Le Chateaubriand was once in the world’s top 50 restaurants. It was then relegated to the bottom half of the top 100. Based on my visit I could understand a drop in the rankings, but why it hasn’t been expunged from the top 100 altogether I’m not entirely sure. That may sound mean but whatever mojo it once had is now gone. It is decidedly mediocre and certainly not worth dropping 120 Euros on. Let me explain why.
Located on Avenue Parmentier, and just round the corner from a rather insalubrious street near Canal St Martin, it looks like a bog-standard bistro in the vein of the legendary Josephine Chez Dumonet or Réné’s café in ‘Allo ‘Allo – and in many ways I wish it was. Despite being on time for my (hard-won) booking I am left waiting for 15 minutes whilst my table is made ready (with no drink or seat proffered, by the way – just left to stand there, awkwardly). But then follows the true double-dip of disappointment: as I finally get to sit down all I need to do is use my ears to work out that nearly all my co-diners are American. Now, I have nothing against Americans of course – only that orange man-child in the White House – but this does immediately ring alarm bells: it means there is no discernible endorsement by the locals.
Le Chateaubriand is decidedly mediocre and certainly not worth dropping 120 Euros on
Then there is the blackboard. It’s conspicuous as there is literally nothing else on the walls – just a sea of beige plasterwork. But on this blackboard is not a menu, oh no. That would be too straightforward. (And in any case, you can’t choose what you eat here – you’re at the mercy of chef Iñaki Aizpitarte’s whims). The blackboard is just a chalked-up list of (mostly French) celebrities, wine producers and artists. For some reason this reminds me of a sculpture by Michael Craig-Martin I once saw at the Tate Modern: a glass of water with a plaque next to it listing the reasons why the glass of water is really an oak tree. Whilst that work is arguably ‘art’, using a blackboard in a restaurant to play with perceptions or trying to make some kind of social commentary isn’t just out of place – it’s pretentious.
When all of the aforementioned happens in a restaurant and I’m cross from the get-go, the restaurant then really needs to prove itself or I forever remain submerged in a quagmire of disappointment. And given that this is a restaurant where there’s no choice in the menu, this was going to be a hard task.
OK, I’ll throw them a bone. I like the presentation of Aizpitarte’s dishes. With no more than three concepts on the plate (where plates are used), I like the simplicity and focus on ingredients. There is nothing silly or outlandish – no exploding lollipops or lines of salt with a rolled up 10 Euro note on the side. And indeed, to be fair, the cookery is technically fine. Dishes that get a clear mention bien are the sea bream with chard and artichoke, the cheese gougeres, and the star is the rose veal sweetbreads with a veal jus. Credit where it’s due, these are good.
But as can so easily happen with no-choice menus and a chef’s overwhelming desire to impress, there are many dishes that don’t hit the mark. The squid with coco beans in squid ink is really rather horrible, the beans chalky and yukky. I am unable to finish it. And then things get really lazy in the final Act of the meal, like a playwright that gives up and just races to the denouement. To close the savoury section of proceedings, they serve me a gnat’s portion of cheese. Then follows a peach sorbet with peanut butter – a WTF moment in itself, ruining what I presume to be a palate cleanser. And then finally, for the quote unquote dessert, a solitary piece of mango – at which point I feel defrauded.
I could almost prepare myself to forgive them for some of this were it not for the lack-lustre service. Whilst the waitress who is serving me for most of the meal is friendly, the rest of the staff clearly don’t want to be there. Service is robotic and cold. A wine list is never forthcoming – the list is recited to me, like some weird performance poetry. When glasses of wine arrive they are plonked on the table in a perfunctory fashion.
loud and boisterous clientele, a booking process like the Krypton Factor, slapdash service and an over-inflated ego for 120 Euros? Forget it
The one tiny saving grace is the espresso, which is good.
But overall, for me, Le Chateaubriand misfires big time – loud and boisterous clientele, a booking process like the Krypton Factor, slapdash service and an over-inflated ego for 120 Euros? Forget it.
129 Avenue Parmentier
by J A Smith