A four-hour round trip for lunch you say? When the destination is Le Clarence, you get on that Eurostar and don’t look back.
To give you a little background, Le Clarence quickly obtained it’s two Michelin stars (they make no secret of the fact that they’d like all three) back in 2017 under Executive Chef Christophe Pele.
Located just a short stroll from the Champs Elysées, this beautiful 19th-century mansion is affectionately referred to as Hotel Dillon but in reality, is not a hotel as we’d know it. There are no rooms in which you can spend the night, (although we could quite happily have curled up on the sofa in front of the roaring fire). Instead, this private townhouse was designed to be a beacon for the movers and shakers of the wine world, dedicated to celebrating the French way of life.
At the helm is none other than Prince Robert of Luxemburg, whose wine empire includes Bordeaux First Growth, Château Haut-Brion, as well as Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Saint-Émilion’s Château Quintus and Clarendelle – the wine our meal would be accompanied with. Firmly of the ‘more is more’ school of thought, Le Clarence is designed with quintessential Parisian grandeur in mind – think bright clashing prints, striking chandeliers and velvet upholstery. We’re told his royal highness is responsible for all the furniture, original artwork and other finishing touches we see before us. What a fun project.
We begin by visiting La Cave du Château on the ground floor. It sells an impressive, almost exclusively French selection of wines and spirits – from the every day to the downright collectable. Although we may associate champagne with the big-name brands – Taittinger, Moet, et all, we’re beginning to see a swing towards grower champagnes (aka, farmer fizz – or champagne made and produced on the same land as the grapes it’s made from). This is, in part, due to the fact you can often pay a lot less, for a far more premium fizz as you’re not paying for the brand name. La Cave du Château has the most impressive selection we’ve ever seen and there are some seriously good buys to be had. Regardless, it’s well worth popping in simply to check out the beautiful vaulted ceilings of their cellar – but we can’t guarantee you’ll make it out empty handed. Thankfully, this impressive array makes its way into the sommelier’s hands upstairs (and therefore onto our table).
So back to Le Clarence itself. The team don’t bother with anything as trivial as a menu. Oh no. Instead, you select the number of courses you want and the team will announce each one as they deliver it. After snails and impossibly light gougère (we’ve tried making these ourselves and it is HARD) taken in the grand salon, which overlooks the glass dome of the Grand Palais no less, we made our way down to the wood-panelled main dining room.
Up first was a bitesize morsel of langoustine, coated in kadaif – a thin noodle-like pastry, normally associated with Middle-Eastern desserts. The next collection of plates were heavy on the seafood – sea scallops served in a pilpil sauce alongside tuna bottarga, as well as served raw with beetroot and sumac powder. A single clam in parsley butter was popped on the table for good measure. The seafood focus continued with roasted sea bass in squid ink juice, sea urchin, a shrimp bao topped with jewel-like salmon eggs, and a poached oyster in an umami daishi broth.
The most exquisitely presented pigeon and foie gras pie was bought to our table for us to marvel at, before being whisked away to be sliced and served with spinach, celery cream and a tiny but fiery smidge of horseradish. More foie gras, this time served with beef and caviar because as we’ve established, more is more. The most decadent and intensely flavoured mouthful of food from the entire lunch must surely have been the mushroom ravioli in parmesan cream with white truffle shavings – I would quite happily have eaten it for the rest of my days. An endive salad spiked with sesame was the only token nod to greens. Quite rightly so.
A cheese trolley of dreams is wheeled to the table before the desserts start to arrive. Desserts, oh the desserts. A scoop of pear sorbet hid pieces of candied ginger, a light lemon cream with vanilla jelly snuck in next to a stack of chocolate, cream, coffee. Black truffle made its way into a sculptural chocolate dish finished with gold leaf and light as air mini waffles in a toast rack appeared to scoop up maple syrup and whipped cream.
I go into such detail because our host had had the pleasure of dining at Le Clarence three times previously and had never been served the same dish twice. Not a single repeat. Quite the feat when you think we rattled through at least 17 or 18 dishes.
And although service was of course, faultless (staff will fetch you a cushioned stool for your handbag), we loved the way dishes were presented. Plates would be put next to plates, more and more would arrive before you had no idea what course you were on or how many more was to come. Just like the surroundings, more is more and who are we to disagree.
It’s astounding that I should leave Le Clarence feeling pleasantly but not overly full. After such a long list of rich ingredients, you’d expect to be feeling a little sluggish at best. But it’s testament to the outstanding cooking coming out from the talented team under Christophe Pele, that I should leave feeling quite wonderful. Although perhaps that was the wine. From the Clarendelle blanc which you could pick up on the way home from work for under £20 to the Haut-Brion they offer in a 9l salmanzar, the Clarendelle portfolio really does offer something at every price point.
This is bucket-list dining and has shot straight into my one of my favourite meals of all time.