Four Seasons George V, Paris
Lunch on Oct 24, 2004
I put Le Cinq the last during my Parisian trip not with the ‘save the best for last’ mentality but simply because it was the only Michelin three-starred establishment opens on Sundays. It turned out Le Cinq was the ultimate serendipity in my gourmandize quest: I’d the best lunch in my life.
Dining in Le Cinq made me realize what opulence and patrician were all about. One simply has too many things to love in this dining room. The décor was miraculously beautiful. They say god is in the detail, so does elegance. The Limoges porcelain, the Riedel stemware and the crystal-lined salt and pepper dishes from the aristocratic French sliver house Ercuis. In all, a place full of style and grace.
The wait staff was polite but at the same time panache. I could sense everyone of them were proud to work in Le Cinq and most importantly, proud to serve their patrons. From this pride, they developed their professionalism in service and the passion for the cuisine they had to offer. As I later came to know, ‘toute possible,’ which means ‘everything is possible’ in English was their motto by choice and they were all committed to it.
To work in the Le Cinq, you have to fill in an application form before the selection process. In it, there’s a column asking if you are familiar with the art of mind-reading. If you fill in ‘no,’ you are out of the boardroom. Indeed, halfway through the lunch I was starting to think that Le Cinq only hire prophets. My hands’ only task during the lunch was to handle the flatware. No waving was needed. The shibboleth descriptions such a ‘attentive but not intrusive’ seen so often in restaurant reviews were understatements. They were way more – their service was ‘prescient and polished.’ They knew what I wanted next without me showing the slightest hint.
That much said, all these great service meant nothing if the food was below expectation. But the virtuosity of Philippe Legendre (ex Taillevent) wasn’t to be denied. Food in here was nothing but impeccable. What I liked most about the menu was that there was a column specialized in game. They had the hare, wild duck, venison and wild pigeon, and even the grouse and haggis prepared in Scottish way. It was by far the most eclectic game menu I’d come across in Paris. There were 2 prix fixe menus for the indecisive minds to resort to. The 'Menu Decouverte,' the Discovery Menu with five courses or the 'Menu Degustation,' the Gourmet Tasting Menu with nine courses. Feeling the latter was too much even for an indefatigable gourmand like me, I decide to go with the Discovery Menu.
I started my meal with the chestnuts Royal with truffle juice. Mon dieu! Just a sniff of it gave me a jovial olfactory stroke. While the chestnuts were sweet and fresh, it espoused well with the heady and earthy aroma of the truffle. The name got it real right: it was royal, regal and majestic.
The second course was the duck foie gras with rhubarb compote and elderberry juice. Two garnishes of tart fruit condiment were used to supplement the foie gras. This fattened liver tasted sumptuous and soft. The preparation of this dish was simple sans any trick yet a light touch of these tart jus helped to speak honesty to all the virtues of the foie gras.
The third one was the pan sautéed scallop with Jerusalem artichoke and truffle juice. The scallops, bathing in the luminous jus, were timely sautéed so that the flesh was meltingly velvety; they were further moistened with an emulsion of truffle and sunchoke jus.
The main course was the roasted wild pigeon with cabbage and its juice. The sumptuous pigeon, combined the lightly sautéed cabbage juliennes to provide a superb contrast of textures and complementary flavors. The pigeon gravy was intensely rich in flavor too. If there was a theme for this dish, I would say it was ‘singing with flavor.’
And the dessert was the roasted spiced pineapple with mango and papaya, ten savor exotic sorbet (what a mouthful). This sinfully rich concoction of tropical fruits and the outstandingly fresh sorbet was elaborately constructed and proved a real feast to the eyes. The spiciness was just right so that it was mildly ‘spiced’ and sweet at the same time.
The champagne I had was the 1996 Cuvee Louise Rose Prestige. It was bright pink-gold. It was quite sherry-like for the nose, with a hint of orange. Ample flavors of lemon and tangerine were supplemented by a nuance of yeast. The finish was extraordinarily elegant for a rose. The white I had was a glass of 2000 Pouilly Fuisse ‘Claude-Denogent.’ It was very pronounced with an strong aroma of pineapple. Voluptuous and extracted. The palate was broad, toasty with ripe honeyed fruit flavors. The finish ran marathon. The red I had before I was drunk was a glass of 2002 Blagny 1er Cru Domaine Vincent Girardin. Its note was nutty and body full. The finish was persistent with mineral flavor. It was in concord with my roasted pigeon.
One of the golden rules of restaurant for a traveling gourmet is not to visit the same restaurant over and over again, as it is much wiser to try as many as possible when abroad. This rule is especially true in Paris, a city where you have endless great dining institutions to choose from. But with the experience I had in Le Cinq, I will definitely break this golden rule and go back to it every time I go to Paris. Bonjour Paris, that is for me! Le Cinq, Cette moi.