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01/06/2009

L'Ambroisie, Paris [Review]

L’Ambroisie

No stars

I knew something was up. Lunch was booked for Saturday, and on Wednesday I rang from London to reconfirm. ‘OK, but you’ll have to call again on Friday to make sure. And we need your address in Paris. Oh, and your British mobile is no good – we have to have a French number.’

These demands were unexplained. Perhaps their phone uniquely can’t call the UK, or maybe they wanted to make sure I wasn’t dossing in the Tuileries, and would turn up looking like the lovechild of Bill Bailey and the Wicked Witch of the West. Anyway, one thing being another, I didn’t call, and neither did they. Yet when Charlie and I arrived, they sat us down without a word – which makes me wonder what was the point of all that nonsense about French phone numbers. And there's something else: the restaurant was half-empty all through lunch.

This is a place, Oh my Best Beloved, so indigestibly excessive, so bloated in its fripperies, so amputated from the purposes and pleasures of eating, it’s reached a state of parody. Its dishes are concocted around a curt list of expensive ingredients, its menu dictated by an infatuation with show-off luxuries, by pathological ostentation, wincing crassness, fetishised vanity and suffocating gloom. It is an emperor parading with his tackle out. Calling itself - with blistering arrogance - 'ambrosia', the food of the gods, it stands as an example of what Joyce Cary called a tumbrel remark – an utterance displaying such pampered insensitivity, it can rouse a rabble to violence. Its target customers are Bourbons, sheiks and oligarchs who, to tweak Wilde’s aphorism, know the price of nothing and the value of nothing. It is. Simply. Awful.

There are three rooms at l’Ambroisie, with (hilariously) a hierarchy to them. The first is windowless and dark, sagging with oppressive tapestries and spotted with squat, expensive side-tables. It’s the plebs’ room and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s where they sat us. Diners in the second-class room are generously permitted a window, and the smallest chamber (in which, I’m told, even the dizzying likes of Gérard Depardieu have sat) is at the back. The diminutive, unsmiling sommelier is probably 50ish, but looks 90, a cross between Ronnie Corbett and Sir Patrick Moore.

The menu, printed on bizarrely cheap cardboard, is a box-ticking Michelin shopping list. At every turn, there’s lobster, foie gras, caviar: each extravagance as soullessly predictable as the last. Of course, I love all those things, and in a three-star on the Place des Vosges, I expect to pay for them. But so baldly obvious is the calculation behind them, so inevitable their inclusion, that an air of lazy apathy hovers above the menu. It certainly doesn't inspire; and the prices, as we'd anticipated, are guppy-mouth horrifying. But I’d saved up for months, and I was here for the hautest classics of haute cuisine. I thought the meal had the chance of being the best I’d ever eaten, and I was ready to face it.

The ‘amuse’ is a slab of red mullet with tapenade. I invert those commas because it's not an amuse at all. In a big meal, the first tastes should refresh and enliven, prepping the senses for what’s to come. This is a stingily-portioned main course, and the tapenade is so cold it makes your teeth hurt.

Charlie starts with a spectacularly horrible dish of snails and rocket sauce. Reptile bogeys in blitzed pond. For some reason, it’s got mashed potato all over it, and the parmentier has the grittiness of overcooked tuber. I have the signature, langoustines with curry sauce. They’re tender, and the sauce has a spicy depth, but this is jumped-up, self-deluding prawn balti.

A dish of sea bass with artichoke and caviar is fully representative of l'Ambroisie. The bass is mushy, and the artichoke (hardly an orgasmic vegetable, but at least expensive) tastes of artichoke. Most of all, though, the sauce is a tragic, vulgar waste of caviar. I like the eggs on their own, or at least with minimal faff. Here, their delicate briney savour is swamped in fatty sauce; they add nothing, not a single thing, to what could have been a pure and delicious dish of bass in old-fashioned sauce. They’re included, of course, to justify the frankly ludicrous price. Stewed lobster is a Bushtucker trial, the tail carrying the texture of kangaroo penis. No doubt they’d try to tell me the French enjoy rubbery lobster, that only my rosbif ignorance leads me to believe otherwise. Nonsense. The langoustine wasn’t overcooked: the lobster is. Its sauce is salted diarrhoea.

