285 Avenue Victor Hugo
Tel.: +33 4 75 44 15 32
Overall rating: 7/10
Date of visit: June 2013
Pic is run by Anne-Sophie Pic, who is the third Pic chef running this place. Her grandfather received three Michelin stars already in 1934. The stars were later lost, but Anne-Sophie regained them in 2007.
The restaurant itself was refurbished a few years ago. I have seen a picture of the old décor, and I can only say that the new look is a major improvement. Simply one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever been to!
There’s also a small garden:
The restaurant offers both a la carte dishes and two menus. Many of the a la carte dishes were from the two menus, and the restaurant recommended a menu if you wanted to see what the restaurant was capable of. The menu called “generations” is dishes from throughout the restaurant’s history, but at €330 this is hardly a budget option. Some of the a la carte dishes were very expensive too. The sea bass with caviar and a champagne sauce was €210. For one dish! The other menu, “news”, which are the latest dishes, is a bit more reasonably priced, although €220 is hardly cheap either. To me, the “news” menu simply also seemed more interesting and clearly more modern, although I have read that the dishes in the “generations” menu have been updated since their original conception. So, we went for the “news” menu.
First we received four small appetisers: Pea and liquorice jelly, foie gras mousse with a bit of lemon, a peanut marshmallow, and a macaroon with smoked herring. The good things were that the execution was faultless, and the combinations lovely. The foie gras was lighter and more refreshing, and thereby better for me, than usual, and the herring better than any herring I remember ever eating. The only bad thing was that the peas were simply not very flavourful, although the combination with liquorice worked surprisingly well (more about peas later) (overall 7.5-8/10).
Another appetiser was foie gras brulee with a creamy apple foam on top. Again, the foie gras was, luckily, less fatty than usual, and the combination with the caramelised sugar worked very well, but the problem here was the apples. They must have been Golden Delicious, and, as usual, they barely had any flavour and was almost completely lost in a combination with something as intensely flavoured as foie gras. Part of the problem is of course that I grew up in a country (Denmark) which scientists say has one of the best climates in the world for growing apples, so French ones can’t compete with that. But nevertheless, they could have chosen to use Granny Smith instead of Golden Delicious (which I’m sure they had done for the langoustine sauce later in the menu). I simply don’t understand why time after time top restaurants in France, Spain and Italy use Golden Delicious when they disappear in almost any combination (this also happened at Pierre Gagnaire, Sant Pau, Quique Dacosta, and Le Calandre). I can only assume that they have never tried Scandinavian apples like Elstar, Cox Orange, Filippa, Discovery, etc. (6.5/10)
Yet another appetiser appeared (these three appetisers (with variations to the first one) seem to be staples at this restaurant), this time a beetroot dish. Various types of beetroot cooked in various ways was flavoured with coffee, and there were also a few barberries on the plate. We also had the combination of beetroot and coffee at Grønbech & Churchill in Copenhagen, but we agreed that it worked much better here. A very pleasant dish with a superbly balanced amount of coffee, but nevertheless I felt that the dish lacked some acidity and simply some elements that weren’t beetroot (and the barberries weren’t enough) (7.5/10).
The first dish actually listed in the menu was various types of carrots with a whiskey cream and a carrot jelly underneath. What a beautiful presentation! The combination was lovely, but there was a major problem with this dish: The carrots didn’t have any flavour at all. With a dish consisting of only two elements it ultimately stands or falls depending on the quality of the ingredients, and it could only fall when one of the ingredients was poor. What a pity! This could have been a great dish had the carrots just been top-notch (5-6/10).
Next dish was much better – the best of the entire meal actually. Two superbly fried langoustine tails were served on top of a piece of both tender and slightly crunchy celery. A sauce made from green anis and green apples (most likely Granny Smith) was poured on (I forgot to take a picture with the sauce poured on). This was truly a dish that belonged in a three-star restaurant. It was simple but expertly executed with top quality ingredients (at least 8.5/10).
