L'Arpege by Chef Alain Passard | Paris
When the 2015 list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants was announced, I knew that if there were one place I’d be eating when I was next in Paris, it would be L’Arpege, because apparently, “Alain Passard raises vegetables to previously unimagined heights.”
My parents decided they wanted to spend a long weekend in Paris recently and invited me, so of course, I jumped at the chance to join them. I mean, can you blame a gal?
I had to beg my way into getting a reservation at L’Arpege on short notice as the restaurant is ranked as the current no. 12 in the world. As you can probably imagine, my expectations are sky high!
My parents and I arrive in Paris on a Friday morning. We check into our hotel, get ready, and head straight over to the restaurant for lunch. It’s smaller than I had expected, and has a relaxed, yet sophisticated vibe. As we are escorted through the brightly lit restaurant to our lovely corner table, I take in the light wood panelled walls with Lalique inlay and the stained glass paneling on the partitions that separate the dining area from the kitchen and hostess desk.
We order some wine, our waitress asks us a few basic questions about our dietary requirements, and our amuse-bouche of beetroot empanadas arrive shortly thereafter. It’s a light and savory start to the meal. This is followed by a series of tiny little bites consisting of 3 ravioli pots filled with brightly colored vegetable purée, a tomato Carpaccio served on a fine pastry, and a light garden vegetable tabbouleh with a touch of couscous, served over a light yogurt based sauce. I nibble my way through the first 4 courses, all small enough to be eaten in a couple of bites, and I sip on my glass of dry Chablis from Burgundy.
Then comes Chef Passard's standout dish of beetroot tartare with a deliciously pungent horseradish cream. Mine is topped with a quail egg and my parents have the egg-free alternative of soft goat cheese. This is shortly followed by a colourful baby vegetable risotto consisting of yellow wine sauce, edible rose petals, parmesan foam, and so many flavours! It’s possibly the best risotto I have ever had.
The tomato sushi that follows is not my favorite, but the cabbage wrap prepared with nettle and shallots is brought to life by a fantastic Parmesan emulsion, which blows my mind and sets the bar even higher for the rest of the meal. Sadly, the small plate of red, orange and yellow tomato served over a mango, honey and lime based sauce, does not meet it. And while the warm tomato and cucumber based vegetable broth is fresh and flavourful, we don’t love the vegetable ravioli that is served in it.
The final savoury course of vegetable couscous with young garlic, aubergine, spring onions and greens served with a warm and smoky vegetable foam makes for a lovely ending.
The beauty of the meal is in its lightness and simplicity. You never get to the point of food coma, and the minimal use of cream gives you the opportunity to really appreciate the freshness of the vegetables. We are left with sufficient room to savour every last bite of the fantastic Mille feuille, which consists of moist but crispy layers of pastry with plums, cherries and fruit compote. Mille feuille is one of my favorite Parisian desserts, and this particular one is officially in my top 5, the best part being that there is no cream or egg whatsoever.
Veggie Friendly: ✔ Vegan Friendly: ✔
Pros: Light, delicious, vegetarian food served in a relaxed, yet sophisticated environment.
Cons: A small number of the dishes don't measure up to the high standard set by the others.
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