Milk-fed lamb is like gnawing teat. For an ingredient this prized, it’s shockingly tough. Infant sheep is unadventurous, expensive snob-food, celebrated more for texture than flavour. Here, timid and chewy, it’s served in a sauce almost identical to the lobster. Charlie has a veal sweetbread slightly larger than a brick, and with about as much flavour. It’s a wretched thing: sweatily cloying, with the texture of the mould that grows between bathroom tiles. On the side - I'm not exaggerating - a bowl of two dozen morels. As you know, a few of these funghi, haunted with the forest, can raise a dish to glory. Chomping them one after another, like olives, over-eggs their wonderful pudding – in both senses, it’s tasteless. Despite the fact that we’ve been swapping plates each course, even between us we can’t finish the sweetbread. And for boys of our appetite, that’s saying something.

I don’t want cheese, but Charlie does. Rather than watch him munch away, I ask whether I can have something lighter. ‘Sorry, but the kitchen’s closed.’ Oh. Does that mean we can’t have pudding? ‘No, you can. But nothing savoury.’ Right, so the kitchen wasn't closed, then: it’s not like they have two. Anyway, I want something sweet, and they bring a fresh-tasting strawberry sorbet with some raspberries. Charlie’s cheese is in good nick. The sorbet turns up on the bill at €34.

Pre-pudding of milk foam is frothed sick. I order chocolate tart, because they’re supposedly famous for it. It’s raw. Raw cake mix on a biscuit base. That’s clearly the point, but so what – it’s still raw, and it's awful. They insist we order rhubarb tart. It comes with the same sorbet I’ve just been served. Even though they knew we were swapping plates, so I would have to eat the sorbet twice, they whacked it out again. The rhubarb is undercooked and stringy, the dish effortfully forgettable.

Towards the end, I order a €9 coffee, and (as always) ask for a little cold milk on the side. The manager’s eyebrows rise as if I just exposed myself. ‘No, no, that isn't a good idea. You see, our coffee is 80 per cent arabica and 20 per cent robusta. You shouldn’t put milk in it after a meal.' Riiiiiight. Then some bought-in chocolates arrive. We eat a couple, leaving perhaps four or five in the bowl. I ask if we might take the remaining ones away with us. ‘Er, no. That isn’t possible.’

To this, I append no comment.

This was one of the worst meals I’ve ever eaten. Not because the food was bad (though it was), but because they ignore or spurn here so much that is vivid and enriching about restaurants: the physical and metaphysical joy of being welcomed, fed, wined, pleasured. Everything about l’Ambroisie is terminally depressing and blood-boilingly vulgar. The vacuous elitism, the studied snobbery, the sheer Scroogean shudder of the place. All the familiar criticisms of Michelin – that it’s staidly effete, joylessly elevated and wedded to empty extravagance, sound as clearly here as the bells of Notre Dame. And oh sweet Jesus, the cost…

For the first time on this blog, I’m not going to say what we paid – to do so would almost itself be a tumbrel remark. But to give you a flavour: for the price of the sea bass, that one plate of deeply disappointing food, we could have eaten an eight-course tasting menu at Gordon Ramsay’s three-starred flagship, and got our change in notes.

That night, reeling and speechless, we ate dinner in an anonymous bistro in the 2nd. I had escargots à la Bourguignonne and an entrecôte with frites and green salad. Charlie had bouillabaise, then choucroute garnie, and we shared a crème brûlée. The meal cost a twelfth of our lunch at l’Ambroisie, and was exactly 384 times more enjoyable. In fact, it was wonderful. And as I swooshed the salty chips through the tarragon wobble of béarnaise, and saw the pink beefy juices glistening under my fork, heard the incomparable clack of the brûlée’s caramel and savoured the rolling, oaky richness of the claret – I realised, with greater clarity than I’d ever known, that in food there is no correlation at all between price and pleasure.


L’Ambroisie, 9 Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris
Tel. +33 (0)1 42 78 51 45


See on the Map

www.ambroisie-placedesvosges.com

40 comments:

  1. Wow I'm in total shock.

    Cannot believe this temple of gastronomy has declined so much in less than a year - my last visit.

