Thursday, July 26, 2018

Epicure Éric Fréchon

My official review for Epicure, the flagship restaurant of Hôtel Le Bristol, has been long overdue. This restaurant is actually somewhat special for me since it was the first gastronomy dining place I ever visited in Europe. It was a lunch in the Easter Monday of 2006 when it still held 2-star and used separate dining rooms depending on the season. I ate at its Winter dining room whose decor was very classic and French displaying old-style luxury. My degustation menu was enjoyable though it was not in my top 5 among Paris finest restaurants, even after re-visited in 2010 when finally Éric Fréchon gained his 3rd Michelin star one year earlier. In 2011, Hotel Le Bristol completed the EUR 300+ million transformative renovation including its signature restaurant. A few years later, I noticed people began to discuss more and very favorably towards Epicure such as it become the top Paris restaurant according to Tripadvisor and received several awards as the best hotel restaurant in the world. However, it was not until early Autumn of 2017, I eventually made a return to this temple of gastronomy.

After the Le Bristol upgrading work, Epicure occupied one permanent space that was its Summer dining room. It was the first time I entered this place last year. Unlike the past Winter venue, the interior design here was more modern but still very elegant and timeless. It featured marble fireplace, beige marble floors with onyx, oil paintings, tall drapes and a few bronze chandeliers. I was seated at the spacious red sofa while most of the tables were paired with the tartan-patterned chairs. Nearly all of the tables overlooking the expansive views of the hotel big & beautiful garden as well as outdoor terrace. I liked this dining room better than the old one; it was grand (seated about 40 people) yet felt intimate and exclusive at the same time.  One thing does not change here was that all gentlemen was required to wear a jacket. The restaurant happily lent the guest if he happened to forget not wearing one. Personally, I was in favor of this old school custom. As far as the food's concerned, I have learnt that the secret of many top French gastronomy restaurant best dishes coming from the a la carte menu albeit they're generally more expensive. One more thing, I happened to dine at Epicure twice in the past 8 months - for the 2nd visit, "thanks" to the SNCF French rail strikes that prevented me from going to Reims. There were not that many choices among multiple star restaurants in the city of light opening on Sunday. 

AUTUMN Lunch in October 2017

Artichauts de Provence, rôti à l’huile d’olive et truffes blanches d’Alba, poudre d’œuf haché et chips d’artichauts aux noisettes (Artichokes from Provence roasted with olive oil, served with white truffle from Alba, egg powder and artichoke crisps with hazelnuts - small portion) - A generous gift from the kitchen to everyone on that day. The artichokes (leaves & hearts) were light with distinct taste & aroma. They were enhanced by the luxurious Alba truffle, crispy chips, nutty hazelnut and mild egg. It was precise and balanced 

Caviar de Sologne et mousseline de pomme de terre ratte fumée au haddock, croustillant de sarrasin aigrelette (Caviar from Sologne served with "ratte" potatoes mousseline smoked with haddock and buckwheat crisp with a slightly sour dressing - demi portion) - One of Eric Frechon's signature dishes available all year long. The smoked haddock was infused to the ratte potatoes to give the mousse sophisticated taste so that when consumed together with the caviar, the firm texture and intensity of the Sologne caviar would shine. There were mild nutty finish flavor with light mousse and soured cream taste (from the stick) in the background. As long as the caviar was still around, it was a fantastic appetizer ..

Accompanied by wine: 2012 Simon Bize Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses (some acidity, medium finish, blend of cassis & dark berries, full body with a nice balance)

Noix de coquilles Saint-Jacques, gnocchis de pomme de terre à la truffe blanche d'Alba, jus de cresson de fontaine au beurre noisette (Sea Scallops served with potatoes gnocchi with white truffle from Alba and watercress juice with brown butter - demi portion) - The perfectly seared scallops were tender and sweet. They went along well with the rather soft gnocchi whose flavors mainly derived from the nutritious watercress sauce. The powerful Alba truffle (in aroma and taste) gave extra punch to this wonderful and classic Autumn dish at Epicure. I wish there had been more shaved truffles on this dish ...

Homard bleu rôti en coque, sauté de légumes du Sud à l'huile d'olive, encornet, chorizo, anchois, piment doux et basilic (Blue Lobster roasted in its shell served with sauteed Southern vegetables with olive oil, squids, chorizo, anchovies, sweet peppers and basil) - The plating of the dish was beautiful. When asked, Chef Frechon said it was the first time he created a lobster dish without any 'sauce'. The Brittany lobster was cooked until firm; a few was stuffed with the chewy squid. The highlight was the natural delicious flavor of the lobster however I was not too fond of the unusual taste from the side dishes + their seasonings. I don't find these combinations really helped elevate the awesome roasted lobster

Accompanied by wine: 2012 Domaine M. Chapoutier Hermitag Chante-Alouette (dark yellow, tropical fruits nose, medium body, decent acidity, medium finish and quite rich on the palate)    

Citron de Menton givré au limoncello et citron confit, aux saveurs de poires (Lemon from Menton frosted with Limoncello, served with pear and preserved lemon) - A special dessert at Epicure created by its legendary pastry chef, Laurent Jeannin. This frosted lemon was truly fragrant; every spoon I put in my mouth, my nose also enjoyed the aromatic lemon scent. The "lemon meringue", covered by limoncello, was pretty, delicate with pleasant acidity. When the 'lemon was broken', there were some cold pear, lemon and a little herbal taste. In addition, it was fun to savor a few different textures - soft snow & jelly - altogether in cold temperature. An excellent dessert!

