DINING OWL AWARD: 2nd – for standout dishes
When I visited: March 2013
Location: Rue Beethoven, Paris
Team: Pascal Barbot (Head Chef), Christophe Rohat (maitre d’), Alexandre Jean (Head Sommelier)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 2 stars (used to have 3)
What to wear: Men – shirt and jacket and nice trousers and shoes; women – a smart dress and/or smart trousers and a top
Ambience: Intimate, high-end, quiet
Course of the meal: Mushroom, foie gras and green apple tart (“tart de triomphe”)
If I could change one thing: Take away the single table upstairs
Paris is known for its abundance of amazing restaurants, and I think I am right in saying that it has the most 3-star Michelin restaurants of any city in the world. One of these justifiably lauded restaurants is L’Astrance, which I visited with my partner Owl on a very rainy day in 2013.
We ate the ‘Hiver’ menu, which was both plentiful and innovative. We started with a fish veloute / foam with a glass of vintage Moet (2002), and another couple of canapés: almond with citrus jelly and brioche, and a biscuit with black truffle. We then launched into what we named the ‘tart de Triomphe’ – a mushroom, foie gras and green apple tart – perfection.
We were then treated to some fish / seafood courses – scallops with oyster and Japanese seaweed, and pollock with spinach and cumin seeds and citrus ravioli flowers. For a French restaurant, this one was light on the heavy meat, and the next courses of lamb with Parmesan cream and Jerusalem artichokes and duck with liver and leg on the side and sherry sauce were suitably restrained to enable us to not be too full for dessert. Speaking of … we moved on to a mystery course which the waiter told us, with a sparkle in his eye, that we “had to guess” about … it turned out to be fromage blanc with pureed mash potato and vanilla glace – delicious.
As a palate cleanser, we had ginger and lemon sorbet / foam, followed by candied vegetables and a fruit tart biscuit with pineapple and herb sorbet on the side, then with our green jasmine tea we were given a jasmine eggnog eggcup, and chestnut madeleines with a fresh fruit platter. We found it particularly refreshing to have some fresh fruit at the end rather than an OTT chocolate or cheesecake dessert.
We enjoyed a white (Sancerre 2010) wine with this assortment … I often find that a white wine is a safer bet with a long tasting meal as they tend to be lighter and go nicely with most things, even red meat, if chosen well. I most often ask advice from the sommelier … at the time we visited this restaurant, I knew very little about wine and I still don’t know (and probably never will!) anywhere near as much as a good sommelier. They often have an encyclopaedic knowledge about wine and are more than happy to help select something in your price range.
Special points to mention include the fact that the head chef (Pascal Barbot) came out to meet everyone and was genuinely friendly. The waiters seemed to find us amusing due to our “Britishness” – when we described one course as “terrific”, this got temporarily lost in translation as they thought we found it “terrible …”. The restaurant is pretty small and there is one table upstairs which we got – this enables you to look down and people-watch the other diners but if you want to be more immersed in the atmosphere, you could ask for one of the tables downstairs. Most of the other diners when we visited had the ubiquitous Chanel quilted handbag (yawn) but we wore smart-casual outfits which were fine – the waiters even took our sopping wet umbrellas and slightly ‘drowned-rat’ appearances with good grace.
This restaurant is more than deserving of its 3 Michelin stars and I feel it deserves all 5 of Dining Owl’s possible hoots as well, due to its innovation and ability to present simple ingredients beautifully.