    I have been 3 times and every meal has been perfect in terms of food, service and atmosphere!

    It almost sounds like the entire restaurant front of house and kitchen was taken over by impostors.

    I'm also really sorry you had such a disappointing experience.

    This will require investigation.

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  2. Sorry to hear you had such a bad meal - but congratulations on a hilarious review. Ironically, one of your worst meals gave rise to one of your best reviews. I haven't been to L'Ambroisie but from your vivid description, I can well imagine it. Everything that's bad about 'old-school' French gastronomy: they're so busy worshipping the food that they forget about the customer.

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  3. Truly a sad state of affairs, one of which there is no excuse! It sounds as if there has been a drastic change in personnel.
    If you had entered without any expectations you may have been able to rationalize the experience. However, being a culinary destination, makes your 'review' all the more painful. One can only hope that it was an off night.
    Where you are seated in a restaurant shouldn't be a factor in the service that one receives!
    We always say, "On this night...."
    At least there is plethora of good eating to be had in Paris and you can still partake of those places.
    Thank you for your frankness.

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  4. Ouch. How galling to have saved up for this monster of a meal. I say return to Dal Pescatore for superb service that makes you feel welcome! And excellent food of course...

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  5. Hi Oliver --

    I'm sorry to hear you had such a terrible experience. It comes across as pretty negative; although there are a lot of personal attacks rather than specific examples of things you did not like. Was there anything you did like?

    I'm surprised they forced you to give a French number ... I always give my US number and know of other diners who do that.

    I don't think I would call L'Ambroisie snobby so much as I would shy. For example, Pacaud never steps out of the kitchen to mingle with diners. It takes a few humble experiences to get them to open up.

    I'm not sure what you mean by saying their dishes are rife with "show-off luxuries, by pathological ostentation, wincing crassness, fetishised vanity and suffocating gloom." Could you give an example? The current Spring '09 menus at Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Le Meurice, and Pré Catelan have more dishes with caviar than at L'Ambroisie.

    I'm also a little confused by how the dishes are "crass" because to me they seemed rather refined. Do you mean simple?

    I've been seated in the tapestry room a few times myself when dining with other english speakers ... it's usually a factor of how proficient your French is. The staff as a whole is not proficient in English ... nor do they want to be. They usually send english-speaking waiters to the first room to make ordering easier.

    In what way do you find Pacaud's dishes "soullessly predictable?" I can usually guess what ingredients he'll use based on seasonality, which I think is a good thing. If he surprised me with strawberries in the winter, I'd be upset.

    Who says the first taste should "refresh and enliven, prepping the senses for what's to come?" The highlight of Pacaud's tapanade is the non-acidic olives he uses, of the highest quality imaginable. I'm sorry yours was served freezing cold ... there's no excuse for that.

    I see a lot of negative attacks about the sea bass and lobster, but it seems like the only two things you disliked were that the caviar "added nothing," and the price was "expensive". Am I missing something? There's no excuse for overcooked lobster ... that happened to me once. But more specific examples would be helpful.

    Best,
    Adam
    ALifeWorthEating

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  6. Gastro1 - Thanks for commenting. I have to say I was equally surprised that it was as bad as it turned out to be.

    TheProdigalFool - Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the review: at least some good came from the meal.

    TheGourmetGirl - You're right: when you've invested a lot of time and energy in preparing for a meal like that, when it goes so badly it's even more depressing.

    Helen - I'd go back to dal Pescatore in a heartbeat! But after this meal, all serious gastronomy is a long way off...

    Adam - Thanks for such a thorough comment, and it's good to see you on this blog. To take your points in order:

    1. I thought the curried langoustine was tasty, and the sorbet was good. Not enough to vaut le voyage, though, by a long shot.

    2. I was equally surprised to be asked - twice, in fact - for a French number, which is why I mentioned it in the review.

    3. A restaurant can still be snobby if a chef spends most of his time in the kitchen. It's the front of house staff, along with - to a lesser extent - the décor, that determine the snob-factor of a restaurant. A chef's influence on it is only indirect. Pacaud may well be shy, but that doesn't excuse the amazing behaviour of the manager who refused to let us take away a couple of chocolates at the end of the meal, amongst other things.

