I’m not sure if there’s a more wonderful way to lunch in Paris but Le Clarence is up there. Set in a beautifully decorated French mansion, with all it’s old world frenchieness – Le Clarence leaves you feeling like you’ve just stepped back in time and into a fairytale. A beautiful setting, assured cooking and warm and friendly service make Le Clarence a top spot in Paris for lunch or dinner.
Located just off The Avenue des Champs-Élysées, in the Triangle d’or, this elegant restaurant strives to epitomise the French way of life, everything here is about pleasure. Only a little over 2 years since its creation Le Clarence has been quickly and deservingly anointed with 2 Michelin Stars.
Hotel Dillon, which houses Le Clarence, has recently been created by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, President and CEO of Domaine Clarence Dillon. He has painstakingly restored the Paris Mansion, decorating and furnishing it to recreate the atmosphere of Chateau Haut-Brian where the family owned Bordeaux wine making company has been producing rare estate wines since 1935.
The entry is beautiful with a striking Louis XV Armoire, rose red velvet walls and rich gold framed artwork. The softly turning staircase leads us up to a magnificent dining room. There is plenty of space between generous tables draped with beautiful linens surrounded by deep comfortable red velvet chairs. There is a side salon that features toile wallpaper in a soft green background and red design.
There is a rich opulence about the room but it is so inviting and warm, a space that seems to welcome us in and leaves me feeling very relaxed and at ease in it. The staff also extend the feeling of being very welcome in the warmth of their service.
Chef Christophe Pele has previously been awarded two Michelin stars and after a break has returned to cooking here at Le Clarence. Eager to experience his modern take on the French cuisine we choose his four course menu. The first surprise is that his four courses are actually four collections of lovely little plates all served together. So much closer to a tasting menu than we realised.
To start some amuse bouches including a sensational crispy whole prawn – straight in head and all, delicious! And bread and butter – the butter is a thing of beauty in itself, you could see the layers and layers of butter and salt. Butter is one of those things for me simple and wonderful butter and for some reason the French butter is just amazing.
Our first course tempura sea scallops, a wonderful little plate with a sweet scallop in the most exquisitely light tempura batter lifted with a little punch from Karashi, a Japanese sort of mustard, caviar and a few little sticks of julienne radish for decoration. Just perfect. And the other plate in this collection, raw scallops and white beans. I cannot even begin to describe the flavour. The raw scallop is of course nature’s perfection but the addition of the creaminess of the white bean is genius.
The next collection of plates includes grilled mullet, cuttlefish, sorrel, bottarga and ravioli stuffed with hare. What an amazing composition. Mullet can be a very fishy fish, but here it is gorgeously balanced with the sweet cuttlefish and the saltiness of the bottarga (cured fish roe) cut with the lovely sour freshness of the sorrel. At the same time another pretty plate with a ravioli swimming in a deeply earthy beetroot broth. The broth itself is exquisite but the big surprise is the depth of flavour contained in the ravioli which contains a wonderfully rich bite of gamey hare.
Collection number three John Dory fish, spinach white butter, sweetbread. Ok so the John Dory is a no brainer, sweet tender and wonderful with fresh just wilted spinach, delicious. The sweet bread I have to admit I am balking at, it is offal of some description that I have not had before (thymus gland or pancreas apparently) but it looks wonderfully golden so why not give it a go. Ok it is not hideous but it does have a kind of funky offal thing going on. I’m sure offal aficionados would probably rave but I am just happy I was game to try it.
Our last collection is wonderful, duck, eel and celeriac puree and mille fuille. A lovely slice of duck, little speckles of edible gold sparkling against the dark and tender meat. And then to push it even further over the edge of decadence the truffle arrives and is generously shaved on top. The duck is beautifully cooked and the combination of the rich glossy jus and the earthy truffle with it is perfect.
On another plate, the eel and celeriac are to die for. The celeriac is prepared in two ways, smooth creamy purée and for me the standout, thin slices layered to become the mille fuille. Complemented with the smokiness and richness of the eel, this is a very good plate. And of course we are served potatoes but not as I have ever had them. These potatoes were light air filled little pillows. As I pop one in my mouth I get the wonderful crispy roast potato flavour and then poof its gone! Wow can I get a large bag of these to go! Guilt free roast potatoes!!!
To finish we are treated to Le Clarence desserts. Four pretty little plates, a unique take on a little tart tatin, a perfect quinelle of creamy pear sorbet served in an ice cold silver bowl, a wonderful fig sphere and to complete the collection a gorgeous chocolate dessert that looks soft and creamy but you actually have to crack it open to get to the silky liquid centre.
After our meal we are escorted upstairs to the Grand Salon for coffee. What a magnificent room! Deep comfortable chairs and sofas, rich drapes and carpets and gently lit chandeliers make for a very relaxing space to quietly contemplate our luncheon. I could have quite happily settled in for the afternoon, curled up in the big sofa and written my story right there.
It has been a magic afternoon. Le Clarence has been a fantastic setting, the decor while richly textured and elegant has been done in such a way as to created a very warm and cosy environment. The service has been exemplary, precise, perfectly timed but also so very friendly and welcoming. There is nothing stuffy or stiff about this place at all. And of course Chef Pele has produced very beautiful dishes.