international 1720

Pavyllon (Paris)

Paris, France

In Simon Kuper’s new book Impossible City: Paris in the Twenty-First Century, he dedicates a section to how Paris – which was the “bookmakers’ favourite” to host the Olympics back in 2012 – surprisingly “lost out” to London, only hardening a tacit battle of the cities that has gone back years. Of course, Paris now gets its chance in 2024, but for a while there was a palpable feeling that Paris was no longer the “Navel of the World”. Food-wise, it seemed to have lost its way a bit too.

Despite Brexit and gentle rivalry, gastronomic Franco-British relations seem to be friendly. Perhaps aided by the Eurostar (which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year), French restaurateurs have embraced the land of the rosbifs. Sadly, Greg Marchand decided to close his London outpost of Frenchie this year, citing the challenging trading environment (not mentioning le sujet tabou, that elephant in the room that none of the parties in the General Election will dare mention) but Anne-Sophie Pic and Hélène Darroze remain keen to keep operating on both sides of the Channel.

And so does Yannick Alléno, who started in humble bistros before moving on to Le Meurice and becoming one of the world’s most renowned chefs. London’s Pavyllon has been a great success but on this visit to Paris, amid all the excitement of temporary Olympic auditoria being set up around the Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde, it seemed appropriate to check out the Paris original.

The L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon-inspired counter restaurant is located on the ground floor of Pavillon Ledoyen (which contains three Yannick Alléno restaurants in one, with a sliding scale of Michelin stars: Alléno Paris with three, L’Abysse with two, and finally, Pavyllon with one). From entering to paying the bill there didn’t seem to be any dilution of standards for the ground-floor Pavyllon.

This was one of the better and more memorable meals I’ve had in Paris

I don’t normally gravitate towards counter dining if there’s an alternative, mostly because many restaurants fail to get the ergonomic details right. Comfort is key. I always remember an episode of The Restaurant Man from about 2014 where the late Russell Norman explained the importance of getting the height of the bar correct so the customer doesn’t have to stretch, as well as a foot rest and a decent recess for the customer’s knees (details which of course were, and are, put into practice at Brutto). Some counters are disastrous though, such as at Story Cellar in Covent Garden where you get roasted alive by the rotisserie, or others where you have to sit sideways – a recipe for indigestion and despair.

The counter at Pavyllon is actually at the same height as the tables so everyone gets a view, with plush chairs and sufficient espace personnel. I also encountered a very rare Parisian phenomenon: it is normal in France for co-diners to say “bonjour” to their neighbours out of politesse, even if they’re perfect strangers, but for some to start speaking to each other and even sharing wine is refreshing. There was a conviviality about it all as we jointly admired the calm movement of the open kitchen.

Being asked if you would like a glass of champagne, being given an array of breads and tartlets to nibble on, plus a vast tome of a wine list to read, always make for a promising start. The counter occupies most of the room but it is still a restaurant with the level of service you expect of a meal that will easily exceed 100 Euros.

The steamed cheese soufflé with Comté and vin jaune sauce arrived looking like a savoury île flottante with a fresh grating of more cheese and nutmeg on top. At 39 Euros this cost more than an entire two-course set lunch at Benoit so my expectations were high. Pleasingly, it packed a punch, with a little celeriac in the background.

As a vegetarian interim dish, the “ravioles potagères” was a superbly-made consommé made from vegetable extractions and delicately seasoned, but more of the pasta would’ve been welcome.

Beef fillet with cherry blossom leaves in a pool of molten Comté, priced at a punchy 63 Euros, seemed an odd combination on paper but was presumably inspired by Alléno’s time spent in Japan. The fusion gamble worked and it was utterly delightful.

When you start a meal with a soufflé you might as well end on one too. The citrus fruit and saffron soufflé with its candied lemon and caviar-like pearls of blood orange was all going very well until I discovered a hair in it (definitely not my own). Whilst it’s all very admirable that the brigade has an egalitarian system where they all wear the same chef’s whites (which are more of a beige colour here, as in London’s Pavyllon), perhaps this should also extend to their toques – only the too-cool-for-school head chef on duty (not Yannick of course) insisted on not wearing a hat, so perhaps the rogue hair was his. I didn’t keep it for analysis so we’ll never know. But equally I couldn’t finish the soufflé. A pity.

Overall though, this was one of the better and more memorable meals I’ve had in Paris which was by no means cheap but seemed fair for the experience. Hairs in soufflés notwithstanding, this should do the City of Light proud.

Pavyllon (Paris)
Food & Drink56
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8 avenue Dutuit
Paris 75008

June 2024


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