There have recently been suggestions that Paris’ status as gourmet capital has been usurped by Tokyo and even London in recent years. While Tokyo has been lauded by Michelin for its impressive array of 3 star restaurants and London offers a diversity of cuisine unparalleled by many cities, one would have to be a total barbarian to dismiss Paris’ pre-eminence in the sphere of fine dining.
Widely recognised by the French as one of their greatest chefs, Guy Savoy is perhaps not as famous outside France as those other 3 star giants Pierre Gagnaire, Joel Robuchon or Alain Ducasse. If, however, you’re seeking a refined, quintessentially French dining experience in Paris, say for a birthday, wedding anniversary or even a romantic date, I can recommend heading to Savoy’s flagship restaurant off the Champs Elyses. Inspired, elegant and seasonal, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Tucked away on a small street, the restaurant entrance is so discreet my dining companion and I almost missed it. The decor, dominated by dark African wood and cream marble, exudes an ever so slightly Zen feel. A series of ethnic sculptures stand solemnly in several corners of the restaurant, with a rather mesmerizing Buddha made of matchsticks to the left of the entrance. This is - no doubt about it - a contemporary restaurant: in Monsieur Savoy’s words, an “auberge for the 21st century”
The man himself, a handsome, leonine figure, is much in evidence - greeting each table personally and escorting his guests to the door as they leave, an endearing touch of old-school hospitality.
A few pre-starters arrive to whet the appetite: a mouth-size truffle sandwich on a dainty silver spoon; a shot of perfectly seasoned mushroom soup with an accompanying mushroom potato nibble; and an iced poached oyster, bursting with ozone flavour. All quite delicious.
We decided to lie back and enjoy the experience and let Hubert, the maitre'D order for us. Kicking off with two starters each, I had the potager et maree en vapeur froide, or cold steamed land and sea assortment – an assortment of cooked and raw spring root vegetables with oyster vinaigrette while my dining companion had Touts Petits Pois, or myriad of young peas: a vivid green dish ripe with the wonderful flavours of spring. Both were paired with a Condrieu the 2006 Les Grandes Chaillees du Stephane Montez du Domaine de Monteiller, an audaciously heavy hitting choice but which actually evolved into something lighter and more refreshing than one expected upon first sniff. (It was almost reminiscent of a whisky in its bouquet). A sublime wine, but perhaps a touch too powerful with my starter of delicate root vegetables. It paired better with the rich consistency and fuller texture of the peas.
Our second starter was one of Guy Savoy’s signature dishes: soupe d’artichaut a la truffe noire, brioche feuilletee aux champignons et truffes - a magical combination of earthy black truffle and umami-rich parmesan shavings adorning a concentrated – but lightly seasoned - artichoke soup - utterly simple and perfectly executed. The truffled brioche, topped with truffle butter, was so sublime I seriously contemplated saving half and taking it with me as a memento, but predictably ate the whole thing out of sheer gluttony.The artichoke soup could have posed a problem for wine matching, but our sommelier opted to focus on the truffles, and served a Volnay Centenot Morey 2001, a classic truffle match. The wine was surprisingly fresh and supple, with enough acidity and a clean enough finish to complement the soup and buttery brioche and its wild strawberry perfume keyed in beautifully with the truffles.
As a main course we were presented with the sweetest, most delicate roast lamb I’ve had in years - just 42 days old. As Hubert told us, the day before it would have been illegal to serve lamb so young. It was subtle, perfectly pink and married happily with a spinach puree, cauliflower and a classic jus (again, not over-seasoned) in a small bowl at the axis of the plate – a pool of deliciousness in which to dunk our lamb and cauliflower. The tender meat was easy to match, and we were presented with a perfectly decent Languedoc red Domaine de la Chaume 2006 which was fruity and supple enough not to overwhelm the dish.
After the mains disappeared, we savoured a brief pause to exchange superlatives about what we’d eaten so far, before Hubert sidled up to us with our pre-desserts: a vanilla and chocolate popsicle, a strawberry popsicle, a fluffy little guimauve a l’ile flottante or a floating island marshmallow, and a pistachio calisson. Normally I don’t go in for marshmallows but that was definitely the highlight of the line-up.
Of course that wasn’t even the actual dessert. Next arrived Textures de Fraises et presse de Granny Smith, a strawberry-apple granita with dehydrated strawberry crisps and a layer of sweet, lemony strawberry liquor at the bottom. Fresh, simple and joyous in its celebration of early summer – I loved the fact that this wasn’t overly sweet, and in fact had a pleasing tartness to it thanks to the Granny Smiths. Our dessert wine, a Muscat du Cap Corse Domaine Pieretti 2006, was a refreshing Muscat from Northern Corsica, light and intensely perfumed with an orange blossom note, which picked up and enhanced the strawberry granita.
Finally, we were presented with the Chariot des Glaces, Sorbets, Les Bocaux et Biscuits d’autrefois. A dessert trolley, but what a trolley (and doesn’t it sound better as a chariot?) We sampled the chocolate mousse, the apple tarte tatin, a strong, dark chocolate tart, crme caramel, and chilled vanilla rice pudding. Although they might sound very traditional it’s impossible to convey how divine these desserts were. I was so enraptured by the rice pudding that I ended up having three servings and I never go for rice pudding of any description!
The only downside to such unrepentant gluttony was that we never made it to the cheese trolley - and that really was a chariot - but I’m determined to go back, to try the cheese, and all the other dishes we missed out on.
Guy Savoy’s may not be the place for you if you get off on experimental, modish cooking and love seeing 35 ingredients and lots of pyrotechnics on your plate. That’s not to suggest it’s inferior or superior, merely that it’s the ultimate example of classy, seasonal French cooking, deploying the best craftsmanship and using the finest ingredients. In a way it’s reminiscent of a bygone era when we all revered French cooking, but I can’t recommend the restaurant highly enough. Start saving up the euros now!
Guy Savoy is at 18 rue Troyon, 75017 Paris
tel: 33 (0) 1 43 80 40 61
nearest metro: Charles du Gaulle Etoilewww.guysavoy.com