Monday, August 12, 2019

Le Cinq Christian Le Squer

Located inside one of the most opulent palace hotels in Paris, Le Cinq has always been a popular restaurant especially among wealthy foreign businessmen and tourists staying inside the Four Seasons hotel. Despite its popularity, even during Philippe Legendre's period as the executive chef and his replacements after, Le Cinq never received the "respect" at the level of Pierre Gagnaire or Guy Savoy. It has always been the ambition of the hotel's owner to have its flagship restaurant to be the city's best with 3-star Michelin (and 5-toque of Gault-Millau). Things changed for the better when Christian Le Squer left Ledoyen and almost immediately recruited by the hotel to lead Le Cinq. He 'only' had to focus his role as the head chef of the V restaurant. About 2 yeas later, all of the dreams above were attained. Given Chef Le Squer's tremendous talent and vast experiences, the achievements were kind of expected. He probably had 30-40 people in his kitchen at his disposal. This actually was my 2nd meal at Le Cinq and was even better than the 1st dinner (Le Cinq Spring 2017). It was remarkable as Christian was not around on that evening and the kitchen was entrusted to Romain Mauduit, chef de cuisine who has been working under Le Squer since 2006. Yet, I did not notice any drop in (food) quality.

The meal took place on a Sunday night when I just arrived in Paris earlier in the evening. After having check-in to the hotel and done a few errands, I reached FS George V hotel nearly 9 o'clock and certainly was the last guest showing up at the restaurant. Given its reputation and top service, the staffs encouraged me to relax, settle down and not too worry about the time. They said I could still order an Epicurean escape (8-course menu) if I wanted to but I declined the kind offer since I did not want to stay until after midnight. Additionally, most of the dishes I loved to try were not available in that current Winter tasting menu. My dinner started with some snacks such as warm & pleasant comte and black truffle 'millefeuille', truffle ball with egg yolk as well as pear with fennel. The amuse-bouche was poached egg with spinach and bechamel sauce, tasted like a healthy food but nothing too special. My order of a la carte dishes of the night were the following, 

Concentré iodé ; extrait de Litchi / Saint Jacques à cru ; tarama givré d’oursins (Iodized flavors of slightly marinated Scallops with lychee and frosted Sea urchins) - Before my 1st official dish arrived, the maitre d' kindly gave this complimentary dish. I often saw this 'cold appetizzer' on the menu. Chilled and tasty scallops with tropical & sweet lychee 'sauce' as well as briny & rather creamy uni. Refreshing and very pleasant ... there were a few crunchy items for the texture contrast. Summer might be a more ideal time to enjoy this dish, but of course I gladly finish these seafood.

Grillade de Noix de Saint-Jacques a l'eau de parmesan / ecorces de racines (Grilled Scallops scented with Parmesan and root vegetables) - 2 remarkably plump and juicy scallops with their inherent sweet flavors were perfectly cooked. The scallops were served with crispy roasted wood of salsify while the tasty sauce containing olive tapenade. The addition of earthy black truffles elevated the already delicious dish to even higher level. Brittany seafood has always been the specialty of Christian Le Squer ...

Accompanied by wine: 2015 Saint-Aubin 1er cru, forgot the domaine (liquorice nose, elegant palate, little oak note .. young wine but already good to drink)

Pièce de Turbot contise à la Truffe macération de cresson / nashi (Grilled fillet of Turbot and Black truffle with watercress and Japanese pear) - The Turbot was actually cooked a la plancha. The quality was superb and it's fatty ... the fish white flesh was tender and flavorful. The smoked mustard and pear generated some interesting contrast. In the Winter, the earthy black truffle certainly improved the aroma of the dish. Simpler than Le Squer's classic turbot with ratte potatoes, but they're equally fantastic - the dinner was so far so (very) good.

