Vefour and After

Monday, September 20, 2010
By Pepita Diamand
Pleasure Palais

Pleasure Palais

Paris is, as you’d expect, littered with “landmark” restaurants. Yet very few live up to the title in terms of both history and gastronomy. Le Grand Vefour is at the very top of that very few.

Situated at the north end of Le Palais Royale (the royal arcade which has tempted shoppers and pleasure-seekers for over 200 years), Le Grand Vefour lays bonafide claim to being the oldest, continuously operating restaurant in Paris.

First opened in 1784 as the Cafe de Chartres, the magnificent dining room, with its voluptuous red velvet banquettes, elaborately painted panels and gilded ceiling has, over the centuries, played host to such notables as Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich von Humboldt, not to mention a certain Napoleon and Josephine.

With such a rich history, Le Grand Vefour could easily choose to rest on its (Imperial) laurels and simply serve mediocre frog’s legs to gawping tourists. But under the direction of the supremely talented Guy Martin, Le Grand Verfour does just the opposite, serving sublime cuisine that is worthy of its own page in future history books.

The day-time dejeuner menu is straight-forward, offering a choice of 3 appetisers, 3 mains and 3 desserts preceded by cheese. The menu was designed to provide the clientèle of business lunchers and stylish power-shoppers with a concise sampling of Martin’s famed cuisine – and with Le Grand Verfour’s impeccable service, a busy chairman can easily get back to his board in time for an afternoon takeover. However, each exceptional mouthful, not to mention wave after wave of mouth-watering extras, will entice those with time to linger.

Such amuse bouche as chilled beetroot and fennel soup prepare the palate for what’s to come; dynamic dishes which are cunningly balanced. Guy Martin is a master of balance: His art is to match meticulously sourced and prepared ingredients with punchy accompaniments that nonetheless compliment rather than compete. Thus, succulent chicken breast is served with candy-like caramelised chicory, foie gras is married to a compote of tomato and rhubarb and super-rich chocolate is cut with a salty dash of caramel ice-cream. It’s a ying-and-yang style of cooking that is full of exciting contrasts, delivered in perfect harmony.

The generous cheeseboard and stunning petite fours (followed by marshmallows, followed by caramels, followed by chocolates, followed by a slice of Savoyard cake – a nod to Martin’s native region) will leave you tipping the scales when you get home, but by showing a little restraint, ladies who lunch might still be able to squeeze into a new dress from a nearby boutique. Diners opting for dinner will enjoy an extended menu and magical night-time lighting which transforms the room into a jewel box.

Alas, the pleasure and privilege of savouring one of the best meals of your life in a jewelbox that once hosted Napoleon doesn’t come cheap: The dinnertime Menu Plaisir is €268 – and that’s before you’ve even seen the wow-factor wine list. Lunch is therefore a more prudent option, although the cash you save will disappear as soon as you hit the shops.

Le Grand Vefour
17 rue de Beaujolais
Paris 75001

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