Le Cinq happens at one of Paris’s most exalted, if not the most exalted 5-Star luxury hotel, the legendary Four Seasons Le George V. Naturally, then, it cannot but be the most opulent of Paris’s 3-Michelin-Starrers. It also happens to be the one with the most gentlemanly of 3-Michelin-Starred chefs I’ve met. And the most generous!
Whilst he still headed the Pavillon du Doyen, I once surprised Cristian Lesquer in his kitchen as he experimented with some newfangled contraption to transmute gnocchi into airy burst-in-the-mouth pouches. Seeing me he immediately calls for spaghetti- his, no pedestrian slithers of pasta. Le Squer’s signature dish is composed of silken strands of spaghetti tautly strung into a trim, cutting-edge rectangular cube. It is white truffle season and recalling my passion for the most expensive food known to man Chef has a torrent of Alba truffle descend like flimsy snow flakes onto the spaghetti. How unlike other (mostly) notoriously niggardly Michelin-Starred chefs!
Although a 3-Michelin-Starred chef when at Le Doyen, the quietly famous Le Squer was yet somewhat smothered by the overwhelming historic institution. However, since migrating to Le Cinq he has acquired an assertive new flair (still mercifully sparing one the overweening rodomontade other chefs are given to), even if it is after his advent that Le Cinq recuperated its 3rd Michelin Star. Le Cinq is as much about Le Squer as about extravagant crystal chandeliers, lofty floral arrangements, sumptuous upholstery in gold and silver-grey, lavish carpets and madly majestic mirrors all set around the splendid glass-encased inner courtyard of Le George V.
The visual fiesta heralds the epicurean feast. Inaugurating my 9-course Balade Gourmande for which the handsomest china and silver have been deployed are dainty mise en bouche as ravishing to the touch as to the taste. Then, a ritzyfied re-invention of the grand French classic gratinée de l’oignon à la parisienne. Interspersed on my bespoke menu, seasonal black truffles in fabulously fine feuilleté brioché, otherwise at €190 a portion, mind you. My favourite white truffles don’t tarry to come, proffered as a side dish just to remind me that they haven’t forgotten my preferences, however pricy! What follows is priceless, from the delicately flavoured, craftily textured gastronomic treasures including emerald spinach with shimmering black pearls of caviar to the wit and wiles of staff who swirl and pirouette around you as if in a ballet.
The breads floor or flour you, certainly the famous flake-at-touch rosetted rolls and different sorts accompany the most staggering cheese trolley in all Paris with the rarest collection showcasing the sensation of a 36-month-old Comté, La Fourme d’Ambert (a piercing blue cheese), Le Morvan (little tussocks of goat’s cheese). Cheeses are served with various and wondrous compotes, and there’s rather a complex association between cheeses and the complementing compotes. The cheese course, so amply portioned, contrasting thrifty slithers other Michelin-Starrers dispense, is a meal in itself.
Two desserts, inexpressibly nimble and stupendously nuanced, detonating little bursts of flavour, are matchless amongst Paris’s Michelin-starred restaurants and include tangy, tingling, terrific grapefruit croquant and the diabolically dark Chocolat Noir, a masterpiece of texture finished off with an astonishing dessert wine accompaniment.
I suddenly realise it’s 5.30 pm, lunch hasn’t terminated, I’ve a flight to Malta in 90 mins. No time for the daintiest petit fours over coffee, even if there’s a tremendous trolley of mignardises boasting Paris’s finest chocolate (to shame the most self-pompous chocolatiers), some packed into elegant miniature boxes for me. When en-route to the airport I open the boxes and notice contents include pâte de fruits and caramels I’m dismayed that there isn’t more of the most gorgeous chocolate ganaches and rich dark chocolate studded with nuts. But Le Squer’s pâte de fruit and smooth caramels, quite like his spaghetti, are a revelation.
Sadly there’s no take-away coffee. But I’ve quaffed enough already- from the best wine list. The restaurant manager, the very celebrated and award-winning Eric Beaumard, has convoked 50,000 bottles, everything from Château Latour 1959 (€28.000) to Magnum Petrus 1964 (€40.000) besides magnums of Alfred Gratien 1998 champagne. The champagnes are as good by the glass and are as good as the glass- served at optimum temperature the champagne is crisp like their crystal.
There have been no service slips (these now increasingly rife at even 3-Michelin-starred restaurants) except that with one course there’s a minor mis-coordination and the wine to follow arrives ahead of sched. But given the insuperable wines offered here, we’re not complaining!
Superlatives and panegyrics are in poor taste, indeed the worst, and I abhor them. And yet, I seem to have been unbridled with them on this occasion. Alas, Le Squer and Le Cinq’s excellences compel. If you’ve only one night in Paris and only one thing you can do with it you’d be very foolish not to spend it at Le Cinq. Spend it!
Where : Le Cinq
31 Avenue George V, 75008 Paris, France
Phone : +33 1 49 52 71 54
Note – A 3 Michelin restaurant deserves a special review metric – X Factor: the surprise element that gives a 3-Michelin-starred restaurant its cutting edge (pun not intended).