Les mets de l'Arpège offrent la lumière et l'intrigante beauté du vitrail. Plus qu'une succession de plats délicieux, la nourriture d'Alain Passard interpelle le beau. Singularité du geste du chef au service d'un art, celui d'apprivoiser la beauté et la tendre au sublime. Les mets défilent - lumières virevoltantes saisies au vivant - elles envoûtent palais et âmes des mangeurs. Sans doute l'une des plus émouvantes expérience de la haute gastronomie.
Photos Bruno Verjus
Photos Bruno Verjus
D'ailleurs l'excellent et impitoyable critique anglais du Sunday Times, AA GILL ne s'y est pas trompé : Voici sa récente chronique :
L’Arpège Chef Alain Passard Address 84 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris; 00 33 1 47 05 09 06. Open Mon-Fri, lunch and dinner Price Full chef’s tasting menu is €360 CRITIC'S RATING 5/5
"The first restaurant I really wanted to try was L’Arpège. The chef here, Alain Passard, was, for years, a conventionally accomplished two-star cook whose speciality was the grill. He then had one of those existential crises that afflict the Gauls and talked long and feverishly about the black despair of having to come to work on a corpse, the sensual disgust of chopping up dead flesh, and became a vegetarian. Or as close to a vegetarian as a Frenchman can manage, which is probably odd Tuesdays and Saturday afternoons, and doesn’t count fish, frogs or snails. He devoted his restaurant to the adoration of the vegetative, all that was green, globular, sprouting and scented. He also put up the prices. Paris threw its hands in the air. He started cooking with a messianic brilliance. His dining room is simple, almost plain, although utilitarian minimalism is not a look the French have really grasped, and this one does slip in some Lalique glass and those objects that can’t make up their minds whether they’re ornament or sculpture. Meat is served, but it takes second billing to the vegetables, as a side order, an accompaniment. The Blonde and I ate a lot, because we could, and because the maître d’ was so utterly beguiling and friendly — which is, frankly, a shock in Paris — that I was pathetically grateful and said yes to everything.
I started with a melange of seasonal vegetables, turnips and radishes, shallots and beetroot, a revelation of care and excellence. Each ingredient tasted as you remember, but more so, bigger, brighter, louder, smarter. Together, they were a chant of winter flavours. The Blonde had ravioli in clear stock that was made with the addition of apple juice. Again, a clever surprise of warmth and clarity and season. One of the things that made it so difficult for French kitchens to adapt to modern eating was their technique and tradition. Now they have intellectually and aesthetically embraced simplicity, the old kitchen skills are again pre-eminent, but starring in a new order. To make a clear consommé this sublime is something I wouldn’t expect to find in any English restaurant, not because they can’t, but because they wouldn’t bother to devote the time and the labour. Then a tart of little turnips, with honey, and a dish of thin ribbons of celeriac, gratinéed and covered with black truffle. I had a duck breast, turned slowly on the hob in a sauce of hibiscus. There was another sauce made from seville-orange zest, emulsified with olive oil, and a cod that had the texture of crème brûlée. A honey soufflé had at its heart a melting ball of suspended dark chocolate. A long and elegant millefeuille straight from the oven, elevated like crisped tissue paper, that tasted intensely of butter and hazelnuts, was as unlike any other millefeuille as Audrey Tautou is unlike Hattie Jacques.
Passard wandered around his restaurant in the French way that Anglo cooks have never quite mastered, being charming and amusing. In print, he talks ladlefuls of froggy bollocks about the business of cooking
vegetables, but he has put the earth where his mouth is, with three kitchen gardens within two hours of Paris, where ingredients are grown with an obsessive manner that matches his kitchen. Not just organically, but with cuisine-made compost and without mechanical help. It’s all horses and massed peasants. The stuff is picked at 7am with the dew still on it, put on the fast train at nine, and is on the plate for lunch. Not chilled or gassed, not washed or packed. Just perfect. He smokes things and sweetens them, salts them, makes brilliant associations. Altogether this bosky cuisine is a revelation, not just of taste, but of spirit and conviction, and the élan of the cook. It is also splendidly expensive: individual dishes can be as much as €180. Nothing gets past your teeth much under €60, and if you want the full tasting chef’s choice, that’ll be €360.
This weekend made me so grinningly, adolescently happy. It was settling an old argument, winning back a dear friend Personally, I don’t begrudge him a red sou. This is what I fell in love with. This is what I wanted to find in Paris. Of course, if you think food is pretty much fuel that comes as either sweet or salty — you like something with a bit of a crunch you can eat with your fingers — you’ll feel fleeced. But then, what are you doing reading this column?..."