Can La Tour d’Argent in Paris reignite glory days and capture more Michelin stars?
So what’s the big deal?
If someone asks you for lunch and says lets go to a place where we can sit and stare at the same rooftops of Paris that inspired Van Gogh and many other artists, a place with breathtaking views of one the finest examples of French Gothic architecture – Notre-Dame, a place that has not so much a wine list but a wine bible, showcasing a collection of rare and prestigious wines making it one of the best wine lists the world has ever seen, a place that serves wonderful French duck dishes that effortlessly appear at table by immaculate trolly silver service, please just say….YES…. for they would be asking you to lunch at possibly one of the most famous and enjoyable restaurants in the world – La Tour d’Argent in Paris.
First opened in 1582, La Tour d’Argent, known for hundreds of years as a refined establishment frequented by the aristocracy. The legend of the sparkling silver tower of Paris is long and a little controversial. In Michelin terms it held 3 stars from the 1930s until 1996 when it lost a star. Another was stripped 10 years later in 2006. It seemed the silver tower had lost its lustre. Fast forward to 2016 and Michelin Star Chef Philippe Labbe is brought on board to reinvigorate the Tour d’Argent and return it to its full glory. Today it is number 69 on the Opinionated About Dining Top 100 European Classical Restaurants – so where are those stars?
What an Entrance
Entering the ground floor salon feels very exclusive. There are a series of chaps, one who greets us at the door and shows us to a seat while he summons another chap to escort us on our lift ride to the 4th floor dining room. I can’t help but think of Are You Being Served? “Mr Peacock are you free?” “Yes Mr Humphris I’m Free”. And as the small lift begins to rise “Going up. Gents ready made’s, ties hats and underwear”.
The lift doors open and we emerge, our lift chap handing us off to another who guides us to the dining room. The dining room extends along the front of the building, pillars separate it into two sections. The most beautiful room is the far corner room where enviable views of the Seine and Paris are available, the other, still lovely but with the vista not so grand. I wonder where we will be sitting?
Our chap guides us to a most wonderful table in the front corner room. We are one of the first groups to arrive and as more people arrive we get the sense that the locals are being seated in choice positions and the tourists are down in the second section.
A French family bringing a great grandmother for a celebratory feast are seated near us. She seems terribly old but absolutely immaculate and refined. Her few remaining fine strands of hair swept elegantly back from her face and she boldly wears a red suit. Just gorgeous. Here we are, surrounded by locals, feeling welcomed into the fold.
It is an elegant room, royal blue and gold carpets, large tables generously draped with heavy linen and straight-backed chairs with a high domed royal blue velvet cushion create a feeling of luxury. Silver chargers and water goblets add even more glamour. A pretty coloured glass duck perched on the edge of the table is a poignant reminder of the legendary story of the Tour d’Argent duck.
Our view is extraordinary, along the river Seine, pale grey buildings dark roof tops, the monochrome delightfully relieved by splashes of colour offered by terracotta red chimney pots. The full stop in our vista, Notre-Dame, dramatic and majestic. I could easily just settle in and stare out the window for the afternoon.
La Tour d'Argent in Paris - Review
A welcome plate of tiny tastes is the first clue of chef Philippe Labbe’s style. A teeny tiny tomato baguette looks like a Barbie doll playhouse sandwich it is so perfectly tiny and almost looks plastic. The tomato flavour packs a vibrant punch unexpected from such a tiny morsel. A tiny puff of beetroot meringue evaporates instantly as it hits my tongue, leaving a lingering fragrant waft of the essence of beetroot. And on a little spoon, a golden illusion. It is like nothing and everything all at the same time. Firm top in a little dome that turns to liquid as soon as my tongue touches it. Spicy fragrant is it curry? A fabulous hint of what is yet to come.
Somehow we have made it to this stage without wine! So best we deal with that issue immediately. And so or server humps the weighty wine tome over and set it down on the table. Inches thick of fine print this thing is indescribable. The Tour d’Argent cellar is incredible. Mostly Burgundian wine but holding a 20 year run of vintages for each one amassing some 320,000 bottles, amazing!
David Ridgway is head sommelier and his reputation is one of unparalleled expertise. His passion is evident in the focused structure of the cellar and rewarded in the receipt of the “wine spectator grand award” every year since 1986.
The cellar as full of stories as it is of wine. In world war 2 they hid away the most spectacular selections and while they had to endure serving the German guests, the staff cunningly steered them toward the cheaper more available bottles. Cleverly protecting the good stuff.
We open with a gorgeous white burgundy and later move to a poignantly named St George red. The dusty bottle with its worn label, presented laying in a wicker basket feels very romantic.
