Paris – Le Cinq

My first experience with the Michelin Guide was in New York, 6 years ago. I had recently graduated university and was still living at home, thus had a healthy amount of disposable income. My friends and I started travelling regularly and I started to really dive into restaurants. That summer, I had dinner at Dovetail, a one Michelin Star rated restaurant next to Central Park for about $60 and thought it was such a splurge. Later that year, I visited Europe with another group of friends stopping by London and Paris. In London, our more affordable (relatively) splurge was a 3 course lunch at a one Michelin Star restaurant that’s now closed. Then we went to Paris and I spent over three figures on one meal for the first time ever. Our lunch at Le Bristol, a 3 Michelin Star restaurant, was actually life changing and made me a cheese fan. Since then, the 3 hour lunch has been the pinnacle of my restaurant experiences. I couldn’t wait to share a similar one with Stephen during this trip.

Looking at all the 3 Michelin star restaurants in Paris, I decided to stick to lunch as it was much more affordable. Most dinners menus started at over €300 base, while lunch was in the €150-€200 range. Originally I had booked lunch at a 3 star Alain Ducasse restaurant, Le Meurice, but a week after making our reservation the 2016 Michelin guide came out and Le Meurice had lost a star. Meanwhile, both Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee and Le Cinq gained their 3rd star. I debated for weeks between the two restaurants, second guessing my decision. Finally, what it came down to was value. Both offered lunch menus priced at €210, but Le Cinq was 6 courses vs Ducasse’s 3. I knew there would be little nibbles and bites in between the “official” meal, but I didn’t want to bet on it. Also, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee looked just a bit too fancy (and shiny) for comfort. I was already making Stephen pack dress shoes, a tie, shirt and khakis across Europe for just this one meal, I didn’t want even the chance of feeling uncomfortable.

Dress code was something I was worried about, more for Stephen than me. I figured I could get away with a dress, cardigan and strappy sandals. Stephen however would need pants, a shirt, dress shoes and a jacket. I emailed the restaurant to ask about borrowing a jacket and they assured me that wouldn’t be a problem. Awesome, one less thing to pack. Once we were settled at our table, me perched on a wonderfully plush pillow, I had to admit many of the other male diners were dressed down a lot more. Lots of jeans, tennis shoes and “sports jackets”. Still no t-shirts or shorts though.

Service was impeccable. Our table was so incredibly spacious and could easily have seated 4-6 people comfortably, but just for the two of us. My seat was a full couch, which had to shifted every time I got up, and a server appeared every time I needed to. Stephen and I had already decided on the set course but I was looking for a glass of wine to accompany lunch. Looking through the menu, I was a bit confused as there wasn’t any prices listed. When the server came to take my order, I looked to Stephen, but he looked as confused as I did. Turns out only my menu didn’t have prices, while his did, so he didn’t understand my confusion. I left the decision up to the sommelier with the flavours I prefered and price range. He did a wonderful job picking a fruity white for me.

As for food, because the menu changes so frequently, I’ll mostly be sticking to the general meal versus my usual in depth dish by dish commentary. Our first bite was bread, a server brought by a tray of freshly baked goodies for us to choose from, and then returned after the first course. I couldn’t resist trying all of them. What stood out about each dish was the quality of the ingredients. The peas were incredibly sweet and brilliantly green, the best peas I’ve ever tasted. The amuse-bouche was a trio of bites including a gelatinous sphere filled with a ginger citrus syrup and another crunchy sphere filled with tangerine juice. The third bite was foie gras and passion fruit. One of my favourite courses was the other complementary course before dessert, another trio of bites that included a mini wild strawberry pie, bite of kumquat and an almond grapefruit cookie. Exquisite.

The sauces, oh my, the sauces. Every sauce was delectable but the asparagus dish was the best example of their use. Freshly harvest asparagus was served with black truffle puree, green asparagus puree, milk skin and a sabayon. There was creamy, rich, acidic, sweet, and pure umami all on a plate. I was blown away by the deconstructed French Onion soup, where the broth was served in spheres, literally bursting with flavour, with a black truffle sauce and parmesan croutons. For my main, I chose the Red Mullet with fish liver Chinon red wine sauce while Stephen chose the Lamb with Semolina scented with Olive and Lemon with spiced lamb sausage.

Dessert was a slab of Pistachio ice cream topped with Cranberries cooked in their juice with tangerine marmalade for Stephen and a “Chocolate Bar” with salted caramel filling for me. From start to end, lunch was just over 2 hours and near the end of our seating Chef Le Squer came visited the dining room to greet each table, even posing for photos. Overall, our meal at Le Cinq was memorable from the moment we sat down and an incredible experience.

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