Thursday, March 21, 2019

Épicure Éric Fréchon - 2nd 'visit'

2019 is a special year for restaurant Epicure and its illustrious chef Éric Fréchon. This year, he is celebrating his 20th anniversary as the Executive Chef of Hotel Le Bristol. Chef Fréchon rapidly led the restaurant to attain the 2-star Michelin in just 2 years after arriving here, however the elusive 3rd star did not come until 2009. Clearly, he has cherished the passion, hard work and sense of his achievement at Epicure and it's truly well-deserved. There was a time when I came to this restaurant only because most of the other elite dining places were closed (such as Easter Monday and Sunday lunch). Despite that, the "2nd team" of restaurant Epicure did perform at a high level during those public holidays. At the end, slowly but surely ... I really like this top palace-hotel restaurant. Early this year, I made a conscious effort to reserve a meal here for dinner on the weekdays when the best staffs (both in the kitchen and front of the house) are likely to work.

Épicure is a kind of restaurant that's quintessentially French. The execution of the food, carving / plating some dishes table side, a parade of cheese and petit fours with trolleys, charming service, an elegant dining room were some of the qualities that I'm glad they keep meanwhile more and more restaurants nowadays prefer preparing things less elaborate and 'too clean/healthy'. That being said, Eric Fréchon's sincere love towards his profession has pushed him to always strive for the best everyday. Compared to my last visit, I learnt that Epicure served a different bread, in fact only one kind - homemade country bread. This new bread was prepared fresh daily in the hotel and created from various natural & top quality wheats such as emmer, khorasan, barbu and so on. To achieve bread perfection, thanks to the hotel's unlimited support, Chef Eric installed a working stone flour mill (designed by Roland Feuillas, a bread master). Diners do not come to Epicure and pay for the bread, but Eric Frechon believes that a good bread at the beginning is crucial and could set the positive tone for the rest of the meal experience. Salute for the continuous improvement!

As soon as I was seated, the staff brought in some nibbles and kougelhopf. Then come the new wheat bread served with creamy butter. Since this would be my last dinner in Paris for this trip and due to a good experience the last time I encountered with the sommelier, I decided to go for the wine pairing. All of Benjamin's recommendations were pretty much spot on. Let's dive to more details below regarding my dinner on the last day of January this year ...   

LANGOUSTINES ROYALES juste cuites au thym-citron, condiment « oignon-mangue », bouillon des pinces aux agrumes et coriandre (Large Langoustine slightly cooked with lemon-thyme, served with « onion-mango » condiment, broth of the claws with citrus fruit and coriander) - The fresh langoustine (from Le Guilvinec) was lightly cooked and succulent.  It was beautifully served with the orange buttery sauce made of the prawn jus, yuzu and coriander. An elegant dish with the 'sweet' broth that was balanced by the onion-mango; it was particularly refreshing & light given that we were in the deep Winter season. I ordered a half-portion for the opening

Accompanied by wine: Alsace Riesling Grand Cru 'Pfingstberg', Domaine Valentin Zusslin 2014 - aromatic and concentrated with smooth texture; rich on the palate with long finish. An elegant riesling (dry & crisp) was a good match for this scampi  course

POT-AU-FEU DE BOEUF AUX TRUFFES NOIRES 1er service: Royale de moëlle, purée de céleri-rave et truffe noire (Beef Pot-Au-Feu with Black Truffle part 1: “Royale” of marrow, celeriac mousseline and black truffle) - The creative work of Chef Frechon interpreting a traditional home-made French dish. It came in 3 parts and the 1st one was soft and savory marrow with celeriac mousse ... they're contrasted to the crispy croutons and earthy truffle cubes. The kitchen added poultry jus to make this dish more flavorful

POT-AU-FEU DE BOEUF AUX TRUFFES NOIRES 2eme service: Pot-au-feu de boeuf, légumes, truffe noire et foie gras de canard (Beef Pot-Au-Feu with Black Truffle part 2: Beef pot-au-feu served with vegetables, black truffle and duck foie gras) - I thought it was the best part of the dish. The delicate and nutty marrow on top was again paired with pungent Winter truffle; they're accompanied by the "millefeuille" of beef, duck liver and vegetables (carrot, turnip and cabbage). The superb produce was harmoniously tied together by the aromatic and delectable beef consomme. Each byte was a pure bliss!

POT-AU-FEU DE BOEUF AUX TRUFFES NOIRES 3eme service: Bouillon infusé à la truffe noire et au shiitaké en montgolfière (Beef Pot-Au-Feu with Black Truffle part 3: Broth infused with black truffle and shiitake) - The last part of the "pot on fire" trio was a clear soup covered by puff pastry. As I pierced the pastry, there was a pleasant fragrance coming out of the broth. The pastry would soak many flavors of the delicate soup - it was really divine when the celery, Perigord truffle, foie gras, shiitake etc. were integrated altogether.
Dividing this course into 3 small dishes and savored them one by one was indeed the "best" way to serve and enjoy this unique pot-au-feu dish ... stunning, filled with plenty of texture and taste variations. Glad to have ordered it

Accompanied by wine: Rioja Reserva Vina Tondonia, Lopez de Heredia 2004 - cherries & berries aroma yet savory, round & crisp with subtle acidity, medium concentration and complex finish. The finest Spanish wine I've ever tasted and it could be even better in the next couple of years. A hearty red that went long well with my beef stew     

