Sunday, September 26, 2010

Le Pressoir d'Argent

As we walked back from dinner at Jean Ramet the night before, we passed the entrance for our dinner venue for the next night, the one-starred Le Pressoir d'Argent. Looking at the menu, it sounded like a cacophony of shellfish. Lobster, crab and langoustines were in nearly every dish. This was going to be good.

But lunch was the first priority. Yesterday's foie gras roll with macaroons and pastries was so good we decided to replicate it. Kind of. We went to the awesome looking cheese store a few doors down and picked up a couple of extraordinarily good looking cheeses (all for such low prices, compared to how much they'd be in Sydney, if we could find them). Add to that a baguette for spreading, some more macaroons and, because I'm a strong believer in the healthy diet pyramid, a small salad. Nice.

After that, a tour of a couple of Bordeaux wineries and back to the room to get ready for dinner and to down a bottle of one of my favourite Bordeaux wines, Chateaux Figeac.

Unexpectedly, I also received an email from the three-starred l'Arpege, where I would be dining at in a few days. Due to “technical difficulties” the restaurant is closed for a month. No dinner. No three stars. That put the 35 star goal in danger.

I scrambled and booked the only highly-starred place I could get at such short notice: the two-starred Lasserre.

We arrived for dinner at Le Pressoir d'Argent and were shown to probably the largest table of all time, which would comfortably hold 4 people. It matched the largess of the dining room, with heaps of curtains and flowers and things like that which normally indicate expensive furnishings. Leather, sure.

Opting for the escape menu at 160euros (plus 80e for matching wines) it looked more like a burial at sea than an escape. Shellfish everywhere. As far as the eye can see (is that a pun?).

Around 50 appetisers first though. Some macadamia nuts painted gold, an olive tart, a tuna cone, bread with dips (pesto, lobster) and a totally excellent gazpacho as an amuse bouche (with some shellfish hiding in it, I think).

Then into the menu. First up, a lobster mousse with caviar and cucumber. Eat that by spooning it onto a waffle, then dig into a tin of raw prawn with caviar and another touch of cucumber. Wrap some in seaweed as well. Why not. It was pretty excellent.

The sommelier decided to play the guessing game, pouring the wines and asking us after the courses what we though it was. I like games. But I wasn't good at this one. Turns out French wines taste pretty different to their Australian counterparts. I took it as encouragement to drink more French wine in future.

Dishes followed and they kept on ticking boxes. Plays on texture and flavour were common, and the chef showed a lot of influences. Japanese in the caviar/lobster/prawn opener, Spanish in the take on “paella” which took the flavours of a paella but refined them for fine dining. It was reminding me a lot of an Australian restaurant, where most chefs at fine dining joints will show influences from all over the world in their dishes.

The main of lamb and asparagus was lifted by one of these influences, a superb chick pea puree. Dessert was a marriage of basil and mango, in various forms. Again, a great dish.

The chef here is doing great things here. It's a fantastic celebration of seafood that I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed.

That said, I didn't enjoy dinner that much. This restaurant had some of the worst service I've seen. Totally lacking polish. Staff would ask a question, only to come back 5 minutes later to ask the same question, as if we hadn't just told them. Water must be a precious resource in Bordeaux, because getting a top-up proved near impossible. Glasses were left on the table for no reason. Butter was left on the table after the bread was gone. Wines took longer to arrive than the food, so you were stuck waiting for your pairing.

If they tighten up service and get the basics right then they could be in the running for a second Michelin star, because the food is great. But on the night I went, the service took too much away from the experience. The staff were all friendly—all charming—but that means nothing if you can't get the basics right.

Michelin star count: 11

Next stop. Paris. This is going to be good.

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