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Le Pré Catelan, Paris - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 98.
Rating index:
Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
Above average to Good (86-88)
Below Average to Average (80-85)
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With a surface area of approximately 3,266 square miles, the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement in Paris is one of the largest public parcs in Europe. The famous Roland Garros tennis court is located on the edge of the 'bois'. Right in the middle, in the Pré Catelan gardens, is a rather splendid pavillion, dating back to the time of Napoleon III, in which restaurant Le Pré Catelan is housed. The origins of the name "Pré Catelan" have been researched extensively and researchers find it most likely that it was named after Théophile Catelan, 'Captain' of Bois the Boulogne at the end of the 17th century and at the time residing at Château de la Muette, located on the outskirts of Bois de Boulogne. Since 1949, the present (third) Château de la Muette, built by Henri de Rothshild in 1921-1922, has been the headquarters of the (forerunner of the) OECD; Michael Oborne's (1998) book about the history of the Château, commissioned by the OECD, also contains interesting discussions about possible alternative origins of the name Le Pré Catelan.

Le Pré Catelan is the flagship restaurant of the Lenôtre group, a renowned French pastry, delicatessen, catering and cookery/pastry school empire, that has shops and restaurants in 11 countries. Executive chef at Le Pré Catelan is Meilleur Ouvrier de France Frédéric Anton (b. 1964). Anton's career started in the mid-eighties at 2-star Le Flambard in Lille and continued at Gérard Boyer's 3-star restaurant at Château Les Crayères in Reims. From 1988 until 1996 he worked at Joël Robuchon's 3-star restaurant Jamin in Paris. In 1997 Frederic Anton became executive chef at Le Pré Catelan, which held one star at the time. Two years later the restaurant was awarded a second Michelin star and the ultimate accolade followed in 2007. In 2007 no fewer than three Parisian restaurants were awarded three stars; the other two were Astrance (Pascal Barbot) and Le Meurice (then Yannick Alléno). At this point it is worth mentioning especially the very beautifully appointed dining room; the Murano chandelier is absolutely spectacular.

Le Pré Catelan is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Saturday. The restaurant offers a 7-course 'Le Menu Pré' for €260, a 5-course seasonal menu for €200, a 4-course 'Dejeuner au Pré Catelan' lunch menu for €105 and there's an a la carte menu. I had lunch at Le Pré Catelan with my husband on Wednesday 28 August 2013 and we both ordered the 5-course seasonal (Le menu Eté) menu.

Bright green haricot verts with Spanish ham and a light balsamic dressing (with incredibly finely chopped shallots) and a light bean and mustard cream was served as the first amuse bouche. Shortly after the second amuse bouche arrived, 'Froid et Chaud'. A bowl with a 'froid' onion foam, into which a 'chaud' broad bean soup was poured. The onion foam was elegant and creamy and the broad bean soup had a nice hint of nutmeg. The cold and hot temperatures delivered a lovely mouth feel.

The first course of 'Le menu Eté' was 'Le Crabe' - crab soup and creamy white crab meat topped with caviar. The soup was wonderfully frothy and had a fantastic richness to it. At the bottom of the bowl there was some fresh white crab meat. With the soup came a spoon with a crème fraîche and spring onion mixture. We were instructed to place this spoon in the soup, so the mixture could blend with the soup, giving it an unexpected coolness and lightness.

The white crab meat was served in a traditional caviar container. At the bottom of the contaner was a thin layer of crème fraîche mixed with dill, followed by a layer of succulent white crab meat mixed with cream and finally a layer of French caviar, sprinkled with paprika and fresh lime zest. Delicious intense white crab meat mixture, that had a wonderful balance between creamyness and sweetness. The crème fraîche added some lightness and the dill married well with the crab. Great texture and saltiness from the caviar, great flavour and freshness from the lime zest and the paprika added a nice little kick. The type of dish that you eat in as small bites as possible, because you don't want it to end.

Two cleverly constructed dishes, both with a brilliant balance between richness, intensity and freshness.

Second course, 'Le Turbot' - Turbot wrapped in seaweed served with beurre blanc, razor clams and a potato and seaweed puree. Absolutely sensational turbot: meaty, juicy and incredibly flavoursome, the seaweed intensifying the sense of meatiness and adding depth of flavour. Good buttery beurre blanc with a wonderful citrussy finish. Some chopped tender razor clams were served in the beurre blanc for extra texture and flavour. The potato and seaweed puree had a wonderful, silky consistency and a lovely buttery finish, but it was definitely not of the artery clogging kind. This was one of the finest turbot dishes I have ever eaten. Beautiful cooking on all levels.

Third course, 'La Volaille' - chicken served two ways: Rotisserie chicken (breast) served with a creamy wild mushroom sauce, green asparagus shavings and Parmesan cheese and 'Quenelle de Volaille', chicken mousseline, shaped into a chicken breast served with Champignon de Paris (button mushrooms) and a classic sauce Nantua. First the rotisserie chicken. Everything was at its best with this dish. Skillfully cooked, tender and juicy chicken (well-seasoned too!), deliciously rich and creamy mushroom sauce, made with superb, flavoursome mushrooms and the Parmesan cheese added a wonderful touch of extra saltiness.

The consistency and flavour of the chicken mousseline was absolutely amazing, a thing of great beauty. So light, so airy, with wonderfully delicate chicken flavours that combined beautifully with the creamy sauce Nantua. Sauce Nantua is a classic béchamel based sauce made with crayfish, tomato and cognac. This one was exquisite and delivered a lovely hint of cognac in the aftertaste. The white mushrooms were delicious and added a certain lightness to this dish. Two utterly ravishing dishes that celebrate chicken and are a great display of skill and understanding - in particular of making a sauce.

Next up 'Les Fromages'. As befits a French three-star restaurant, Le Pré Catelan offers a wonderful selection of well-matured cheeses.

Dessert was 'Le Citron' - a lemon dessert with a thin almond biscuit base, topped with a lemon cream, basil sorbet, lime foam and meringues. An impeccable and elegantly sweet dessert with perfectly balanced citrus flavours, a wonderful clean-tasting basil sorbet and beautifully piped meringues.

Obviously I couldn't leave Le Pré Catelan without ordering the legendary 'La Pomme'. La Pomme is an impressive, perfectly thin blown sugar 'apple' filled with a caramel ice cream, rice crispies, a light apple foam, popping candy, some very stiff whipped cream and a small cake at the bottom. An ingenious and visually striking dessert with great flavours and textures.

Le Pré Catelan is a haven of tranquillity - both the location and its cuisine. High-end cuisine nowadays is often about drama and display, about techniques and theatre, producing plates of food that occasionally seem to struggle between form and focus, between show and substance. The food at Le Pré Catelan is of a different nature. It is about quiet perfection and classical beauty and it is poised, serene almost. The evocative and artistic presentation has just the right amount of star-quality however.

By current three-star standards, the ingredients and techniques are relatively traditional and it is a combination of great skill, outstanding produce and meticulous cooking that results in a series of magnificent dishes that display great flavour and finesse, without playing to the gallery. It has become cliché to say that you recognise a great chef by the quality of his sauces but in this cause it is absolutely true. It is also quintessentially French three star cuisine: outside of France one rarely finds a restaurant that manages to achieve such gastronomic excellence without opening up the modern magician's toolbox. Le Pré Catelan is a restaurant where everything is in harmony: the grand dining room, the experienced and attentive but unfussy staf, the excellent wine list, the exceptional food. This is Parisian fine dining in grand style.

Posted 19-09-2013


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