Review: Alain Ducasse, Hotel Plaza Athénée

Lottery-winning, fish-eating vegetarians will be clapping their hands because this is one restaurant where the meat-free diet is celebrated. Scratch that. Worshipped.

Alain Ducasse sent shock waves throughout the culinary world when he announced he’d be giving his Michelin three star restaurant, in the Hotel Plaza Athénée, a makeover. Out went the meat, in came seafood, grains, vegetables and a largely organic offering. It opened in September last year, after being excluded from the Michelin guide during refurbishment. It took a one-star hit on re-opening.

It wasn’t only the menu that got ripped apart at this Parisian institution, the dining room and bar was totally transformed too.

Interior, Plaza Athenee

Dining Room, Plaza Athenee

Bar, Plaza Athenee

Bar, Plaza Athenee

I hopped on the Eurostar at St Pancras to have lunch and a wander around the streets of one of my favourite cities in the world.

Eurostar, St Pancras

The Hotel is a short cab ride away from the Gare du Nord on the Avenue Montaigne, next door to the jeweller Harry Winston and over the road from Dior.

Plaza Athenee, Paris

The Plaza likes red and there’s plenty of it, from the outside terrace, to the window boxes spilling out poker-red geraniums and trailing ivy from the Art Nouveau balconies.

Terrace, Plaza Athenee

Outside Terrace, Plaza Athenee

You don’t visit Alain Ducasse’s restaurant if you want plain and simple. For many, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime meal, simply because of the price tag, but it’s an opportunity to try the best food and drink the world has to offer.  The decor is other-wordly from the Murano chandeliers to the polished cloche banquettes (each took 500 hours to make).

Entrance, Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee

All tables are left bare to show their beautiful wooden grain. There are no flowers, on strict instructions of Mr Ducasse, any scent would destroy the palate. Mais bien sûr. Everything has been thought about from the folding stool for my Hermes Birkin bag (if I owned one), to the ‘mushroom’ shaped table lamps that glow during dinner service.

The meal starts with a bright green juice, which tastes way to healthy for my liking, plenty of iron-rich vegetables and a large globe of ice.

Green juice, Plaza Athenee

Bread is seed-rich, one a galette of nuts and grains, the others traditional French and a treacle-rich brown, all made on site.

Bread, Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee

Bread, Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee

Ewe’s Milk and crispy grains come with a mild ‘dipping’ radish.

Ewe's Milk, Alain Ducasse

A beautifully pink ceviche followed, topped with minimal, yet effective lime peel.

Ceviche, Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee

Then came a deep-fried sardine, the whole fish ready to be slipped down the throat, bones included. The baby gem lettuce was sublime, crunchy and chargrilled, I chickened-out and left the bones and head but the fish was so tasty.

Deep-fried sardine, Alain Ducasse

A brightly-coloured stack of vegetables from the Garden of Versailles with a mustard jus will set you back (€85). Know that Marie Antoinette’s perfumed livestock were fertilising the earth and that these are some of the best vegetables you’ll ever taste.

Vegetables from the Palace of Versailles

Vegetables, Garden of Versaille

The Lentils Vert’s du Puy et Caviar, Delicate Gelee (€165) came with creme fraiche and a glorious stack of buckwheat pancakes. The poor man’s lentils and the rich man’s caviar served in a silver dish with the most fragrant, smoked jelly. Then ensued a delicate balancing act stacking the various ingredients on the pancake topped by the thick cream without it making a mess on the deep-pile wool carpet.

Lentils Vert's du Puy et Caviar, Delicate Gelee Lentils Vert's du Puy et Caviar, Delicate Gelee

Black rice with scallops and samphire was prepared at the table and was nutty, fishy and moreish.

Black rice, Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee

Bright pink Homard blue du Contentin was plated with THE best potatoes ever – Pommes de Mer (€130). These earthy babies are the La Bonnotte variety, known as the caviar of the potato world and grown on the Island of Noirmoutier, where they add seaweed to the tuber’s soil.

Homard, Alain Ducasse

The Bar de l”Atlantique was a meaty steak of dense white fish, cooked perfectly. Confit clementines brought a sharp but perfect balance of sweetness and acidity along with a tender white asparagus. A citrus jus brought everything together.

The French like to serve their desserts after the cheese course, alien to us, and something I still find difficulty with … but when in Paris.

Cheese, Alain Ducasse

The cheese trolley had an unrivalled selection dominated by French producers from all corners of the country, except for one of my favourites from the Stichelton Dairy in the UK.  Alongside it there was a Normandy Camembert, a 3 year aged Comte, stinky Munster from Lorraine and 5 great Goats cheeses from the centre to the south of France.

Cheese Trolley, Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee

Napkin, Alain Ducasse

The desserts are as spectacular as the main courses. My favourite was the citron nicoise with a tarragon pesto. Candied lemon was studded in the sharpest lemon sorbet, at its base a herb-infused jus.

Lemon dessert, Alain Ducasse

Lemon dessert, Alain Ducasse

A split cocoa pod was the vessel for the chocolate dish, lined with praline, chocolate and topped off with buckwheat ice cream.

Split cocoa pod, Alain Ducasse

Beautiful seasonal Carpentras strawberries were served with a yogurt cream.

Frozen berries, Alain Ducasse

And a chocolate slice to die-for, with chocolate from the Ducasse factory.

Chocolate slice, Alain Ducasse

A Rum Baba ends a fantastic meal, complimentary but a dish too far for me. Beautifully light sponge has just the right amount of alcohol, topped off with a lightly whipped, vanilla-studded creme fraiche.

Rhum Baba

The service is exemplary, still relatively formal but not overbearing.

Waiting Staff, Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee

A quick tour of the kitchen at the end of the meal finds an army of chefs scrubbing down, I spy a Chef’s Table and get a little excited, but that is quickly capped.  It’s a personal invite only, so there’s no chance of me ever sitting here but it looks comfy all the same.
Chef's Table, Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee

Mr Ducasse has created something very exciting here with his trilogy ingredients and if the locals and critics are unhappy be buoyed by the fact that punters are lapping it up. When I visit the restaurant is full-to-bursting for lunch and I’m told dinner service, with tables booked up months in advance. If you can book, go sooner than later. If I were a Michelin judge I’d definitely return the third star where it belongs.

Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée
25, avenue Montaigne (8th)
Tél: 01 53 67 65 00

Métro: Alma-Marceau