The Glitter of this Mirage
We’re forever falling into the whirlpool of the high life. “Where do you come from?” asks our waiter. He’s from Marseille. “You can crack the egg!” Another waiter, “Your island of caviar has arrived.” And later, the maître d’, “You must come back in January for the finest winter truffle. À très bientôt!” Everyone’s speaking in hushed reverential tones. This is very fine dining. Not for the self conscious. Waiters stand like sentinels guarding the tapestried walls. A glance at one of them is enough to be shown to the Guerlain equipped powder room. Such is the segue! Halfway through this culinary ceremony, a waiter parades a white box of pungent truffle but we weren’t brought up the Seine in a bubble. It would be nice not to break the four figure bill ceiling today. Okay maybe just a little truffle shavings… C’est L’Ambroisie, ce ne sera pas bon marché. But there are no pockets in shrouds. So don’t rue the day. Especially when it’s the day after the Feast of St Ambrose.
The Scottish aristo actress Tilda Swinton swans into the first dining room. “I’m performing at three o’clock so we have an hour and a half for lunch. Cheers to taking these moments – there haven’t been enough of these lately. We’re going to stuff ourselves today for life is too short. We just have to get on with it! Apparently, did you hear we’re going to get an arctic winter? Maybe I should hibernate and live like Little Edie in Grey Gardens!” Everything is up a level. It’s like living life in fast forward.
The restaurant is terribly discreet: no windows onto the world, just a lantern lit doorway off the cloistered Place des Vosges. A petite lobby leads into an enfilade of three smart dining rooms served by a basement kitchen. There are only 35 to 38 covers. Founding Chef Bernard Pacaud secured three Michelin Stars by 1988. His son Mathieu continues to carry the recognition. Ever since Henri IV ordered the creation of the chichi quartier of Le Marais in the 4th Arrondisement, the palace-fronted Place des Vosges has been at the centre of civilised society. Very up our rue.
Lunch is all about packing a piquant palate punch. Mets: ile flottante à la truffe blanche d’Alba; velouté de topinambours; escalopines de bar à lémincé d’artichaut, caviar Kristal; et tarte chocolat et vanilla Bourbon. Boissons sans alcool: eaux de Perrier. Vins et eaux development vie: Riesling Engelberg 2018 et Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2016. Amuse bouches are served between each course. ‘Ambroisie’ comes from Greek mythology means a “source of immortality” and “food for gods”. A restaurant fit for eternal deities. A rue named desire.
So what’s the difference between one, two and three Michelin Stars? And don’t say an arm and a leg. A Michelin Guide Inspector explains, “One Michelin Star is awarded to restaurants using top quality ingredients where dishes with distinct flavours are prepared to a consistently high standard. Two Michelin Stars are awarded when the personality and talent of the chef are evidence in his or her expertly crafted dishes of refined and inspired food. Three Michelin Stars are given for superlative cooking of the chef at the peak of his of her profession – cooking elevated to an art form.” There are 10 three Michelin Star restaurants in Paris according to the 2022 Guide. That’s twice the number of triple Starred in London. Onwards and upwards. Bon voyage voyage.