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Epicure at Le Bristol (Eric Frechon) in Paris - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 98.
Rating index:
Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
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The name Oetker is usually associated with baking products and ready-made pizzas, that go under the name Dr. Oetker, part of the Oetker Group, a 120-year-old family business in Germany. The founder of the Oetker Group was Dr. August Oetker (hence Dr. Oetker), a pharmacist from Bielefeld, Germany, who developed a baking powder in 1893 and started selling it commercially for domestic purposes. 

The Oetker Group also owns the "Oetker Collection", a collection of luxury hotels in some of the most prestigious locations around the world. Think St Barths, Courchevel, Cap d'Antibes. Also part of the collection is Le Bristol in Paris. Le Bristol is the home of 4 Michelin stars, one for their brasserie 114 Faubourg and three stars for Epicure. Executive chef since 1999 at Epicure is Eric Frechon (b. 1963 and Meuilleur Ouvrier de France in 1993), who got the restaurant its second star in 2001 and the aforementioned third star in 2009. Frechon is a celebrated and highly respected chef on the Paris dining scene, and has worked in high-profile Parisian restaurants such as Taillevent, Le Tour d'Argent, and Hotel De Crillon. Next to his responsibilities at Le Bristol, he also runs Lazare, a brasserie housed in the "Gare St Lazare" train station, and he's also involved in Celeste restaurant at the Lanesborough Hotel in London (also an Oetker Collection hotel). 

Epicure is open daily for lunch and dinner. The restaurant offers a tasting menu (7 courses for €320), an a la carte menu (starters €72 - €145, mains €69 - €145, desserts €32 - €38) and at lunchtime there's a 3-course seasonal menu available for €145. I had lunch with my husband at Epicure on Sunday 24 April 2016 and we both ordered dishes from the a la carte menu.

First to arrive was a trio of appetisers. There was a delicious green asparagus puree, lightly seasoned with mint, topped with a white asparagus cream (veloute-like), and garnished with mushrooms and baby croutons. Equally lovely was a puff filled with foie gras and smoked eel, coated with raspberry and a crayfish coated with a Tandoori crème, sandwiched between mini prawn crackers. The appetisers were accompanied by a savoury chorizo, bacon and olive Kugelhopf. Shortly after we were presented with an absolutely stunning basket of house-baked breads, of which the pointy white baguettes were particularly impressive.

Next was an amuse bouche of diced radish, pink radish jelly, radish green and horseradish foam and a thin crisp cracker. Lovely and elegant flavours, with a nice crunch from the diced radish and a touch of piquancy.

My starter was an impeccably presented dish of green asparagus (from Pertuis) glazed with hazelnut oil, and simply served with a mixture of truffle mayonnaise, finely chopped egg yolk and egg white, bread crumbs, black truffle crumbs, and fresh herbs such as coriander and dill. An extremely elegant flavour marriage, the egg-truffle-mayo mixture complementing the sweet and grassy asparagus perfectly. But more importantly, a sensible pairing like this, allows you to savour the asparagus in all their glory.

Time for the main course: Chicken! But not just any chicken. When I had lunch at Epicure in May 2012, I noticed the restaurant had the classic "Poularde de Bresse Cuite en Vessie" (Bresse chicken cooked in a pig's bladder) on the a la carte menu, and I believe at least two tables were served this iconic chicken dish that afternoon. I remember, because before the chicken is taken out of the bladder, it's presented to the table in the inflated bladder, which is quite a sight. As far as I know, only a few restaurants in the world have this dish on the menu, the only other restaurant in France  where I've spotted and eaten it is Paul Bocuse. However, Bocuse serves a so-called "demi-deuil" version, with thinly sliced truffle underneath the chicken's skin, demi-deuil meaning "in half mourning". In the UK the restaurant at The Ritz in London had one on the menu in 2013 (see my review here).

First the chicken is put a pig's bladder, which has been turned inside-out, to avoid any potential flavour pollution; it is a bladder after all. Next the tied-up bladder is placed in a chicken broth and poached for 40-60 minutes, the poaching creating a steaming effect in the bladder, causing it to inflate. This cooking process results in an incredibly moist and tender chicken.

At Epicure the chicken is presented on a beautiful silver chicken leg display, then removed from the bladder, carved tableside and served in two courses. First the fillets are removed from the body and served with a suprême sauce, stuffed morel mushrooms, green asparagus, crayfish, and a farce made with chicken liver, cream and truffle. The legs and oyster (sot-l'y-laisse) are taken back to the kitchen for some extra heating, and later served in a rich chicken, leek and potato soup, with cubes of foie gras and truffle. 

Phenomenal chicken, especially the fillet and the suprême sauce, the latter being a chicken broth reduction flavoured with Vin Jaune and finished with cream and foie gras. A surprisingly elegant sauce too, luxurious but not too powerful, and with a wonderful consistency, just thick enough to coat the palate.

Before dessert we had some cheese. Epicure offers a selection of cheeses from cheese affineurs Bernard Antony in Alsace and Marie-Anne Cantin in Paris. 

This was followed by a pre-dessert of fresh mango and mango puree, served with a sweet and refreshing tropical ice cream made with orange blossom, lemon, vanilla and hazelnut milk. 

Desserts at Epicure are in the very capable hands of patissier Lauren Jeannin, who's has been at Le Bristol since 2007. My dessert today was Miel, "Thym Citron", a true work of art, served under a glass dome decorated with little sugar honey bees, and compiled as follows. Satiny honey parfait, elegantly seasoned with lemon and thyme, served on a delicate and thin sable breton biscuit, and topped with fresh pear, that had been marinated in lemon and ginger, and garnished with lemon and lime zest. The parfait was decorated with beautiful and fragile honeycomb sugarwork, and a light honey-lemon-ginger sauce was spooned over the marinated pears at the table. An exquisitely designed, aesthetic dessert with a wonderful variety of textures.

"Le courage de ne rien faire", the courage to do nothing. Three-star restaurants in Paris are notorious for being incredibly expensive, and Epicure is no exception. The combination of location and price-tag means that they have access to, and can afford to work with, the world's finest ingredients. Generally speaking the ethos of a three-star chef in France is to apply all his craftsmanship to letting these precious ingredients reach their ultimate expression. What is then required, is the courage to not go even one step further.

At Epicure this approach is most evident in the dishes on the à la carte menu. They are by definition seasonal and can only be presented by a chef who has complete trust in his ingredients. This is not usually a cuisine that appeals to that crowd that is ever hungry for the latest attention-seeking innovation, for the next exciting extreme (dessert served on a flip-flop, dessert with an edible condom, live ants, what have you). This is not risqué food, but it would be a mistake to think that it is safe. On the contrary, it is very risky, because it has to be perfect. If it is not perfect, it is nothing. Service was immaculate, professional and attentive, but not stuffy at all. Both my purse and I left the restaurant enlightened.

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Posted 30-05-2016


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