6 Rue Balzac
Overall rating: 8/10
Date of visit: April 2011
Despite my 8/10 rating I was disappointed by Pierre Gagnaire. I had expected something crazy and instead had something fairly ordinary. I have since heard that if you choose the tasting menu, which we did, you get classic food. If you go a la carte, you get something very creative. Had I but known! I hear that if you order a la carte dishes, and you choose for instance pork, they cook three or four pork dishes for you. At the time I thought three courses meant just three plates, and hence the tasting menu, coming in at a whopping €265, nevertheless seemed like a better offer, as the a la carte option was more or less the same price. If I had gone a la carte, I might have been more happy.
The only single tiny problem I can point out with the execution of the food was that there was one grain of sand in the morels. Everything else was cooked to perfection. The morels were simply the best mushrooms I’ve ever had, and the liquorice ice cream was simply the best liquorice ice cream I’ve ever had.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the meal was perfect for me. I had simply expected something else. Gagnaire had a reputation for being extremely creative throughout the 90s, before The Fat Duck and El Bulli became famous for their “fusion food”. I knew that Gagnaire experimented less now, but I had nevertheless expected more experimentation. This was my first time here, and we chose the tasting menu, which I’ve since heard you should steer away from (usually restaurants recommend the tasting menu).
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the food whatsoever, but coming in expecting Gagnaire’s pendant for The Fat Duck’s bacon ice cream or snail porridge, I was a bit disappointed to see how classic everything was here: Duck with mango and port sauce, asparagus with mousseline sauce, fish with prawns, vegetables in a cream sauce, etc.
There were a few unusual ingredients (like the fish black groper) and a few unusual pairings (like prawns cooked in Armagnac, and wild strawberries with safran, olive purée with vodka), but that was about it.
Another problem for me was that the food was simply too mild. I’ve seen this before in top restaurants that they cook the food perfect, but with no real explosion of flavour, so they won’t offend anybody. Some dishes or elements (like most of the bite-sized elements in the dessert, served on the same tray, or the apples for the cod brandade) simply had no flavour. The morels were advertised as being with liquorice, but I couldn’t detect any liquorice, neither could my brother who came here with me.
Appetizer: salmon with cream cheese (the one at Kokkeriet was actually better) + langoustine flavoued crackers with olive oil.
Asparagus with mousseline sauce and comté cheese with balsamic vinegar:
Side dish: Olive purée with vodka.
Vegetables in a cream sauce, squid cover:
Morels with herbs and some terribly bitter turnips:
Black groper with prawns cooked with armagnac + edible flowers
Side dish: Cod brandade with tasteless apples:
Mussles and cockles:
Duck with a potato crisp, spring onion two ways and mango:
And then the sauce was poured on: Port sauce with carrots and cumin:
Cheese serving: Cheese with lettuce and jam:
Pear and goat cheese sorbet (the cheese overpowered the pear):
Aged cheese with balsamic vinegar:
Small nibles (most without flavour):
Wild strawberries with saffron sauce:
Liquorice ice cream with a bit of coffee if I’m not mistaken, a tuile with a touch of coffee too, and prunes it might have been:
Despite all my criticism, the meal is still among the better meals I’ve had, simply because everything was so well-cooked. Therefore, the grade mainly goes for the execution and not for how much I liked the food, but of course also for the wonderful morels and the liquorice ice cream. But paying €265 + wine for a meal that doesn’t seem that much different than a meal you could have for half the price in any other top restaurant is what disappointed me.
Let me say that the service was some of the very best service I’ve ever had. I’ve never before given such a big tip in a restaurant as I did at Pierre Gagnaire, and they definitely deserved it.