The menu at Tour d’Argent is traditional, with amuse-bouche, hors d’oeuvre, entrée, fish or meat main, cheese and dessert. There are a small handful of carefully curated options to choose from, all of which sound wonderful making selection difficult.
Inspired by a feeling of deep tradition we opt for Quenelle and duck. With our selection made we relax, sip beautiful wine and soak up the view.
Topinambour – Jerusalem
Our hors d’oeuvre arrives, what a wonderful surprise. Jerusalem Artichokes – the hero, lifted by layers of flavour, temperature and texture. Soft sweet caramelised onion, warm deep cocoa olives and a light mousse like quenelle of vinegary icecream. Clean light and rich all at the same time.
Quenelle Hommage au grand-pere, brioches sauvage des gravieres de vetheuil
Entrée – quenelle, traditionally Lyonnaise a big fluffy fish dumpling. This one a celebration of pike. Delicate, pretty and not at all fishy this dish is gorgeous. White wine, Nolly Pratt and chestnut form a glorious sauce. Girolles mushroom golden, textural and decadently rich.
Roti aux espices, crackers de canard, sanguette epicee, fumet de riglisse, navets glacons confits, oignons – roasted duck with spices, duck crackers, spicy blood, scallop, candied icing turnips, roasted spring onions
For main we simply must have the duck. Duck at Tour d’Argent is steeped in tradition. In 1890 Frederick Delair head waiter turned owner put his creative stamp on the place introducing carving of the roasted duck at the table. And the tradition of numbering each Challans duck served.
Then there is the duck press, a gruesome looking contraption that has pride of place in the restaurant. After carving of the choice bits from the duck, the rest of the bird is deposited into the stainless steel belly of this contraption. The handle on top that looks like something that belongs in a submarine, is turned and turned. Squeezing and squashing and flattening all the duck bits and bones, squeezing all the bloody rich goodness from the bird to go into the sauce for the duck. Not something that the feint of heart should contemplate.
Our lovely roasted duckling, number 1,160142, is presented along with its certificate. It looks wonderful, coated with a crunchy herbed crust. The choice bits carved, it is whipped away for plating. Generous portions of pink juicy tender duck meat elegantly plated. Accompanied by silky roasted spring onions and gazed turnips. The meat is amazing, the herbaceous crust fresh and crunchy. Even better crunch comes from duck crackers, perfectly crispy squares of duck skin, yum. The spicy blood sauce looks like a red wine jus and is incredibly delicious. I don’t think I have had a sauce quite like it. This dish is simple, comforting and yet very carefully refined.
The cheese trolley arrives, and it is simply outstanding. We are at the very tail of this particular adventure and very soon will be back to choosing between Bega cheddar or going large on the extra aged back at our Australian supermarket. If ever there is a moment to succumb to the allure of the cheese course, it is now.
So we relax for a while sipping our Faiveley Nuits St George, indulge in the majestic view with an exquisite sampling of cheese to elongate the pleasure of the afternoon. A particularly memorable cheese – Epoisses, a cows milk cheese from burgundy. Soft, oozy, intensely pungent, gorgeously soft orange red rind. This cheese is out of this world. And the biggest most gnarly wheel of dark crusted Comte, marbled crackled layers promising that deep nutty brown buttered goodness that I adore. I could sit here nibbling cheese and washing it down with delights from the cellar for hours.
For dessert we opt for Millefeuille Vanille. We picture generous lashings of vanilla custard wedged between classic layers of rich flaky pastry, what arrives is chef Phillip Labbe’s tribute; to the millefeuille ‘for young and old’. He honours his Mums memory while creating something rather different to the classic Millefeuille. His 2017 interpretation of vanilla Millefeuille.
The dish looks rather like a fried egg. A creamy puddle of milky white custard with a gorgeous deep yellow domed yolk of deliciousness with spice sprinkles around the very edge create that just out of the frypan look. A thin triangle of crisp meringue hides a silky quenelle of vanilla ice cream. Fragrant with vanillas from India and Madagascar, delicious. As a dessert wonderful, but a Millefeuille? Not really.
Our final plate a delightful selection of petit fours each one unique and gorgeous in its own right. I particularly love that they are light.
It is very difficult to tear ourselves away. I would love nothing more than to stay for the next sitting and watch the soft grey Paris afternoon melt into the darkness of the evening. It feels very special to be in Paris’s famous restaurant as we are coming almost to the end of this particular adventure. With the last sips of gorgeous wine from the most extraordinary cellar in Paris, we toast to generous helpings of the famous Challans Duck, beautifully cooked food and a million dollar view.