When it comes to traveling, I’m not much of a planner. I leave that to my partner. He asks me if I want to go somewhere, I say “Yes” and a few weeks later, I’ve got plane/train tickets, hotel bookings and an itinerary. How easy is that? Of course, if I don’t tell him my availability, it does lead to some awkward work conversations when I have to cancel some work training because of a trip to Paris (thank goodness it wasn’t mandatory!) One thing we usually wing when we travel is dining. I say usually because I always make sure to have one (or two) places lined up for us to dine at. The only time this was a mistake was on our trip to Champagne when we found out that practically nothing was open on a Sunday or Monday and ended up having to eat at a really terrible barbeque chain restaurant. Otherwise we do pretty well. So on our trip to Paris, I decided to book us into L’Arpège. Why not? It’s supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Paris (if not the world).
L’Arpège is the brainchild of Alain Passard. And I didn’t know when I booked it, but he’s a HUGE fan of vegetarian cooking. He definitely follows that whole Farm to Table ethos that is popular now. And he does it in France. I’ve only ever met one French vegetarian in person, usually they are very confused by people who don’t eat meat. Booking was fairly straightforward as you can just email the restaurant. It took a few days, but we booked in with our credit card information. Since we were traveling from London, I asked them about their dress code. I was informed that there was NO DRESS CODE. Perfect. Strangely, most websites talking about L’Arpège claim that because it’s a three-starred restaurant (and in France), it has a jacket required dress code. Several online reviews for the restaurant mentioned how annoyed they were that L’Arpège didn’t uphold their dress code. I will repeat. There is no dress code. We weren’t wearing a tracksuit and trainers, but we had on nice jeans and short-sleeved collared shirts. Most everyone else was in jackets. So if you decide to go, dress in what will make you comfortable.
We were the first to arrive, because I made the booking for 7:00 (when they opened). It’s either the American or the Brit in me, but the late time for dining just seems strange to me. Also at a restaurant like this, we always like relaxing and enjoying ourselves, so we end up staying for several hours. We definitely weren’t the first to leave; I’m fairly certain we were here for at least four hours. After they explained the menu (a la carte or a choice of two tasting menus), they brought a beautiful basket of fresh vegetables to the table for us to see what some of the courses had in store for us.
We opted for the omnivore tasting menu. I had conveniently left the “vegetarian” part of the restaurant out to my partner until it was too late to cancel the booking. Clearly, there’s also a vegetable tasting menu. Apparently the restaurant was completely vegetarian for awhile, but has since added a few non-vegetable courses back in. Honestly, the omnivore menu only had three courses that were non-vegetarian: two fish courses and one meat course, so the two menus really weren’t that different. They don’t do a set wine pairing, but the sommelier was willing to help us choose glasses to go with the food if we wanted to go down that route. We opted for bottles. And he seemed quite happy with the bottles we ended up choosing (starting with white and moving into red).
What followed was course after course of deliciousness. The menu only had about eleven(?) courses on it, but I swear they were just giving us extra courses of things. At points my partner would ask me, “Are we almost done with the savory courses?” to which I would answer “Well we have at least two more: the beetroot and chicken”. Then other courses would arrive. It was mostly a problem for him as he didn’t know how much wine we needed to get through the savory courses. He didn’t want to run out, but he definitely wanted to be able to switch to sweet wine during the desserts.
It started with the signature dish of egg. It’s served in an egg shell, but it’s unlike any egg you will eat. Slightly sweet from maple syrup, and the white is really a foamy cream. The yolk is thick and luscious. It really just gave us an idea about the creativity behind the rest of the night. (You can read a bit more about the egg here.)
There were a couple of courses that weren’t that exciting for us. Namely the meat course (it was chicken and duck, and it was just slightly overcooked for us) and the gazpacho course (it just lacked a little something). But both were prepared quite well. The two fish courses were fantastic. The scallop carpaccio was out of this world (but I love scallops), and the whole roasted turbot was moreish. I never use that word for fish, but the fish was so perfect that I was floored (I’m usually not a fish fan). So anywhere that can make me love a fish course gets kudos in my book. The eggplant amuse bouche was also mouthwatering. It definitely got me ready for what was ahead. The beetroot tartare was also a highlight. I also loved the leeks. They were full of flavor, and I just wanted more of them. Excluding the two courses mentioned above, all the other courses were full of interesting flavor and texture profiles that really showcased what a good chef can do with amazing vegetables.
Desserts were great too. At the beginning they brought us out a giant plate of mignardises to enjoy with our wine and between desserts. I swear I only saw two desserts on the menu, but we ended up having around four different things. The profiterole with hay ice cream was amazing. There was another profiterole dish that looked the same, but had a completely different flavor profile. The mille feuille is a signature of theirs, as they seem to make them with whatever is seasonal. Of course, I decided to have a lovely tisane that they do with fresh herbs, and they brought out another plate of mignardises as we had already finished the one we were given. They had a great selection of digestifs, and I went with the suggestion of the sommelier and had the calvados (it was from his village!) and my partner got some aged port. But once he tried the calvados, he had to get another glass of that as well.
Everything at L’Arpège was amazing. The food was better than I could have imagined, and probably ranks up as the second best dining experience of my life. The service was spectacular, and it didn’t feel too stuffy. In fact, Alain Passard was constantly walking around the dining room talking to the customers. He probably stopped at our table four times. I even ran into him as I was coming back from the bathroom, and I told him how much I was enjoying his food. The look on his face showed how passionate he was about making everyone have a great dining experience. As much as I would want to try a different restaurant next time in Paris, it would be hard not to just go back to get a selection of new, fresh vegetable dishes to enjoy. If you can afford it, L’Arpège is definitely worth it!
84 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France