TRUFFE NOIRE DU PERIGORD cuite entière au gros sel et senteurs de sous-bois, mousseline de topinambour, croûtons dorés à la moelle (Whole Black Truffle from Perigord cooked with coarse salt and underbrush aromas, served with Jerusalem artichoke mousseline and croutons cooked with bone marrow) - Out of curiosity and the fact that it's one of Eric Frechon's Winter-only specialties, I decided to order this deluxe dish. It would be my maiden experience to eat the whole cooked black diamond 'naked' as opposed to the more common truffle shaving / cut into small pieces or covered by pastry. It's only possible with Perigord version as the Italian and Australian summer truffle do not have the same aroma and flavor strength when compared to the French counterpart.
As I cut the truffle (like a steak) and put it in the mouth, there was a perfect combination of firm & rather crunchy texture, strong & sensual? perfume as well as rich & intensive taste occupying my palate - truly ecstasy for the fans of Perigord truffle. The kitchen brought the dish to the next level by preparing light yet deep sauce made from truffle jus and chicken consomme. For the side dish that actually also elevated the experience, Chef Frechon and his team provided naturally sweet & tasteful artichoke mousse combined with egg white, croutons, egg yolk and bacon on top. An extra portion of the mousse served in the small cup was available too on the table and I 'devoured' it together with the cooked truffle. A unique and sublime dish ... the presentation (or my picture) might not look that inspiring, but it's certainly a masterpiece     

Accompanied by wine: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Charvin 2013 - elegant nose of red & black fruits, rich but silky with good finish, and nice minerality. Given the proximity of Perigord and Rhone valley, perhaps it should not be surprising that a red Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a cooked truffle dish (having more intense flavor) were an excellent pairing

TRUFFE NOIRE émulsion de noisettes torréfiées aux éclats de cazettes, glace à la truffe noire, sauce au chocolat « gianduja » (Black Truffle dessert served with Roasted hazelnuts foam with “cazette” and Black truffle ice cream with “gianduja” chocolate sauce) - The cute dessert mimicked the real black truffle shape. The black truffle amount was just sufficient and the ice cream was pretty delicate in both aroma and flavor. With sweet chocolate sauce + fresh hazelnut in liquid form, crunch hazelnut + cookie underneath, it still tasted like a normal (choc-based) dessert. Don't worry ... you would not be overwhelmed by the Perigord truffle. I really liked the texture (crisp vs soft) and flavor (sweet vs earthy) contrast here. The portion was quite generous, but it was pretty easy to clean it up

Accompanied by wine: Niepoort, Porto 20 Year Old Tawny N.V. - creamy, sweet & delicate on the palate with some intense fruitness, smooth with pure finish ... a relatively easy port to drink. A good match indeed with any chocolate-based dessert

Prior to the main dessert, the kitchen delivered yoghurt sorbet with blueberry jelly as the pre-dessert. I skipped the cheese course. At the end, I had the petit fours for take away to be consumed with the coffee. There were 8 different flavors of fresh and fine macarons (as far as I could remember them, they were salted caramel, dark chocolate, coconut, lemon, chocolate with hazelnut, pistachio, cassis, and raspberry); a good balance of right chewiness and sweetness - one of the world's best macarons at the moment. From start to finish, my dinner was a haute cuisine experience at a very high level: innovative and meticulous cooking with top-quality ingredients and combinations resulting in dishes with superb flavors and perfect textures. Excellent food was balanced by flawless service under the leadership of Remi Segui, Director of restaurant Epicure. Whenever engaged in a conversation, in genuine smile and with full attention, he  would try to make it meaningful - not simply a lip service. Remi was assisted by his capable right hand man, Thomas Pfeiffer who was in charge of my section. Thomas would not be afraid of giving his insights about the food in particular and restaurant industry in general. For example, he warned me about some similarities between beef pot-au-feu and whole black truffle dish. I appreciated this kind of opinion though I still decided to go ahead and loved my choices. In addition, most of the staffs at Epicure were outgoing, spoke fluent English, and cordial with good sense of humor. For example, when Mathieu de Matteis, the junior maitre d', approached me ... I congratulated him that he's no longer in the beige uniform. He happily smiled and (on purpose) spoke rather loudly towards Remi and Thomas that soon / next he would get the same suit as them; read "take over their positions" :-) From the past experience, the staffs were also good in creating some dramas (a little fight or mock one another) among themselves for the sake of entertaining guests. That being said, the service, gesture and explanation were always performed consistently at the 3-star level.

If I had to be picky, the only 'downside' of the meal was that I prefer the lunch atmosphere to the dinner ambiance. The dining room with marble floors, red & thick curtains and plush upholstery was as opulent and elegant as ever. However, it lacked views and natural lights from the big glass window during the night, thus guests could hardly see the hotel's lovely inner French garden. Anyway, it was a minor thing. Épicure par Éric Fréchon quickly rose to the top 5 among my favorite restaurant in Paris and this meal ranked as the most memorable I've ever had here. Could you do better in the future Epicure? I hope so. Only a handful restaurants in Europe that I had the privilege to visit at least 5 times and now Chef Fréchon's temple of gastronomy joined that "exclusive" group. If you want to see the pictures, check the following link: Epicure Jan '19

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 97/100