount of vegetable or chicken stock. It’s Ducasse’s signature dish at Le Louis XV and it may well be the most sublime collection of green (with some yellow) things ever assembled in a pot. Every participle a unique note on the palette. For some sweet six minutes or so, my lust for flesh totally leaves my body. My companion’s Blue Lobster, served on a caponata of aubergine with a seductive combo of reduced bisque and coral-infused vinaigrette, is the Platonic form of ‘seafood starter’ and not of this world. No more prawn cocktails for her.
Now on a mission to follow the master’s plan of all things light, I leave the tantalising red meat – fillet of Beef from Salers and Lamb Saddle from Lozère – and go for chicken.
This being Le Cour, it’s corn-fed royalty from the South West province of Les Landes and comes simply accessorised with chanterelles, fresh almonds and lemon. No side is offered or required. I ruminate on the textures, flavours and delicacy I’m having to comprehend. On a sensory level, it’s almost exhausting. Meanwhile on the other side of the table, the perfection of classical symmetry continues with shimmering fillets of red mullet, nestling next to a golden section rectangle of chickpea panisse – very high-end baked falafel – with zucchini flowers and all held together by a bouillabaisse drizzle. If only good was an adequate concept to mark it by. We finish by sharing more substance-altering joy. A Chocolate aux Noisettes, served on a creme in a small glass bowl, is presented. The medallion of solid chocolate covering it is rendered liquid in front of our eyes by the addition of hot chocolate sauce. Have I said chocolate enough? We ascend to heaven on a cloud of serotonin. The service, having been perfect in its friendliness and elegance up to this point, sees no point in attempting to retrieve us.
Sadly, ill winds will blow. On returning to London, a stolen bag means my notes on the wines have been lost to the ages (or Harlesden). It matters not. They were amazing, too. Naturally. So enjoy the winter, safe in the knowledge that spring will come and when it does, you know where you should go to give thanks. Deorum cibus est.
Visit www.alain-ducasse.com or call +33 (0)1 53 67 66 02 to make a reservation. Hôtel Plaza Athénée. 21, avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris, France.