    4. I mean that almost every dish at l'Ambroisie is based around one 'luxury' ingredient. In one dish, it might be caviar; in another, it's lobster; elsewhere, it's foie gras. I find this approach distinctly unoriginal and, frankly, boring - especially having just eaten at l'Astrance, where Barbot gives a lemon the same attention as a truffle.

    5. Actually, although there's no way you'd have known this from the review, I do speak French, and the waiters and I didn't talk to each other in English.

    6. I agree with you absolutely on the seasonality - my point in saying that his dishes are predictable relates to my argument about each dish here being yoked to one expensive ingredient after another. That's the 'soullessly predictable' part - eating with the seasons, of course, has huge soul.

    7. Well, I suppose the phrase 'amuse-bouche' says it for us all. It's a palate-cleanser - and a slab of fish with tapenade neither cleans nor amuses my palate.

    8. I clearly didn't explain myself well. Briefly to recap: the tapenade was cold; the snails were simply horrible with poorly executed potato; the bass was mushy and that dish was greedily ill-conceived; the lamb was tough; the sweetbread had a nasty texture and far too many morels on the side; the chocolate tart was raw and unpleasant; the rhubarb was stringy. And that's only the food!

    Thanks again for such a detailed comment - I've followed your blog for a long time now.

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  7. Poor you: such a shame when something one's been looking forward to for so long ends up a disappointment. Interesting that two Parisian restaurants could provide such polar opposites.

    Should have dined Chez McDo.

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  8. amuse bouche has nothing to do with cleansing the palate- it is meant to prepare the palate for what is about to come- excitement for the taste buds- whether yours were excited or not as the case may be..
    surely in a top frienc restaurant many pple would be disappointed if the dishes were based around 'lemons' as you say rather than caviar of foie gras

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  9. Thomas - It was a real shame. You're right, it's amazing (and wonderful) how different experiences at supposedly top-end restaurants can be. I'm not that sure about McDo, though, I must say: are you a fan?

    Anonymous - Thanks a lot for commenting. I'm not sure what the difference is between an amuse 'cleansing' or 'preparing' the palate. Obviously when I use the word 'cleansing' I don't literally mean washing it - water could do that. Regardless, the mullet and tapenade neither cleansed, enlivened, excited, amused nor refreshed. As I said, it felt like a kiddie-sized main-portion, a sample of a fish dish, and to my mind it was completely wrong.

    As for luxury ingredients, of course I don't mean restaurants shouldn't serve them. What I was trying to say is that the impression I got while eating here is that the menu was constructed around those ingredients. It's like Pacaud went through a checklist of pricey products and built each dish around them. It's a very limiting way of doing things, because there's only a finite number of very expensive ingredients. And when the cooking of them is as poor as it was on the lamb, or their inclusion as pointless as the caviar, it's even more of a shame.

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  10. Ouch. I can only imagine how eye watering the bill was. Great piece though! Funny how these awful experiences make the best posts...

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  11. Parisian friends tell me that these restaurants have mostly foreign guests ,who are food tourists or businessmen and that these do not usually come back frequently as they are only visiting/passing through/ticking off another top restaurant from their list etc.As such,the restaurant has no interest in developing a loyal,repeat,local clientele.Hence the restaurant gets away with poor attitude and service.My friends don't say it is right,just that is how it is.They have never been,and have no intention of ever going.They also said,funnily enough that in many of these types of restaurants,the main man does not actually cook at lunch or at the weekend,but it is his "brigade" that does the work on those occasions.
    Your meal sounds truly horrible,as does the service,and the price.
    One thing I offer as advice from my experience of dealing with high end restaurants/hotels etc in France....never,ever,ASK politely for something(e.g. the chocs)..just TELL them to do it(e.g. give us some tissues to wrap these,or WRAP these !).French staff/bureacrats etc are pre-conditioned from an early age(their schools) to say NON to everything.But they also are conditioned to follow the imperious commands of those higher up(e.g.Germans) so just tell them to do it,and never ask.I have found that it works a treat,and there is never any discussion.