Truffe Noire en gros Morceaux en feuilleté brioche (Black Truffle in puff pastry brioche) - The fragrant and buttery brioche was relatively thin. It's prepared flawlessly to wrap the thick & cooked aromatic black truffle as well as delicate 'steamed' foie gras. The Perigord truffle sauce added luxury feeling and extra flavors without being overwhelming. It's outstanding; it's delicious; it's remarkable. Even after having consumed Scallop and Turbot dishes earlier, I managed to clean this up without any difficulties - consistent explosion of flavors from start to finish!
This brioche was the closest to the perfection of Pacaud's truffle puff pastry ... after having missed it during Christian's days at Ledoyen, eventually I got to savor it at Four seasons. Thankful that he decided to still serve this superb dish at Le Cinq. 

Salade d'Hiver truffee (Winter truffle salad) - It was the side dish for the above brioche. The salad was simple, having some vegetables with slightly acidic vinaigrette dressing but ... the truffles were amazing! A mountain of black truffles - never did I served these much shaved truffles - of course, I did not complain. Each byte (almost) guaranteed to have some taste of these black diamonds. Compared to the puff pastry, the truffle here was not as intense. The greens balanced the 'garlicky' mushrooms; it could act as a dish on its own.

Accompanied by wine: 2015 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape (medium body and acidity, rich and fruity, cherries aroma, kinda dry; CNDP often paired well with any black truffle dish)

Before the dessert, the kitchen prepared a palate cleanser consisted of verbena, fresh & not so-sweet ice cream, bitter grapefruit, somewhat sour green apple, milk cream and pop corn.

Baies rouges a la pulpe de vegetal rafraichie, chessecake meringue (Refreshed Berries with cheesecake meringue and fresh herbs) - Light cheesecake with parsley powder on top and fresh cream. For a dessert, this one had minimal sweetness with the berries generated most of the flavors. It's interesting but slightly underwhelming - the risk of trying a new sweet rather than ordering one of Le Squer's classics.

Accompanied by wine: Calvados Pays d'Auge (might be by Boulard; quite smooth with rather long finish, subtle caramel & mint, some apple and honey flavors).

The dinner concluded with some petit four, chocolate trolley and kouign-amann (Breton traditional pastry) with caramelized almonds. It was my first meal during this trip to Paris and it was fabulous. When Christian Le Squer left Ledoyen, at first I thought that his superb cooking would be just a distant memory. I was glad that I was mistaken and I could once again savor his flavorful dishes executed at such high level - near perfection. The wine selection did not disappoint. Since I just reached Paris, I just wanted to drink moderately and the (assistant) sommelier's picks were generally spot on.

The dining room at Le Cinq has always been grandiose. Some of the most striking features were lofty ceiling, extravagant oil paintings / tapestries and of course, the stunning flower displays by Jeff Leatham. Furthermore, there were thick carpets, palm trees, and lavish chandeliers. The dining room, in which many tables faced the hotel's big and often decorated terrace, was dominated by gold color tone. In short, the magnificent decor was very French / Parisian. The level of service was not inferior to its interiors. Staffs performed the right balance of being professional and convivial. Many have been around for several years and were empowered by the hotel to always please the guests. Under the leadership of Christian Le Squer, not few French diners would flock and enjoy the chef's haute cuisine creations. I noticed a couple of big tables occupied by local guests: the first one was a table of 6 young Parisian and the second one was a group of more than a dozen of French middle aged people filled in the farthest end of the dining room, hidden behind several huge vases and their bright flowers (the private room, perhaps?).

This Winter foodie trip was nothing short of amazing. I was blessed with five meals in Paris performing at the "absolute" 3-star level and it was one of them. With both Le Cinq and Epicure operating for both lunch and dinner on Sunday, people should not worry of not having an option to enjoy top French cooking. Unless something dramatically changed, Le Cinq is in very good hands for the next 1-2 decades. Readers could find the pictures of this meal here Le Cinq Jan '19

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 96.5/100


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