Come, sip and savour with me. Luxuriate in my most beloved, beautiful Paris—from a brand new electric-ship restaurant of a multi-Michelin star maestro to the private mansion of a prince, from the sweet sculpted masterpieces of a superstar patissier to highly affordable Franco-Japanese tapas. There is exciting news from the Left Bank and a vegetarian wow too.
I’m grateful to three celebrated Parisian friends for taking me to their favourite hidden gems: François Simon, the revered and feared food critic (and the rumoured inspiration behind Anton Ego, the food critic in Ratatouille); Hélène Pietrini, the dynamic director of the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy; and Japanese author Chihiro Masui.
This is an unrivalled Parisian feast in every sense of the term. I’m sailing and feasting on Parisian landmarks and emblematic French food, all at once. In case you’re wondering, I’m on board the brand new super-luxurious restaurant Ducasse sur Seine, which is making international waves. As the Eiffel sparkles on the dot of eight, Captain Ulysee Boar and Ines Ioudidi flag off our luxurious meal and the multi-Michelin star Alain Ducasse redefines fine dining on a boat. Champagne sparkles at the beginning, then a parade of dishes sashay in as the silent electric boat glides to the sound of music. The meal meanders from the luscious pâté de foie gras to the chocolate crispy praline, accompanied by fine wines—a symphony of the best French Crus. Serendipitously, we are sailing past my favourite bridge, the Pont Alexandre III, when my favourite vegetarian cookpot is served up. The specially-created, single-serving cocotte, delicious with spelt and violet artichokes, is memorable. The menu is created in the bespoke kitchens sprawled over the lower deck. And it is served amid dramatically lit interiors—from lunar cold to candle warm—and coddling music.
P.S. Ducasse sur Seine has been overbooked since it opened a couple of months ago, and it took me a lot of planning ahead to get a table here.
Why do I feel like I’ve slipped on a princess’ tiara tonight? Why does this dinner at Le Clarence have that feeling of occasion? Is it because we are dining in a magnificent 19th-century Parisian mansion, restored by the finest of craftsmen under the immaculate supervision of its owner, HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg? Or could it be the brilliant Chef Christophe Pelé‘s bespoke and bold, inspired and instinctive cuisine?
Just before dinner, Hélène Pietrini and I are ushered into the grand salon. Shimmering crystal chandeliers above, a soft antique carpet below and objets d’art all around, I sink into an oversized couch by the fireplace for a pre-dinner drink. The mansion sprawls several floors, adorned with fragrant floral compositions, thick curtains, an antique backgammon table and a splendid library.
We are led up a sweeping marble staircase into the main dining room, where time has stood still. Tapestries, plush flower-patterned carpets, artworks and classic furniture—all handpicked from major auction houses and flea markets by the Prince of Luxembourg—hark back to the Age of Enlightenment.
It is here that our dinner officially begins. The meal is a celebration of the freshest seasonal bounty from land and sea. There is no menu. Each dish specially created for each guest, guided by the moment or the chef’s instinct. And each dish bursts with refreshing newness and surprise, yet through it, a deep respect for the fundamentals of French cuisine is palpable. “Cultivate tradition, while continuing to innovate,” is Chef Pelé’s motto.
His cuisine is precise, ethereal and perfectly balanced. He coaxes unique flavours, presides over unusual marriages and creates gems of inexplicable wizardry. Expect the unexpected— the tasting menu includes a flavourful ris de veau paired with tender langoustine. The ocean’s brine and breath are exquisitely captured in the white turbot, line-caught sea bass, fresh bottarga and vegetarian masterpieces as well. Every now and then, the mellow note of almond butter and the tenor of anchovy and caper chime in to make up a memorable orchestra. There’s also the intense, earthy umami and a musky truffle high, which will have you taking joyful pauses between bites. For the sweetest of finales, the chef’s special chocolate soufflé is crowned with a thinly sliced truffle. Light as air! Is it any wonder that the restaurant was showered with Michelin stars within a year of its opening?
To enhance Chef Pelé’s masterly creations, the wine list offers a thousand prestigious or confidential references that illustrate the variety and formidable complexity of French wine- growing terroir. The Prince of Luxembourg also owns the Bordeaux wine-producing Château Haut-Brion, so precious vintages from the vineyards of Domaine Clarence Dillon and a handpicked selection of the finest Cru wines and spirits are offered here. Haut-Brion was best known to be John F Kennedy’s wine of choice. But it has a far older history. In 1660, the year that Charles II was restored as King of England, Haut- Brion was served at the king’s table—along with the masterpieces of Chef Marie-Antoine Carême, who was known as “the king of chefs and the chef of kings.” Is it any wonder that I feel particularly royal tonight?
Address: 31 Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
It looks like a traditional Parisian bistro—time-worn benches, Formica tables, black-and-white chequered tile floor—but Le Petit Keller throbs with the heart of an izakaya (a Japanese tapas bar). If it wasn’t for the formidable French critic, François Simon, I would’ve never discovered it. Here, the petite and brilliant Chef Kaori Endo crafts inventive, affordable dishes that explode with Franco-Japanese flavours. We go past the large zinc counter and seat ourselves in the small room packed with tables.