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  12. I know you said the price was so horrendous that you won't disclose it, but I can get a pretty good idea from the 34 Euros for a Sorbet?!!! and 9 Euros for a coffee. I'm gobsmacked. And then, it turns out the meal was awful. What a smack in the chops. On the flip side, your description of the cheaper, earthier but excellent meal in a Bistro says it all.

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  13. A smashing read, Oliver, but rather you than me! You must have felt physically violated having spent such a ludicrous sum on an awful meal.

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  14. Enjoyed the review even if you didn't enjoy the meal. If you want another good bistro recommendation then I think highly of Cafe Constant in the 7th, laid back and friendly- though a bit touristy in august - lovely lobster ravioli and stuffed quail. Also an artichoke salad that makes you appreciate them. After walk by Rouchoux for chocolates. And for a brunch that is part welcoming with open arms and part brusque head to Boulangerie Veronique Mauclerc in the 19th (you need to call ahead if you want to eat in) which is ages away but has a wonderful wood fired bread oven, paper napkins but some of the best bread I have tried. Particular favourites are the chestnut flour bread with hazlenuts and honey, and the viennoiseries with figs and pistachios.

    La Boulangerie par Veronique Mauclerc
    83 rue de crimee
    01 42 49 64 55

    Jean-Charles Rouchoux
    16 rue d'assas (6th)
    01 42 84 29 45

    x Paula

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  15. I feel obliged to comment for two reasons.
    First because I suggest l'Ambroisie to Oliver and secondly, because I have had several meals at the restaurant and eaten the same dishes as he has (some more than once).

    Some points I wanted to raise in response to the write up and pursuant remarks:
    • Oliver’s post, just like mine, is based on a single meal.
    • From my experiences, including my very first, the staff have been nothing but hospitable and accommodating.
    • For me, l’Ambroisie is the definition of haute cuisine. It is not my favourite restaurant in the world, but I do feel it offers something that very few others do – a provocative meal. Admittedly, the provocation usually stems from the price, but for others it moves their souls and excites their minds.
    • The fact that the menu is full of luxury ingredients is no grounds for complaint. This is fine dining; one would expect/want to find the finest ingredients obtainable at a restaurant such as this. And ‘the finest ingredients obtainable’ are going to be Breton lobster, Iranian caviar, wild sea bass, Bresse birds, milk-fed Lozère lamb…
    I do not think these have been used to fill the menu though. For instance, with the oeufs mollets, the caviar is an excellent condiment – the dish would simply not be as good without it. The lobster is actually, if anything, a creative reinvention by Pacaud of the traditional navarin of lamb with root vegetables. Ris de veau is a previously cheap offal cut that has been elevated to expensive by popular demand. Etc.
    • I think both rooms are stunning.
    • l’Ambroisie, in my opinion, is also unique in that, more than any other restaurant I have eaten at, the customer must adapt to the house. It is a commonly noted thought that the restaurant is more like someone’s home and that the diner should act like a good guest would in another’s house.
    • The prices here are unjustifiable.
    • Chacun à son goût...
    • I do hope C.Elder’s remark was in jest.

    Sorry if these ideas have not been as nicely expressed as others above, but I just felt the need to scribble something down.

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  16. Lizzie - It was truly nightmarish. Thanks very much for your kind comment. I know, I was thinking the same recently: a lot of people definitely prefer reading a mauling than a long piece of praise.

    C. Elder - Thanks for a very interesting comment. I'm not sure whether l'Ambroisie is aimed solely at tourists, though I'm sure they form a large contingent of its customers. As for demanding that they wrap the chocolates - I probably should have insisted that we take them away, so incredible was the refusal.

    Dan - Thanks a lot - that was exactly the point I was trying to make!

    Chris - 'Physically violated' is a very accurate (if euphemistic) description of how we felt...

    Paula - Thanks a lot for commenting. Both those places sound fantastic. There's so much good food to be had in Paris, it's unbelievable. And, despite inklings of a culinary revolution in London, it's fair to say that the typical product over there is far superior.