SPRING Lunch in May 2018

Homard Bleu rôti au beurre demi-sel, jus des têtes pressées, polenta moelleuse aux asperges vertes et truffe noire (Blue Lobster roasted in its shell with salted butter, juice of pressed heads, creamy polenta with green asparagus and black truffle) - The 'homard breton' was perfectly cooked (turned beautifully red) and meaty / delightfully firm with succulent flavor. The tasty sauce was the jus from the lobster head. It was accompanied by crisp green asparagus, asparagus mousseline with mild black truffle flavors. It was a pure indulgence from start to finish - no wonder this dish was considered as Eric Frechon's specialty 

Accompanied by wine: 2015 Sancerre Domaine Gerard Boulay "Clos de Beaujeu" (pale lime color, fresh citrus and floral in both nose and palate, good minerality, medium body, long finish and clean - nice for the sunny day)

Carre D'Agneau de Lait doré au sautoir à l'ail et fleur de thym, chips de basilic, condiment d'épinard au citron confit et anchois (Rack of milk-fed Lamb pan-fried with garlic and thyme flower, basil chips, condiment of spinach with candied lemon and anchovies) - The well-seasoned and precisely cooked Aveyron lamb was really juicy, delicious and melt-in-the-mouth. Beginning from the skin, it was slightly broiled until brown / a bit crunchy, then there was small but heavenly lamb's fat; comes to the meat, it's simply tender and flavorful. Eat with your hand to "clean up" the lamb (except the rack, of course). The only down side ... small size and 'too' few pieces
The light potato souffles with spinach anchovy inside were lovely, mildly salty with earthy potato flavors. The side dishes of lemon, spinach condiment and a little cheese were in harmony with the lamb rack and its intense jus. One of the tastiest lamb I've ever had and this was done when Chef Frechon was not in the kitchen!

Accompanied by wine:
-2011 Margaux, Chateau des Eyrins (deep ruby color and dense, currant scent, dark berry flavor and earthy. Not the best red for this lamb dish, but enjoyable to drink by itself). I did not quite like it, but the assistant sommelier was kind enough to comp. this glass, thus I ordered the 2nd one
-2013 Champin Le Seigneur Côte-Rôtie, Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin (bright purple, refreshing, soft yet deep & complex, velvety tannins with oak finish). A great pairing for the flavorful and not-so-intense lamb

Cerises "Burlat" en sucre soufflé, crème de pistache de Sicile, giboulée de cerises flambées au kirsch (Burlat Cherries blown in sugar, flambéed with kirsch, and served with pistachio cream from Sicily) - It was a fabulous dessert! The sweet red cherries were soaked with kirsch, then flambeed. In addition, there was a rich & creamy cherry sorbet as well as crunchy crust pistachio nuts on the sides. The "huge cherry" was a big blown sugar of burlat cherries filled with cool, tasty and nutty of superb Sicilian pistachio. The interplay of texture and temperature contrasts were wonderful. All elements were in harmony and the overall impression of the flavors was intense yet still light at the same time - impressive!

I thought the cooking of Éric Fréchon has improved since my last visit 7-8 years ago. Dishes' seasoning and execution were very precise. The technical aspects were excellent, for instance the sauce reduction was flawless and the food was clearly structured. These occurred in both meals, therefore the consistency of the refined food in all aspects was very high. Note that during my '18 visit, Vincent Perrin (chef de cuisine) led the kitchen as Sunday was Chef Frechon's off day. Epicure was a Wine spectator's Grand award winners; it's of no surprise that the wine list here was abundant in particular with the French selection. The wine by the glasses was also quite a lot; even better was the wine service. When I 'wrongfully' selected a red Bordeaux that did not perfectly match my lamb dish, the assistant sommelier recognized this from my face expression. He kindly offered me a better option - the red Burgundy - while still allowed me to keep the initial red free of charge.

Epicure is blessed with tremendous resources. There are nearly 40 people (one of them is MOF Franck Leroy, Eric Frechon's right hand man) working in the kitchen while the dining room's service team was staffed by more than 20 people. With 1 waiter serving 2 guests ratio, the service was exceptional and efficient. During my first visit, per my request I could finish my meal slightly over 2 hours but never felt rush and the pacing was just right. The staffs were cordial and knowledgeable; they easily adjust their manners according to the clients' cultures. Overall, they moved around beautifully as if it's choreographed. For my 2 visits, I was served by nearly different teams. Although I might slightly prefer the "first team" (Remi, Matthieu and Thomas), the "second team" (Stephane and Alicia) also delivered a great service. It was very difficult to find faults at Epicure. Things guest's not happy with were probably more about different tastes instead of the restaurant failed to deliver something. Delicious food and elegant presentation, matching wine pairing with plenty of selection, terrific service and everlasting ambiance were the strong traits of the superb high-end French restaurant. I hope Eric Frechon could become the (last) defender of French cuisine and its tradition as long as possible.

For the pictures that would include nibbles, amuse-bouches and petit fours, please check out the following links: Epicure Oct '17 and Epicure May '18

Food (and Wine): 95.5 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94.5 pts

Overall: 95/100