While researching for my vegetarian guide to Paris, I had fallen in love with Nanashi and Rose bakery. In a happy coincidence, Chef Kaori Endo has worked in both. She has made Le Petit Keller one of the most original dining destinations in the city. It offers small plates with big flavours: be it the silky hummus enriched with adzuki beans, or the smoked buffalo bocconcini enlivened with lemon confit and balanced with the saltiness of anchovies. Ask for the nitamagos (marinated poached eggs) and sip on refreshing home-made ginger ale or wine. For the big plates, opt for the dish of the day—it could be the moist, flavourful donburi (rice bowl) with a choice of toppings, or the grilled mackerel with miso sauce.
Celebrated for her desserts, Kaori’s matcha cake and strawberry tart with orange and rhubarb compote are as light, elegant and nuanced as her savoury dishes. Moderately priced but high on flavour, these are truly tapas without borders.
Address: 13 Rue Keller Paris
Here in Paris, the global gourmet capital celebrated for its meat dishes, I have tasted haute vegetarian cuisine. And that too in the capital’s most stylish address, Plaza Athénée, which has exemplified modern luxury over 100-plus years. It’s been a beloved of plenty of movie stars and heads of state (including India’s current Prime Minister). It is helmed by superstars, CEO Francois Delahaye included. For Alain Ducasse’s shimmering temple to gastronomy, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, is housed here. The menu proudly displays the gardener’s name and serves only vegetables, grain and fish. Luxury drips in 10,000 Swarovski pendant-like chandeliers—it is here that I’ve had the most fabulous meals, paired with immaculate service and brilliant attention to detail. On a recent trip, I had the most exceptional vegetarian fare cooked by Chef Romain Meder, who uses seasonal produce from their own gardens in the Palace of Versailles that delight patrons with their freshness, textures and complex flavours.
Address: Hotel Plaza Athenee, 25 avenue Montaigne
Three floors await you in the small but unique Botanique 71. A tapas bistro on the first level, a second ‘bistronomic’ level and a cellar in the basement. My knowledgeable and celebrated friend Chihiro Masui takes me up the stairs to the bistronomic level for a tasting menu. At the top of the stairs, a magnificent glass roof soaks the space in light. In the evening, the space is transformed into a gourmet restaurant: simple and subtle flavours, precision and breathtaking colours that resonate with the roots of French gastronomy.
Chef Sugio Yamaguchi and sommelier Alexandre Philippe were awarded the Prix de la Bourse Badoit Creation for bringing boldness and modernity to the table. Every dish is infused with emotional sensitivity, and detail. I feast on the unique vegetable tart’s presentation as well as flavour and texure. It’s a delight to watch Yamaguchi work in the kitchen, preparing nuanced dishes—from the perfect egg paired with a fricassee of mushrooms, to shellfish in a delicately peppery chocolate tart.
Address: Rue de la Folie Mericourt
In the iconic hotel adored by great artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, there is now a maestro creating edible art. It is in the legendary Le Meurice that I meet France’s brilliant young pâtissier, Cédric Grolet. Over a high-tea tasting (which is booked months in advance), along with my restaurateur and ballerina friend Matilda Shnurova, we taste Grolet’s famous sculpted fruits, chocolate tart, pistachio Paris-brest and more in La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet. Declared the ‘Best Pastry Chef in the World 2018‘ by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, this creative force opened his first pastry boutique recently and his innovative vision and technical prowess are palpable here.
Address: 6 Rue Castiglione, 1st arrondissement
Recently, the pulse of one of the grandest hotels on the Left Bank was revived. The historic Hotel Lutetia—with its undulating, wave-like façade—reopened after years of renovation. And fittingly, the three-Michelin star Mediterranean chef and master of seafood, Gérald Passédat anchored here to helm the Brasserie Lutetia. Here, I feast on the most unique maritime-inspired Mediterranean experience.
I’m riveted by the fascinating story of two 100-year-old establishments twinning in age and prowess. Hotel Lutetia, the first grand hotel of the Rive Gauche opened in 1910. Lutetia was the Romans’ name for Paris, as well as their motto for the city—fluctuat nec mergitur, or ‘[she] is rocked [by the waves], but does not sink’. Around the same time, in 1917 Marseille, Chef Gérald Passédat’s grandfather set up Le Petit Nice, a magnificent villa. Both Lutetia and Le Petit Nice share a keen sense of hospitality and sophistication and have served authors, artists, fashionistas and cinema moguls. It is the third generation, Chef Gérald Passédat, who is now re- establishing Brasserie Lutetia’s old-world charm.
The briny sea breathes in the heart and soul of the signature Provençal seafood dishes. Chef Passédat’s traditional bouillabaisse is afloat with the freshest of seafood, which flavours the rich saffron-infused stock. And the whole stuffed seabream is flambéed with pastis at our table. I cannot stop eating the lusciously marinated jaffa avocado in erotic union with mango, citrus and caviar, while over 40 different organic wines call out to me. Plenty of hand-picked oysters, pistou soup and red rice dot the table. I end with traditional millefeuilles and cakes.
Address: 45, boulevard Raspail
The French capital is a world unto itself. But if you’re here for gastronomic delights, it’s advisable to stay near the heart of the city.
Hôtel de Crillon is one of the most extravagant Parsian hotels in the heart of the city (doubles from INR 83,899). Those looking for a more modern appeal may check in at Le Roch Hotel & Spa (doubles from INR 30,022). And the almost secretive San Régis comes with the best of luxury (doubles from INR 48,575).
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