    Food Snob - Thanks very much indeed for your comment, which was written with the insight and clarity I would expect from you. If I can take your points in sequence:

    • Naturally.
    • Lucky you! As you've gathered, that wasn't my experience at all.
    • I don't think there is a catch-all definition of haute cuisine. High-end food can be technically brilliant or stunningly simple, shockingly original or rooted in classics. It only has to give pleasure while it feeds, and as you say, it should excite the mind while it fills the body. L'Ambroisie offered nothing like this. The meal was certainly provocative, but in my case it provoked me very much the wrong way.
    • We didn't eat the oeufs mollets, though I do know the dish you mean. Actually, the caviar was the only time I felt an expensive ingredient was the gilt on the lily: in the case of the lobster, lamb and so on, the ritzy component was the starting-point for the rest of the dish - and in both those cases, the execution was woeful. You're absolutely right that navarin is traditionally made with lamb. To put it mildly, lobster is no improvement.
    • Each to his own! I'm no arbiter of interior design, but I thought the room we were in had the warmth and sparkle of a Latvian morgue.
    • That's an intriguing notion. I've never been a guest in anyone's house and been charged triple figures for a plate of food. And Charlie and I behaved pretty well, I think! That said, as you know, restaurants offer a service, and to demand that customers 'adapt to the house' seems to me a pretty weird inversion of the service industry model. Particularly when...
    • The prices, as you say, beggar belief.
    • Exactement!
    • Me too :)

    Thanks again for your comment.

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  17. You are more than welcome.
    With a little hindsight and your words as my guide, allow me to clarify my own comment further.
    When I said ‘the definition of haute cuisine’ I was awfully vague. What I wanted to express was the popular, classic assumption of French dining – not necessarily my own opinion of what the personification of fine dining is or indeed what it actually is.
    Additionally, let me make it clear that it is not that I do not trust your judgement of the food or staff – if your bass was mushy, then it was mushy – it is just that, in my own experiences, cooking errors and hostility from the staff have simply been non-existent. Neither am I questioning your behaviour (:P). What I meant by ‘being a guest in someone’s house’ is that it IS somewhat of an inversion on the service model, but that is nonetheless the case here. It is unusual but, dare I say it, those that give themselves over to their hosts it seems are often rewarded for it.

    Above all though, I am disappointed you did not enjoy the meal or see the restaurant at its best.
    It is a fascinating place that delights as often as it frustrates. From people whose tastes I feel I can depend on, I have heard such opposing opinions as ‘the clouds opened up and the sun shone down’ to 'physically violated is a very accurate (if euphemistic) description of how we felt...’

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  18. Wow it appears that this review is creating a lot of feedback and debate - having never been to L'Ambroisie I cannot really enter into it but I feel that all the points you made were fair and I am also a harsh critic when I am paying top dollar at a top restaurant. Mainly though I really enjoyed reading this review it was very entertaining!

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  19. I was traumatised just reading it. Well done Oliver for provoking so much comment and debate.

    Now just tell us what the total bill was...

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  20. Food Snob - Thanks very much indeed for a fascinating contributing to this debate. It's been very interesting to hear your and others' views on the place, and some sterling defences of it.

    You could well be right that l'Ambroisie presents an unusual interaction between customer and restaurant. I would willingly have submitted to this, and to the exacted cost, had the experience been of a standard to warrant it. I can well understand that in a place like this, which purports to take the business of gastronomy very seriously indeed, a different kind of behaviour might be expected from customers. And perhaps we had, as Gourmet Girl suggests, an off-day. But a restaurant like this simply can't have off-days. To make the demands of its customers you say it does, and to charge them such fantastic prices, every detail of every meal has to be almost perfect. And this lunch, as I said, took its many imperfections into a kind of ghastly parody.

    It says a lot to me that on a Saturday lunch, a Paris restaurant with such a reputation could be half-deserted. It's by far the emptiest three-starred dining room I've eaten in. (Out of nine meals, if you're wondering.) The contrast between a restaurant like this, with its old-fashioned, lugubrious approach, and l'Astrance, with its modern style nodding sagely to the classics, could not be clearer.

    Either way, these differences of opinion only make a love of food and restaurants all the more worthwhile. Thanks again for a spirited and lively conversation.

    Gourmet Chick - Thank you for such a generous comment! As Food Snob says, it's fascinating how people can have such wildly different reactions to the same place.

    Dan - Hehe, I'm afraid not! But there are menus on eGullet and elsewhere on blogs (not on the restaurant's website, I don't think) which will give you a pretty good idea.

