Au Revoir Paris; cheers to London
The entire staff of the Plaza Athénée pictured in a full deck of playing cards. Photo: JH.
Last day in Paris. We went to lunch at Alain Ducasse’s extraordinary restaurant in the Plaza Athenee. Aside from the spectacular chandeliers (there are three of them) surrounded by a shower of crystals, and the view from the windows of the hotel’s La Cour Jardin which is possibly the most famous courtyard in all of Paris, the Ducasse style is unlike any other I’ve experienced in fine dining. Several years ago I had dinner at Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo. Splendid in every way. The staff provides a seamless service where nothing is left uncompleted. The waiters, which is an inadequate word for those who take your order and serve, are highly trained in a rigorous program that takes years. We began with a gesture from the chef — scallops baked on the half shell garnished with herbs.

Then for starters I had langoustines rafraichies, nage reduite, caviar oscietre — nouvelle peche. Which translated basically means Oestra caviar served precisely, impeccably on a bed of prawns. Perfect, just as it appears in the picture. Rich and delicate, and excellent; to be savored. JH started with a salad — on the menu: Legumes et fruits cuits/crus, marmelade tomato/truffle. Vegetables and fruit and truffles with a dressing (the marmelade) gently poured at table around the edges of what otherwise looked like a work of art (also see photo). Both dishes look meager in portion but they were not in the eating. The textures and flavors move in and out and the eating becomes measured so as to enjoy it fully.

For main courses we ordered the Volaille d Brfesse en fricasse aux ecrrevisses “pattes rouge” and the Sole de petit bateau, mariniere de coquillages. Sole, otherwise you got me. Report from the diner: excellent. No wines, not at lunchtime for me. We both had the same dessert: Fraises des bois en coupe glacee, sable coco. The photograph says it, kinda, sorta — so perfectly presented it looked almost too perfect as if nothing taste-wise could match the look of it. Except nothing could match the taste of it.
The compleat luncheon at Alain Ducasse in the Plaza Athénée and our waiter (above). Each table had the double sided card in French and English (rght).

The dining room was filled with mainly businessmen. I was told one of the government ministers was lunching with several men at one table. One table over from us were two businessmen who began their lunch with a pink champagne. Next to them was a young Asian couple, very simply dressed who, like us, got out their digital a got a shot of their choices. it is a very quiet restaurant despite the multiple conversations. The staff operates like a corps de ballet, as if everything from the order taking to the arrival of the trays bearing the astonishing culinary gifts has been planned in detail. You get the feeling that all of the clientele are having the same almost reverential experience with the food and the service. I can’t emphasize the service enough because it is otherworldly in its superiority.

We went into the dining room a little after 12:30 expecting to be out by two a the latest. It was ten to three when we rose from the table. The menu somehow requires the resolute and the patient, as if participating with the corps right up to the consumption. A perfect last lunch at this chic and worldly establishment.

A lot of eating on this trip. After a day’s work on the Diary and copy for next month’s Quest, we went to a late (for me anyway) dinner at Diep, an Asian/Vietnamese restaurant just around the corner from the hotel. Very casual in contrast to Alain Ducasse, and also very delicious. The atmosphere was intimate and very French; nothing fancy just many enjoying their meals and conversation (and cigarettes) and wine in a leisurely fashion. Again we ordered several things on the menu and although we weren’t stuffed.

Afterwards, the experience called for a little exercise, so we walked a few blocks. JH stopped to photograph the men’s shoes in Berluti, a VERY high end men’s shoe store. The styles were quite embellished to the American sensibility. The prices matched them. One pair in the window (in the photo too) accompanied by a tiny card: “Sur mesure. (custom) A partir de 3200 euros.” That’s a dollar twenty-one to the euro. Uh-huh.
Scenes from a Paris restaurant
Styles were quite embellished to this American's Brooks Brothers/Ralph Lauren sensibility. Below: “Sur mesure. A partir de 3200 euros.”
Back at the Plaza Athenee, one more look around this beautiful and elegant establishment. We stopped to talk to the Concierge to order our Chunnel tickets.
Jean-Claude Elgaire, chef concierge
The magnificent chandeliers in restaurant Alain Ducasse
Friday morning at the hotel ending with breakfast in our room
Friday morning. Departure from Gare de Nord. In order to travel, we had to go through security and passport stamping. We took 2nd class seats which are equipped with an outlet for a computer. The car we were in was filled.The train is fast and smooth. European trains are clean and efficiently maintained, unlike so many American trains. One wonders why that is. It’s a two and a half hour train ride from the Gare de Nord to London Waterloo station but it seemed much shorter. One of the great engineering feats of the 20th century, the actual tunnel was so much shorter time-wise that I’d anticipated that when we emerged from the tunnel, I wasn’t sure that we’d even descended into the main tunnel.
At the Gare de Nord preparing to board the Eurostar heading to London Waterloo
Scenes from the train and from London Waterloo (above left and right).
At London Waterloo, into a London taxi with these wonderful drivers who are often conversational and excellent tour guides of the city along our route to the hotel. Arriving at Claridge’s about 2:45, I was amazed at the activity in the lobby. And relieved to have reached our destination.
A welcome at Claridges and the view from our terrace.

March 17, 2006, Volume VI, Number 46
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/