Gourmet Buzz: Le Meurice

I’ve always loved The Meurice, who wouldn’t? What’s not to like? Acres of marble, gorgeous décor, flunkies who flunk you to death, and you know what, I’ve always had a fantasy about being buried in the loos. All that lovely marble and so much better placed than schlepping all the way to Pere Lachaise, never the same since they laid Jim to rest there, too many groupies. In the beautiful bowels of the Le Meurice , my family/friends would definitely come and visit. Especially as the restaurant, Le Meurice, now has Yannick Alleno. The slim young chef, you remember him from Les Muses at the Hotel Scribe where he won **Michelin. Now he’s heading a cast of thousands and causing the kind of reaction usually reserved for the rock stars staying in the hotel. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” he admits last week. “I’ve always cooked this way.” We sit in the dining room of The Meurice after the lunch service. He’s relaxed, super cool; you can be when there are 72 toques beavering away in state-of-the-art-kitchens, plus a mega talented Scottish pastry chef who goes by the name of Kirk Whittle. (You couldn’t make a name up like that could you?) Alleno knows where the pots and pans are, having worked here as chef de partie from 1992-94. He won the prestigious Bocuse d’Argent in 1999, learned pastry at The Lutetia and has done time at the Royal Monceau, The Sofitel Sevres and Drouant. “It’s important to have good atmosphere in the kitchen, to create great cuisine we must all share the passion.” As for Alleno, he’s had the passion since he was seven, “making a mess in my mother’s kitchen and wishing like mad to meet Paul Bocuse!” Alleno’s dishes demonstrate the art of composition; he’s thought about the placement of every grain of caviar. It’s obvious he loves the architecture of the dining room, and he’s producing extravagant dishes to go with the décor, inspired by the Salon de la Paix at the Chateau de Versailles. The extraordinary dos de saumon Balik, is lightly smoked, served with a leek cream and grains of Caviar d’Aquitaine, a perfect prelude to a seasonal partridge, confit of white cabbage, truffle essence and a canapé of mashed partridge “kishkas.” There’s not one dish on the Menu Dégustation that you would want to change. That’s balance and technique, and Alleno’s only 34. He says his main principle is to please the punters. Auguste Escoffier would be proud of his disciple. (Alleno won the August Escoffier International Prize in 1994.) There’s no doubt that Alleno is one of the new avant-garde. L’Express magazine says he embodies a new generation of chefs “whose imagination and rigorous selection of ingredients put them on the cutting edge of French cuisine”. Rush to The Meurice for cuisine that is original, defies trends and gives hours of pure pleasure. The Meurice 228 rue de Rivoli, 1st T: 01 44 58 10 55 (Métro: Tuileries) On the grill–what’s hot to trot? You can’t eat caviar every day, but you love The Meurice. You’ve been to Spa Caudalie, so, relaxed and lovely, you want a light but delicious lunch. Le Jardin d’Hiver delivers. Same chef, different ideas. Begin with a soup of Jerusalem artichokes, poached egg and foie gras on little flaky straws, or a jelly of crab with cauliflower cream. Then pasta, salads, club sandwiches, cheese and desserts. Sublime. And you can eat properly any time of the day–quite revolutionary in this city of saddo Maitre d’hotels only too happy to scoff at early eaters. Also well worth a visit to Passiflore, where Roland Durand’s generous modern cuisine soothes away winter’s chills. And guess what? Durand and Alleno worked together at the Sofitel Sevres in 1990, Durand was Head Chef; what goes around comes around. 33 rue de Longchamp, 16th. T: 01 47 04 96 81 (Métro: Kleber). You’re the first to know that Roger Vergé, the Godfather of French cuisine, is retiring and has sold his beautiful Moulin de Mougins, to Alain Llorca , presently cooking amazing dishes (le ronde de tapas, don’t ask, just go and eat it while there’s still time) at The Chantecler restaurant of The Negresco, Nice. If you know who’s replacing Llorca, please let me know. A la semaine prochaine!   — Born in Britain and now based in Paris, Margaret Kemp graduated from The Cordon Bleu and spent a year working and watching in the kitchens of top chefs from Sydney, Australia via Bangkok, Hong Kong, California, New York and France. Realising she would never win the coveted 3-Michelin stars, she decided to write about the people who do, the “disciples of Escoffier”.
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Born in Hampton, Middlesex, UK, Margaret Kemp is a lifestyle journalist, based between London, Paris and the world. Intensive cookery courses at The Cordon Bleu, London, a wedding gift from a very astute ex-husband, gave her the base that would take her travelling (leaving the astute one behind) in search of rare food and wine experiences, such as the vineyards of Thailand, 'gator hunting in South Florida, learning to make eye-watering spicy food in Kerala;pasta making in a tiny Tuscany trattoria. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Financial Times Weekend and FT. How To Spend It.com, The Spectator, Condé Nast Traveller, Food & Travel, and Luxos Magazine. She also advises as consultant to luxury hotels and restaurants. Over the years, Kemp has amassed a faithful following on BonjourParis. If she were a dish she'd be Alain Passard's Millefeuille “Caprice d'Enfant”, as a painting: Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe !