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The best food and wine matching on the planet

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Or, more accurately, that he can’t reinvent himself. The Old Master is Parisien chef Alain Senderens who until recently presided over the long established Parisien restaurant Lucas Carton. His sublime skill was pairing the world’s best wines with his three Michelin-starred cuisine, a fascinating pastime which I was lucky enough to witness on a couple of occasions but which certainly didn’t come cheap. In fact you’d have been lucky to get out at under €500 a head which put it well out of the reach of ordinary Parisiens.

M. Senderens decided about a year ago that he’d had enough of all that Michelin nonsense, handed back his stars and reinvented Lucas Carton as an upmarket brasserie called Senderens.

Now I can’t pretend I’m mad about the decor which has introduced into the sublimely beautiful art nouveau dining room some very strange ceiling and wall lighting which changes colour like a lava lamp and some decidedly dodgy silver plastic seating. But happily the food and wine matches are as sublime as ever and the place packed with a new, very cool young clientele.

Let me tell you why Senderens is so good: he knows exactly what to leave out of a dish to let a wine shine and how a wine can be used to provide a brilliant top note to a dish. His wine matches are always perfectly balanced, neither the food or the wine dominating the other. They’re also wildly unconventional.

On my recent visit he put a young minerally Vouvray Le Haut Lieu from Huet with a Thai/Vietnamese inspired dish of scallops flavoured with lime leaf and ginger but the genius of the match was that the light foamy lemony sauce that surrounded it contained butter which stopped the acid of the sauce clashing with the acid of the wine.

A pan-fried piece of turbot with leeks and artichokes, which came with a little shaker of croutons and pistachios for crunch was paired with a slightly earthy (in the nicest possible way) chardonnay 2004 Rijckaert Cotes du Jura Les Sarres which perfectly picked up on the crisp skin and rich flesh of the fish.

Next there was an extraordinary North African-inspired dish of lamb on the bone served with a wedge of lime and partnered with a light fragrant Majorcan wine An/2 Anima Negra 2004 served at cool cellar temperature. As Senderens triumphantly pointed out in his tasting note lime is supposed to annihilate red wine but here it provided a lift to the richly spicy, slightly oily textured meat and laid the foundation for the red to do its job.

Finally (fortunately the portions are small) there were two different desserts to try - a classic Vacherin aux marrons glacs (chestnut, cream and meringue) served with an Villa Artimino vin santo which provided a wonderful dried fruit note and stopped it being over-rich and roast pineapple with a rum baba served with a 23 year old Guatemalan rum which added an extra depth of flavour to the baba. (Senderens is perfectly willing to use spirits in a match when it works - there’s also a pairing of 10 year old Bowmore whisky with home smoked salmon, leeks and souffled potatoes on the menu)

Of course you don’t have to have the pairings which would certainly reduce the cost - the list contains some well priced bottles at 23€ and 32€ as well as a fine wine list but it is possible to eat here for round about €100 a head which for cooking and wine service of this 3 Michelin-starred standard is a pretty good deal. No-one who’s interested in food and wine matching should miss the chance to go.

Senderens is at 9 place de la Madeleine. 01 42 65 22 90 www.senderens.fr

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