This is a hard one to write. Generally I have mixed views in restaurants but never have I had to write a scathing review. And never of 3 Michelin star restaurant. But here it is. It is a 3 star Michelin and no. 46 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant, so the question is how could my meal at L’Astrance go so wrong? Getting a reservation is a nightmare and its been written up so well, i thought it was going to be a slam sunk wonderful meal. Not the case. It is appalling in service, in contrast to all the other 3 Michelin star restaurants I have been (also in contrast to 2 star, 1 star, hell the bistro in the corner). One should not spend 250 Euros on a meal for mediocre service and average food. Skip this and go to where he trained L’Arpege. You will thank me.
Let’s start with the service. Because really that’s where the experience went to die. With amazing service we might have forgiven a host of things but that wasn’t the case. we got put in the second floor with another table and they are not set up for that — it took forever to get every course, we would spend 5-10 minutes without wine in our glasses (the bottle was downstairs so we couldn’t self pour ans also it’s a 3 star Michelin we shouldn’t). Once we finished the wine and there were still like 3 courses left and there was no attempt to ask if we wanted another bottle, another drink etc. We never got asked if we wanted a digestive or post dinner drink, coffee, tea – nothing. We were very glad when they finally left our water bottle upstairs as we could self-serve since it was clear no one was going to help us. The people were not nice, rude, not helpful and blaming the customer and not them, that’s never a good idea. As a memento, a picture of our empty wine glasses:
If you have food allergies, also not the best place to go. I let them know about my gluten allergy, and the first thing they said was: our bread is artisanal wheat, so can you have it? Me: No I can not eat gluten. How about pasta? No I can’t eat gluten. When one of the courses arrived they say: the sauce has soy sauce, but you don’t mind right? Me: Yes I do mind, I do not want the sauce, again I don’t eat gluten. Clearly they think it’s a preference (or an annoyance) not a necessity to avoid it and that attitude I never like, nor is it one you should go to if you have an intolerance. Less if you have celiac.
But let’s get onto the food which is the highlight (assuming service doesn’t matter, but really it does, every Michelin restaurant , especially 3 stars has impeccable service). The theme of the night was surprise (We never got a menu, only this.. so clearly expectations were high, how inventive was this going tobe?)
The first course was a great start, a delicious broth with shrimp and young cauliflowers. We were off to a great start (Although all the other tables had the staple Astrance foie Gras millfeuille. We assume we didn’t get it because of my gluten allergy ,but then why couldn’t the rest of my table get it?)
Second course was a scallop with oyster and bone marrow dish. Bonus points for inventiveness and joining together such similar textures to create a contrasting dish. Yet for me it did not taste good. I give them the creativity points just not the taste ones. It was too similar in texture, not enough contrast and the flavors were a bit jarring.
Third course was the infamous you don’t mind soy sauce course I alluded to earlier. So mine was just fish with rice no sauce. Surprisingly the fish was super moist and I didn’t miss the sauce at all. And i love me some rice, so i was ok with the dish. My sister actually said that she would have prefered the dish without the sauce, since it was a too overpowering. Point to me!
The next was one of the truffle dishes (Since we requested truffles, the only thing we could ask on the menu) and it really was just truffles on a puree. it was tasty, it wasnt spectacular and again it needed a bit more contrast of textures
The first main, and another of the truffle dishes was chicken with chicken jus, this is where our ok dinner went to a what is going on meal. First of all im not a huge fan of chicken in super high-end restaurants because really, its chicken. Its my staple diet food at home, and I find it hard to elevate. So if you are serving me chicken you better bring it. Elevated it wasnt here, and it was not brought. Before our dishes arrived we saw the table next to us send back the dish, and we thought it was a duck or pigeon and they were complaining that it was underdone but no it was chicken. And our was raw in parts. The cook was probably sous vis so it was tender, but it left it with a weird texture and for me a feel of undercookness (Which you never want in chicken). But there were parts of our chicken that were undercooked (a picture for you here). My sister didn’t even get two pieces of chicken, just half a medallion (we guessed hers must have been really undercooked if they didn’t plate it.) when once we were done and they picked up the plates, and my dad showed them the pink remains, their only comment was: That’s our cooking technique. The chicken is perfectly fine. Ok, but i don’t want to eat your pink chicken ever again then.
The second main was duck with jus again. The portions where inconsistent but tasty. The sauce was so similar to the chicken one that it lacked imagination. and the vegetables were just limp on the plate.
The palate cleanser was something that apparently they are very famous for, a sorbet of lemongrass, chilli and ginger. IT was not good. Very perfumy and although you did get the chilli hit at the end which was nice, it was like having a patchouli in your mouth. My sister’s quote of the night: “this is like drinking perfume, although I think my Tom Ford perfume tastes better than this”. Table below us said the same thing and left it all.
My gluten-free desserts were so boring. Whilst my table mates got a lemon tart I got some fruit (too citrucy) with very little lemon curd around it and pears on the side
and this was the last desert that was so disappointing. I mean it was tropical fruit in the plate. literally they didn’t even peel them they just cut some fruit and put it on the plate. my dad went for the orange only to be appalled that it still had the rim (I mean even in the hotel breakfast when I order orange slices they are peeled and ready to eat). This is like dessert back home from me. A passion fruit on the table does not excite me at all. (and we are in france for gods sake, home to pastry chef gods). The eggs had a eggnog inside which was a cute gimmick but it was too sweet, I was the only one on the table who could finish it off.
We might have gone on an off night, they might have been understaffed but at this level, as someone reminded me, you only get one chance to make a first impression and they bombed it. It is also a lesson in managing expectations. You can’t give me a menu that says I am going to be surprised and give me normal food (Nothing I had been superior or more inventive than any other restaurant i tried this year). This is especially true given that I have been this year to restaurants that had Mad hatter playgrounds set up to incite the taste buds in side rooms, art work being taken out of walls and fed to me and perfume coming out of plants, pate that looks like fruit etc. If you want to call yourself original or surprising be it. If not call yourself a generic french restaurant, print yourself a menu, and for the love of good, offer me some wine and good service.