Le Grand Véfour
Sat 14 Aug 2010
Foie gras ravioli with black truffle emulsion.
Le Grand Véfour
17, rue de Beaujolais, in the 1st Arrondissement.
Mon–Thurs, lunch and dinner; Fri, lunch only.
01 42 96 56 27.
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to lunch at Le Grand Véfour with a group of hungry bloggers.
Situated at the north end of the gardens of the Palais Royal, this address has hosted the crème de la crème of French politics and culture, its gilded, mirrored walls witness to French history. Originally called Café de Chartres when it opened in 1784, Le Grand Véfour was rechristened in 1820 by Jean Véfour, who turned it into the most sumptuous, prestigious restaurant in Paris.
After a closing during the first decades of the 20th century, chef Raymond Oliver brought it back to prominence once he took over in 1948. It was under his watch that the restaurant earned three Michelin stars. When Oliver left, a star was lost but then regained in 2000, only to be lost again in 2008.
The word “modern” is generally not associated with Le Grand Véfour. Walking through the doors (opened for you by a gloved attendant) feels like entering a time capsule, in fact. But Guy Martin, the chef since 2000, is doing his best to bring the cuisine into the 21st century. The truffle sauce with the foie gras ravioli was aerated to a foam. Übertraditional frogs’ legs were made hip, fried like chicken drumsticks and served with what I will inelegantly but accurately call house-made ketchup. The petits pois atop a pressed tomato tart that accompanied the lamb were not peas at all but barely gelled drops of pea juice, a concession to the molecular trend.
These dishes were more or less successful, but certain elements of the meal reminded me of a woman who doesn’t dress her age. I actually loved those frogs’ legs with spicy ketchup, but I’m not sure they belong on the hand-painted china at a restaurant like Le Grand Véfour. Similarly, the chocolate box that arrived for dessert, filled with mango, felt neither classic nor modern, only dated.
Summer savory-crusted lamb with tomato tart.
There were standouts, though. That foie gras ravioli is the most-ordered dish at Le Grand Véfour for good reason, and the lamb was beautifully crusted, perfectly cooked and fragrant with summer savory.
And then of course there is the cheese tray, a bountiful display of dozens that will take your breath away. It’s mythical.
This menu would normally cost a hefty 268 euros. There is a lunch menu, though, priced sensibly at 88 euros, which includes a starter, main, cheese and dessert. Expensive, yes, but a relative bargain for this class of restaurant.
In a nutshell: Going to Le Grand Véfour is like going back in time. The question is whether or not the restaurant is ready for the future.
Price check: Fixed-price menus 88 euros (lunch only) and 268 euros. À la carte, 200–220 euros. Wine prices start on the ground but reach toward the heavens.
If you like the sound of Le Grand Véfour but want to see how another classic is faring these days:
15, rue Lamennais, in the 8th.
01 44 95 15 01.