Haute cuisine is dead, vive la haute cuisine!
Claim to fame: Haute cuisine redefined by one of the world’s most prestigious winemakers
Reason to go: Modern French super luxe dining in palatial surroundings
To look out for: Prosaic ingredients getting white glove treatment
Bien sûr! Of course a prestigious winemaker should house its HQ in a stately townhouse just off the Champs-Élysées. Of course this place is meticulously renovated, laden with antiques and period je-ne-sais-quoi, it’s a palatial building from 1884, après tout! Of course, and lucky for you, there’s an exceptional restaurant here. And, if that wasn’t enough, the CEO of Domaine Clarence Dillon, owner of Château Haut-Brion, is none other than HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg. Chic, n’est pas?
In the spirit of French art de vivre, the job of heading the kitchen went to highly regarded chef Christophe Pelé who immediately had a clear vision: refresh haute cuisine. No signature dishes (As is otherwise de rigeur), no fixed recipes, no sauce-heavy, gut-busting cream-creations. Just delicate food, with plenty of shellfish and vegetables as well as inspired daily surprises, courtesy of a kitchen team that has been awarded enough elbow-room to invent lively fare with ultra-fresh, local ingredients. This kind of refined simplicity, open-mindedness and complete disregard for “safety-nets” is practically unheard of in restaurants that strive for high-end accolades. All the more so, one might think, in a restaurant that comes with the Château Haut-Brion pedigree. Yet this creative freedom works extremely well, chef Pelé uses it to his full advantage. His love of concentrated flavors and unusual produce is evident in a small dish of offal; tiny strips of beef tripe sprinkled with parmesan, cooked slowly in nothing more than white wine and tomatoes, pure and clean aromas that are luxurious in their artisanal purity. Passing off pig’s trotters as a luxury dish is fairly radical, but you really can’t argue with Pelé as he serves them with the most subtle tuna bottarga and watercress sauce. The craftsmanship and balance will immediately put an end to any possible objections.
Speaking of exceptional and unusual luxury; the smallest of baby squabs, a very rare treat, is roasted and presented whole, covered in caviar – as in totally covered – with a bouquet of intensely flavorful lamb’s lettuce as sole garnish. It’s a feat that cannot be reproduced without great suppliers and light-handed cooking. Butter and cream are barely detectable in Pelé’s sincere and agile cooking, even the desserts lean toward fresh citric fruits and lightly whipped chocolate mousse. Gone is the clichéd heavy machinery of old-school French opulence.
Needless to say, the wine list is an enormous encyclopedia of the finest French classics, though it’s also sprinkled with cuvées from up-and-coming, younger artisans. Le Clarence is currently paving new avenues in classic cuisine, it’ll be interesting to see where they lead as this new path allows great freedom within the rigorously coded hexagon of French cooking.