A thick slice of poached turbot was served with slowly cooked onions, peas and a sauce made with green tea. The fish itself was wonderful, and one of best pieces of turbot I have ever had, but the sauce was very bitter and the peas were average at best. Like with the apples, I have grown up in a country that has one of the world’s best climates for growing peas. So, it’s hard to compete with that. Nevertheless, I lived in Spain for more than a year and a half, and the peas there were not very good, but I did manage to buy lovely fresh peas at the market a few times as well as having lovely ones served at Sant Pau, so clearly it is possible to have nice peas outside of Scandinavia. These ones were like most I’ve had in Spain: Bitter and floury. I honestly think something had gone terribly wrong with the sauce as it was so bitter that it was hardly edible. We also had a dish with green tea at Noma, and there was not a hint of bitterness in that one (it’s difficult to score this dish but maybe overall 6/10).
A refreshing extra dish was then served: Nice champagne foam and a rhubarb compote without much depth of flavour flavoured with orange blossom that was a bit too bitter (6.5/10).
The main course was pigeon breast served with pigeon leg stuffed with foie gras, pigeon jus with lemon, grilled asparagus, slivers of Japanese lemon, turnip cream, and radishes. I stuck to having the breast cooked medium-rare as the restaurant recommended, while my then-wife asked for it to be well-done. Unlike at Quique Dacosta the meat was actually cooked like we asked for, and the pigeon actually tasted like pigeon and not like duck as it often does (although it was still not quite as good as at Restaurant Herman). The lemon in the jus was a much needed refreshing touch, but not quite enough. There was nothing wrong with the technique or the ingredients here, but the entire dish was simply too rich and heavy, and the jus overpowered all the vegetables (6/10).
My wife at the time went for the cheese serving (I swapped cheese for an extra dessert), which was warm brie cheese with vanilla:
A pre-dessert was actually the highlight of the desserts, and one of the highlights of the entire meal. It came in two plates and featured one plate with a berry soup, white chocolate cream, a biscuit, strawberry jelly, and a vanilla foam. Again a lovely presentation, and a very classic combination that worked really well simply because it was so well executed and had so nice ingredients. The other plate was a strawberry mojito, which meant a small tartlet with an intense strawberry cream with mint (probably the best element of the entire pre-dessert), a hazelnut and chocolate bonbon, and a peanut and green tea creamy biscuit. All in all, lovely presentation, technique, and flavours (at least 8/10).
My first real dessert was rice ice cream, sake foam and strawberries. I had had to endure the tasteless Spanish strawberries for a year and a half at this point, so it was lovely to finally get strawberries with flavour again. The wrapping around the ice cream and foam did stick to my gums, but otherwise this was a well-executed, creative and very refreshing dish (7.5-8/10).
My then-wife instead had violet foam with an almond cream and a sugary disc. She enjoyed the almond cream, although I found it quite bland, but neither of us appreciated the violet foam. For me it was just like soap, but that’s how violet is, so… (at best 5/10).
My second dessert was smoked chocolate soufflé made with Valrhona’s Guanaja chocolate (my favourite) and pepper, and with a chocolate cream on the side. The soufflé was a bit runny inside, which might have been intentional (or maybe not), and had a pleasantly “barbecue” taste, although it wasn’t out of this world. What ruined the entire dish was the chocolate cream on the side. It would honestly have been a better match with something refreshing than more chocolate, but the problem was that the cream tasted horrible! I seriously suspect that the serving cup had been cleaned shortly before and that there was soap left on the cup. It really tasted like soap. I tried eating it with my then-wife’s spoon just to make sure my spoon wasn’t the problem. That didn’t change anything. The soufflé was around 6-7/10, but as the cream was simply inedible a total score could be 4/10.
My wife at the time asked for tea, and we were served a few nice looking chocolate petit fours that were pleasant but a bit ordinary.
As it was my birthday, the restaurant served me a gateau with strawberry/rhubarb, vanilla cream, and a white chocolate icing. What a lovely cake! It was almost as good as the pre-dessert. They wrapped it up so we could take it home.
So, as you can see this meal was a bumpy ride. We both agreed that overall the food was good but far from amazing, and we agreed about all the flaws in the meal. The style of food here was actually just my type of food: Classic food with a touch of modernity that is more about what is on the plate than creating an “adventure”. I had wanted to go to Pic for a couple of years, so I was a bit disappointed by so many misses.
