I hate being negative about a place. I understand the tremendous work input creativity and imagination that goes into establishing a good restaurant, more so when you are at the top of the ladder with Michelin stars. But Pierre Gagnairs restaurant at the Hotel Balzac despite the super efficient staff and slick service, wonderful presentation just lacked to me, soul and passion.
We were really excited to have got a reservation and though we arrived early we were treated warmly and taken to our table. I think this is were for me was the first disappointment. It was just too sterile it lacked the warmth or atmosphere of say L’Arpege on the left bank. Basically you were here to eat and not really enjoy or relax.
I love food though I am not a particularly adventurous. For me the taste the quality the freshness combined with the atmosphere of a restaurant is what makes the overall experience memorable.
There are many times when the taste of a particular dish really resonates with me. I remember once we were driving from Austria where we have a ski lodge to Annecy in France. The drive was long , the traffic by Munich just never seemed to move and by the time we arrived at Auberge du Pere Bise on Annecy lake we were tired and pretty much fed up.
However ,I will never ever forget the Poulet de Bresse served two ways. It was beyond incredible and despite the stunning surroundings of this charming hotel what I remember is that chicken with tarragon sauce. I had never tasted something so wonderful and delicious and every time we subsequently went that Poulet de Bresse was just as good. Its now under new chef and owner Jean Sulpice and I am looking forward to visiting soon.
This was not the case with Pierre Gagnair .Yes the presentation of the food was fabulous. A profusion of shape and colour but frankly put there really was no dish that made my heart sing. There is not such thing as bad 3 star Michelin food. To get to that level is hard and the chefs put in a lot of time in creating new dishes that will visually excite as well as satiate the stomach.
We started with a glass of Gosset Grande Reserve Champagne . It was the first time I tried it and I liked the dry muted flavours.
As is par of the course in these Couture restaurants we were given a whole array of little complimentary starters from breads to teeny weenie clever canapés. The visual display was stunning . I loved the coloured breadsticks and I liked the sensation of different tastes. This was followed by another tasters of amuse bouche. Again lots of tiny dishes with little things. I loved the mussel with mushrooms, the little fillet of trout with its eggs.
The food was faultless but to me it lacked a passion. Everything was just too slick and the overwhelming feeling I got was very commercial. Every waiter seemed to be pushing Sketch when we said we were from London and while every single one was hugely knowledgeable about the food and explained everything, it was again more of ‘its my job’ rather ‘its good to have you here’. Maybe I am being too sensitive but for us part of going out is the overall experience of being made to feel welcome.
We opted for the truffle menu La Truffe Noire Melanosporum and they are laid back if you mix and match. A huge box of very fragrant ruffles was brought to our table and I opted to start with Sea Garden which had lots of different dishes. That is Pierre Gaganair signature way of serving any dish you order. It always made up of a series of little dishes with interpretation of your main choice.
I loved my oyster and fois gras combination in a light very big flavour beet broth. I was not so enamoured with the scallops and pomegranate. The squid with paprika was heaven.
I had Blanquette de veau with loads of truffles . Truffle salad, truffle mash . It seemed to me that I had truffle in so many ways and there was nothing mean about the portions of truffles. Richard had the langoustine and this was brought in 2 different servings. It was good but nothing that is going to make remember that taste in my mouth .
We had after discussing with the wine waiter decided to go for glasses of wine rather than a bottle. We started with a Chenin Blanc then I had a Gevery Chambertin. The choices were really well paired for my food.
Finally we had the extravaganza of desert which we shared. 8 different sweets all very pretty but nothing memorable. Nothing that’s going to make me think in a few weeks or months of that taste in my mouth. The food was accomplished imaginatively presented but the taste really was not there.
Pierre Gagnaire philosophy is ‘Facing tomorrow but respectful of yesterday’. He has many restaurants the world over including Sketch In London a restaurant at Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas. He has won many awards including Best Chef in the World 2015. The credibility is there and his food but I felt it was more about the business. His food is described as fusion French where he pairs many contrasting unpredictable flavours together.
This really didn’t do it for me. I felt it was more like a high end, very high end ‘chain’ type of experience. Efficient, the purposed seemed to me more to demonstrate the chefs cleverness and innovation rather than the taste and we were just a side show and not integral to the experience. I accept it’s a harsh judgement but I think when chefs diverse too much to build a brand that sense of passion is more motivated by the brand than the food.
Ultimately my feelings are it was fine but I didn’t get the taste of memorable food and I thought the atmosphere was too cold.