51 Quai des Grands Augustins 75006 Paris
+ 33 (0) 1 43 26 68 04/www.laperouse.com
Where to eat in Paris? There’s so much choice but actually pinning down the right place is surprisingly tricky. This trip I decided to take a punt on Laperouse, the most historic restaurant in Paris, but a place whose star has waned in recent years.
Laperouse opened in 1766 having been converted from a hôtel particulier (private mansion) into a “Marchand de vin” (wine merchant) by a chap called Lefèvre who had the contract to supply drinks to the king.
With a busy meat and poultry market over the road Laperouse soon gained a reputation for its food and Lefevre soon converted the upstairs servants’ quarters into the infamous ‘petits salons’ of Lapérouse, a safe space for local business people to do their transactions.
By the mid 1800s the restaurant had become fashionable and the little rooms, some of them with internal locks, were being used for transactions not purely of a financial nature. By the time Auguste Escoffier, the father of contemporary gastronomy, had taken control of the kitchen, Laperouse was established as one of the great Parisian restaurants.
Laperouse soon became established as a literary salon with writers such as Georges Sand,Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo treating it as a home from home. In later years the Duke of Windsor, Princess Margaret and the Aga Khan were all regulars.
Laperouse was given three stars by the Michelin Guide in 1951, one of the first restaurants of the modern Michelin era to receive them, however more recently it has lost its stars and it is clearly the job of new chef Christophe Guibert, whose CV includes Taillevent and The Georges V, to get the newly restored Laperouse back on track.
Situated on the quai des Grands Augustins overlooking the river and L’Isle de la Cite, the restaurant’s exterior is an assemblage of dark blue and burnished gilt wood and metalwork, set off by a neon sign. The interior bears its heritage with ease. The private rooms are exquisite havens of decadence with locks on the inside and mirrors scratched by courtesans checking to see if their presents of diamonds from their admirers were real or just paste. The public areas are less opulent but still full of character; however the day we were there the restaurant was lacking in ambience with tables of two talking in hushed tones and service that veered onto the obsequious.
Laperouse is not for the financially faint-hearted, so apart from the history, solid silver plates and embossed pats of butter what do you get for your money? .
Our amuse consisted of a rather dry and unforgettable Cheese sable alongside a deliciously light Choux pastry filled with truffled cream which was a better bet.
Our next pre starter was a reasonable Sardine escabeche that seemed an unlikely precursor to a classical French meal. By this time our bottle of 2008 Chateau Doisy-Daene had arrived. A white Bordeaux from the Barsac region, it is a blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc grapes and had a whitecurrant and melon nose and an elegant grassy finish.
Our starters arrived. ‘The Crab’ (€42) was a blend of shredded crab meat in a black radish leaf herbs. With a lemon mousse with horseradish and a medley of young shoots. This was a well composed dish with really fresh crab that was hideously overpriced.
The ‘Georgette’ Dublin Bay Prawns (€48!) were flavoured with sate and green apple juice and served with a fennel and pineapple chutney flavoured with anise and ginger. This was a richly flavoured dish with great prawns and a mix of sweet, savoury, spice and more astringent flavours that really delivered.
Bass ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ (€39) was poached in an ‘aromatic’ shellfish broth alongside baby carrots served with citrus fruits and star anise. It didn’t really come together as a dish and was served at a tepid temperature which didn’t help. It may have suited the famous actress but as we know actresses don’t tend to eat…
Sole meunière was served with mushroom and smoked artichoke and was also served tepid and off the bone-which is why it wasn’t hot.
Dessert was an eye-wateringly expensive pineapple and chantilly cream that was no better than OK.
The point about going to Laperouse is for the history and sadly not the food. At the a La Carte price point it offers pretty appalling value; however with a weekday lunch deal at 55 euros for three courses and a glass of wine you would be saved from selling your children to Russian people traffickers to pay your bill and if you asked nicely they might give you a tour of the private rooms.