Honestly, I think we were simply unlucky. If you look at how incredibly assured the technique was for cooking the turbot itself, the entire langoustine dish, the pre-dessert, the pigeon, etc., and how well-balanced and perfected e.g. the combination of beetroot and coffee was, then the technique could not be faulted. The food was beautifully presented, and everything radiated luxury and elegance. What really went wrong here was when the quality of the ingredients simply weren’t good enough (the apple for the appetiser, the carrots, and the peas), and when something had simply gone wrong in the kitchen (the green tea sauce, and the soapy chocolate cream). Then of course there was the violet dessert. That simply wasn’t to our liking, and honestly I don’t understand how anybody would enjoy the taste of soap. But that’s my opinion. I could easily have forgiven them that one dish if the rest of the meal had been great. I simply think that they hadn’t tasted the green tea sauce, the carrots or the peas. But a three-star restaurant shouldn’t send out something they haven’t tasted.
That leads me to: The service (you’ll see soon why I bridge that gap now). The service was great but not one of the best I’ve had. We both agreed that the blond waitress was very sweet. When I asked if I could swap the cheese serving for a dessert she suggested that I also swapped my violet dessert for another one so we could have three different desserts instead of two. She was also very helpful suggesting her favourites among the desserts. My wife at the time felt the brunette waitress was overly nervous and less helpful, but I didn’t have a problem with her at all. The chef came out to say hello to all the guests. She did actually seem overly nervous, but it was nevertheless nice to meet her, and I always appreciate that chefs make an effort to meet the guests. The sommelier found nice wines for us as well, and especially the white wine was exactly the type of wine we had asked for (getting it this right actually rarely happens), and he also came back to ask if we were happy with his choice. Then there was the birthday cake. What a nice gesture! I did actually expect something like this, as they asked if we were celebrating a birthday when I booked the table. So, if you’re going to this restaurant you could just say it’s your birthday, even though it’s not, if you would like a cake.
So now I’ve praised the service, I can bridge the gap from section about the food: The staff asked us about our opinion about most of the dishes, but when we for instance said that the chocolate cream tasted like soap they didn’t offer to taste it or speak with the chef. They just seemed to think that it was a very odd thing of us to say. So, if they treat a fairly serious complaint like this, then it’s not surprising that they might send out food they haven’t tasted. Pic is actually a quite big three-star restaurant, and there seemed to be less waiters per guest than in several of the other three-star places I’ve been. Sometimes they held our chairs when we sat down, and sometimes they didn’t. I was rummaging around a while to find the toilet, which I usually don’t have to do unassisted in three-star places. Sometimes two plates were put down on the table simultaneously, but most often they weren’t. I’m not a brat. I can easily find my way to the toilet on my own, and I can easily enjoy a meal whether or not the plates have been put on the table at the same time. But when I’ve seen details like those two done to perfection at for instance Sant Pau, Pierre Gagnaire, Daniel, Osteria Francescana, and Noma, it simply seems to suggest that Pic is less focused on the details.
Then there was the price. There were a lot of extra dishes, but €220 is nevertheless a lot of money for a menu. €8 per bottle of water is not cheap either (and definitely more than the €4-€5 I paid in three-star restaurants in Spain), but this is a detail. €22 for a glass of wine from a bottle that in the shops costs €30 seems a bit excessive. Both the whites and reds we had were priced at €22 per glass, which meant that four glasses of wine set us back €88. Spain is a cheaper country, but at the three-star restaurants there I paid €7 for a glass of white, and €9 for a glass of white. At Pierre Gagnaire (also in France) I believe I paid €10 for a glass of white and €13 for a glass of red. €10 for a cup of tea at Pic didn’t make the value better. In total, the bill came to €554, meaning €277 per person.
So, all in all a very expensive meal that simply was far from as good as it could have been. Nevertheless, I honestly think we were unlucky with regards to the food. The technique was great, the food inspired, and the presentation beautiful. Despite the hefty price, there is a part of me that would like to go back to this restaurant as I saw potential here. I saw perfectly executed dishes and great combinations that simply suffered from a few poor ingredients and a few mistakes. If only those things hadn’t ruined the meal, this could easily have been a great meal rather than a good one.