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  21. This is turning into a competition to guess the cost of the meal. I'm going for £513 (at today's exchange rate).

    If you were a lawyer rather than a banker, you could make a case for all the thinking time you've put in on this one.

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  22. A few points about your review:

    First of all, a bad day can happen even in the best restaurants. This being said, it sounds like you had some bad service, which might be possible too. That they asked you for your French number, probably meant that they wanted the Hotel's number. After all, this is a place cherished by Americans, Japanese and other tourists who in most cases won't have a phone in France.

    After that, if the table wasn't to your liking, I'm sure you could have asked to get another one.

    Now to the food. As I said, there might have been a bad day.

    Concerning the menu, I'd rather have lobster, caviar and the rest if I pay these prices than a deep frozen shrimp, don't know about you though. After all, Haute cuisine is based on these products and he has used them for ages. If one goes here, one knows what to expect.
    Your comments, and that is indisputable sound very strange. To say something has the texture of kangaroo penis doesn't really add much to your review does it. After all it is enough to say that the lobster was overcooked. Most people will get that.

    What's the problem with the caviar? If you order a dish with a caviar sauce, you might as well expect there to be caviar in the sauce. Also, it says it has artichoke in it, if you don't like that it is your problem and not the restaurant's wouldn't you agree?
    Why write on such a level? Did they attack you personally or what. It doesn't seem plausible at all, if you attack the dishes in the way you do. If you want to get a message along, a less angry way works quite well too

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  23. felixhirsch: You're absolutely right. In the future, I suggest Oliver just lists his findings in a series of bullet points -

    - The lobster was overcooked
    - The lamb was chewy
    - It cost too much money

    That way, he can get all his grievances across without being in any way entertaining. I'm sure the book deals will come flooding in.

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  24. I think you make the case eloquently and entertainingly that this was a terrible, unexpected experience in a restaurant - especially in such a temple to overdone haute cuisine, where the Jesus-figure chef resolutely seems to have kept in the money changers.

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  25. Have you considered finding out if there is a local forum and posting the link to the review on there? I've heard some very reasonable and intelligent debates occur in such places ;)

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  26. Douglas: My fag-packet calculation is very different :P

    Felix: Purple prose ought not perforce us to suspect someone's probity.

    Chris: lots of words do not lead to book deals either. fact. :(

    Andrzej: Why would you compare Pacaud to Jesus? Are you also saying he overcharges?

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  27. Chris, I don't say that he has to write bullet points, he can if he wants. All I say, is that he loses all credibilty if he writes in this way.

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  28. foodsnobblog: Maybe my metaphor was a little laboured.

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  29. 34 euros for a berry sorbet? Surely the garcon gargled the glass of Chateau d'Yquem he was obliged to serve with it.

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  30. Felix, while Oliver's prose can range from the acerbic to the rhapsodic, it is always well-observed and witty, and many of us enjoy reading this blog. To suggest that "he loses all credibility if he writes in this way" is as hyperbolic as the writing you are criticising.

    The extremes of gastronomy will draw extreme views. Reading this reminded me of my own trepidation at eating in really pricey joints: expectations are always wildly, but justly, inflated so disappointment can smart all the more. However, being a foolhardy foodie who likes to judge things first hand, I probably won't strike this one off my list just yet!

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  31. Mr Teaspoon: Could have put it better myself.

    One more point while I'm here - it surprises me how badly presented a lot of those dishes are. Whether or not you believe what Oliver is saying about how they taste (I do), I would be upset if any 3* restaurant served food looking like that. Almost all of the savoury dishes look a complete mess.

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  32. Douglas - No comment! It's been a real pleasure to read and respond to all the comments on this review.

    Felix - A bad day should exact a bad review. It's not for me to second-guess how the kitchen would have been on a different day.

    As I said in my opening paragraph, the restaurant had my British mobile number, which works fine in Paris. In an earlier comment, Adam said that it was unusual for them to have asked me for a French number. On this, I only have my own experience to go by.

    As for the food, I use specific images to try to establish an emotional response in the reader. You might feel they add nothing to the review, but I think simile and metaphor are very useful linguistic tools. Thanks for your stylistic advice: I'll bear it in mind.

