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Our 1-week stay in Paris was not meant to be a gastronomic tour. But IT asked her Parisian friends, D and C, who work in the food industry, to make reservations for us at several restaurants. In four days, we ate in four restaurants with a combined total of eight Michelin stars. We did not know in advance about the star-ratings of other restaurants except L’Arpège.

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Alain Passard’s Arpège received three stars in 1996 and maintained it ever since. It is No. 16 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant website. The restaurant is located in an area with many government offices (Ministry of Agriculture, … etc).

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However, our overall experience is underwhelming – while the food is inventive and expertly cooked, it somehow did not wow us. More disappointing is the ambiance and service. As you can see the dining room is not exactly spacious –  it reminded us of some casual restaurants in New York –  it’s too cramped to be deemed a luxury, fine-dining establishment.

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The maître d’ was a bit arrogant. We could have managed the menu in French but when she heard us speak English, she spoke English to us.   A nice gesture, but she clearly had  no interest in explaining the menu – it was like a practiced speech she can recite in her sleep, which she did, with a “whatever” tone.  We all ordered the degustation menu <<Cuisine Choisie>>.

Aiguillette de Homard <Bleu nuil> au miel du Gros-Chesnay  – this is the best dish of the evening.

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The star chef Alain Passard came out to chat with diners at each table. He came to our table, we took pictures with him and had a little chat.  When he found out that IT and MW were visiting from HK, he told us how he enjoyed cooking there in an all-star cooking event – a charming host.

Fines ravioles palageres multicolores consomme ambre

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The restaurant is well known for its ability to cook vegetables which were grown in the chef’s garden.

Collection legumiere – image du potager ce matin  (“image of the garden this morning”)

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We all received a foldable knife with Arpège engraved on it as a souvenir. Marketing gimmick.

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The dining room had on one side nice wood paneling which curves around a corner and acted as a perfect sound reflector. Everything the two diners who sat next to it said to each other was clearly and loudly audible to us – a European business man was sweet-talking an Asian-American woman from LA.

Turbot de la pointe de Bretagne grille entier au <<Cotes du Jura>>

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Robe des champs <<Arlequin>> merguez legumiere

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IT bought a book of cartoons (bande dessinée or BD) about the chef.

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The dessert did not impress us as we had been having macarons from Pierre Hermé.

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While the food was pretty good, it was very expensive. Given the less-than fining-dining ambiance and service, it was poor value for the money.  We all agreed that unless one is determined to eat vegetables from Alain Passard’s garden, there is no reason to come here as some 1- or 2-star restaurants could produce a comparable experience at half the price.

See our earlier post on Passage 53 which was very good. Two more posts on Paris restaurants to come.

The above is my take on this restaurant.  The following is Sue’s.

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We’ve all been there; someone raves about something (most often a movie), you go see it for yourself and you are disappointed.  Well, this was one of those.

The whole restaurant experience went downhill from the moment we walked in.  Let’s just count the ways of how sad this episode turned out to be:

1.         The reception is about one (max 2) step away from the door.  Unfortunately, it’s a busy thoroughfare.  There are 4 of us but there wasn’t enough room to accommodate us and the number of wait staff moving back and forth to serve the tables.  I was about to walk outside to wait (there wasn’t any room for us to move to get out of the servers’ way) but we were shown to our table.

2.         The table was a bit small for four people.   When the food arrived, the logistics of where to put the plates, cutlery, table decoration, etc. were very distracting.   None of us were in a relaxed state to enjoy the food.

3.         There was a couple dining at a table right next to us.  I say “right next to us” because they might as well have joined us for dinner.  I heard every single word they said.  I wish they spoke a language I didn’t understand, but they spoke English.  Heck, the woman was from Southern California (I’m from there).  I was listening to gossip about people I don’t know and will never know.  I was NOT eaves dropping (not that that would have been hard).  They were having normal conversation but the table was so close together that I couldn’t help but hear their talk.

4.         Oh yes, the food…  I’m sure the food was good, but I can’t tell you how good it was: too many distractions and generally uncomfortable.   I couldn’t wait to finish and just get out.

5.         I noticed that all the tables around us were occupied by non-French speaking patrons.  Most were tourists or visitors, like us.  This place is a Michelin-“3-star”-themed restaurant.

A VERY expensive meal and it was also the most disappointing (but the restaurant did give us knives that we’ll never use).  I had better food, service and ambiance at diners in New York City and they were not even mentioned in the Michelin restaurant guide.

Moral of the story?  Michelin restaurant guide is not to be believed.  They seem to be giving out stars like candy.  Until this time, I thought a restaurant with a Michelin star meant something.  I shouldn’t have given much credence to their star system.  Well, caveat emptor.  Hey, Michelin, since you seem to be giving them away, I’m thinking about starting a food truck down by the lake, give me a star or three, will ya?

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4 Comments

  1. Come to Singapore , let wagu ghin wow u 😀

    http://www.marinabaysands.com/Singapore-Restaurants/Celebrity-Chefs/Waku-Ghin/

    I love food truck down by the lake, if u r opening one be sure to invite ne bk to lausanne for opening ceremony k lol. have u tried the suppose famous lakeside burger already ?

  2. Hi Chris and Sue,

    Sorry to hear that you did not like L’Arpège. While doing your searches, were you informed about things such as proximity between the tables, the fact that L’Arpège is not the typical grand dining destination in a way we, in North America, expect it to be. The reason I am asking is because L’Arpège is known to be a bit different from the common standards of haute dining that we know, Passard’s idea is to reproduce the ambience of a home where he receives his guests (hence the name ‘maison de cuisine’ instead of ‘restaurant). So totally different from most of the grand dining destinations of say, New York. I understand that some may like it, others not, but L’Arpège’s purpose is definitely to offer a different experience, one that’s more cozy, friendly, homey. That is reflected in the food: as you have experienced it yourself, some plates have a countryside feel to it in their presentation. I’d guess that you perhaps tend to prefer styles that are more modern/sophisticated and trendy (than L’Arpège) since I saw that you liked both Passage 53 and Thierry Marx. But of course, I am not judging your opinion about L’Arpège. You did not like it and that is to be respected.

    • We did not do any research on the restaurant. It was booked by a local friend who did not accompany us. Your comment explained Passard’s intention. But if we have to read your comment to recognize it, then there is proof that the maison de cuisine did not accomplish the homey ambiance. It was definitely cramped and noisy, anything but cozy. The scale of the space may reflect that aspiration but his fame probably led him to cram more tables into the room. It also meant that the maison is always packed. The effect he desired has come undone.

      • I respect your opinion, Chris. Did just appreciate it differently. Different strokes for different folks.


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