    Chris - Thanks very much indeed!

    Andrzej - Thanks for a very generous comment. As more time passes, I feel increasingly that l'Ambroisie is basically a racket. A friend of mine drew parallels between it and a £1500 handbag: buying it gives the purchaser the mistaken idea that they're someone of exquisite discernment. Good taste doesn't have to cost a lot, and the most expensive things can often be the most tasteless of all.

    Helen - Very good point! I'll have to have a look for one... :)

    Felix - I'm sorry if you feel that figurative language robs a writer of credibility. I'm afraid I don't agree.

    youngandfoodish - Ironically, that sorbet was one of the best things they served us! It certainly wasn't worth €34, though. Sadly we didn't drink any Chateau d'Yquem, although we did manage to have a nice bottle of Sauternes!

    Mr Teaspoon - Good to see you again on this blog, and thank you for an exceptionally generous comment. You're completely right that expectations are raised when a product is very expensive, and disappointments are felt more strongly. That said, I haven't done a very good job reviewing this place if you still want to visit!

    Chris - Is there a 'not' missing from your last comment?! Very well-spotted on the presentation: you're absolutely right that a lot of the plating was very poor for a three-star. The lobster plate, for example, hadn't been properly wiped, and the sea bass looks simply ugly to me.

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  33. Oliver: Oops! Yes I did of course mean "Couldn't have put it better myself".

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  34. Don't worry, Oliver: L'Astrance was already far higher up my list than L'Ambroisie and your experiences have served to widen the gap.

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  35. Was in Paris myself this past weekend and found the prices horrendous.I don't frequent the big name places, as I felt totally ripped off the only time I did.But the steady reliable places always made a visit worthwhile. Unfortunately, this past weekend shows that even those have been 2infected".How does €22 for 4(I counted them,I was so astonished) white asparagus with a slight watery drizzle of orange juice(this was a starter) sound?In a market later they were being sold at €4.95 per KILO!I even asked the waiter if some had fallen off the plate between the kitchen and the table.In another place €5.50 for a half bottle of mineral water(that's £5!!!!).In another place €27 for 3 gambas(with the horrible intestine things s, i.e. uncleaned...plse note this is the primary source of hepatitis), on a small mound of overcooked rice with some watery creme fraiche sauce.I found the food mediocre at best.Maybe it's just a Paris thing.
    I am sorry but I can each much better in London at Harewood Arms;Hereford road;etc etc.

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  36. Well, that seems to have divided the gastro-community!

    A wonderful read, Oliver. Really fantastic. I can't offer further comment than that but very entertaining indeed

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  37. The dedication to the ingredient/cuisine is of paramount importance as we all realize.The brigades apparent lack of interest and attention to detail is the true horror.No passion.To use the cliche more is not always better and is well evidenced in your review.

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  38. Mr Teaspoon - Glad to hear it! I hope you make it to l'Astrance soon.

    C. Elder - Sorry to hear you had such bad experiences. I suppose there are plenty of hit-and-miss places in Paris, just as in London. I'm glad to hear you're a fan of The Harwood Arms - I simply love that place.

    Just Cook It - Thanks so much Alex! Really kind of you to say so :)

    Richard - Thanks a lot for commenting. I completely agree: several things almost seemed slapdash on our visit. Perhaps Pacaud wasn't in the kitchen to keep an eye on things.

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  39. I am a bit late to join the debate. First off may I say what a shame re: your experience. I was forewarned about the things that you highlighted in your review (snooty, pouncy service, grossly overpriced food) and it is for that reason I decided to choose Germany instead of Paris for my foodie trip.

    Re: Felix's comments, I would like to play devil's advocate here. On one hand, being terse, succinct in your writing (IMHO) gets the point across better (then again, I am personally a very direct, straight to the point person). You can be savage, destructive, critical while stating facts... I point you towards ulteriorepicure's take on the lobster. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the humour in your writing but perhaps the overall effect about how unsatisfied you were could have been diluted because of that - especially amongst readers who a) do not get your dry sense of British humour or b) do not speak English as their first language.

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  40. Genuineness - There are some brilliant restaurants in Germany. I hope you enjoy your trip, and I look forward to reading the reviews.

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