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L'Astrance

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4 Rue Beethoven75016 Paris
France
T+33 140508440

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MTWTFSS
Lunch              
Dinner              

Chef's personal info

Name: Pascal Barbot
Date of birth: 00-00-1972
Origin: France
Experience:
"Maxim’s" in Paris "Les Saveurs" in London  "Troisgros" in Rome. Chef Alain Passard at "L’Arpege"> 3 years
 
Owner:
Pascal Barbot and Christophe Rohat
 

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DeMorgen.be - Willem Asaert - 18/06/11
Mes & Vork : L'Astrance in Parijs

Mes & Vork : L'Astrance in Parijs

De hoogst genoteerde Franse eetgelegenheden in de internationale top 50 van de beste restaurants ter wereld zijn niet meteen de usual suspects. Zoals L'Astrance in Parijs. Non-conformist Pascal Barbot is een driesterrenchef zonder conventionele grandeur.

Een bezoek aan restaurant L'Astrance, op een boogscheut van de Eiffeltoren, is in diverse opzichten bevrijdend. Je eet er op het allerhoogste niveau zonder allerhoogste prijzen. Sinds ons laatste bezoek vier jaar geleden zijn de prijzen van de menu's trouwens onveranderd gebleven. In hoeveel driesterrenrestaurants vind je vandaag een uitgebreid lunchmenu voor 70 euro dat met wijnen erbij 120 euro kost? Akkoord, L'Astrance is geen restaurant waar je vrij uit een kaart kan kiezen. Chef Pascal Barbot maakt het zich een stuk makkelijker door één dagelijks wisselend, onaangekondigd menu aan te bieden. Naargelang je trek kan dat ook 120 of 210 euro kosten.

Vooraf informeert de gastheer naar wat je niet lust en mogelijke allergieën. Barbot móet het aanbod wel simpel houden, zijn minikeuken biedt werkruimte voor maximaal acht mensen. Relatief weinig personeel en geen kaart: dat verklaart voor een stuk de klantvriendelijke prijzenpolitiek. Barbot zit ook niet in het peperdure achtste arrondissement waar de meeste driesterrenrestaurants zich bevinden. Daar betaal je door de ligging dikwijls meer voor een voorgerecht dan voor het lunchmenu in L'Astrance. Ook imago en interieur zijn bevrijdend sober. In Parijs wordt immers al te dikwijls kwaliteit met overladen grandeur verward. De vijfentwintig zitjes zijn ook daarom weken vooraf gereserveerd. Wachtlijsten zijn inherent aan deze succesformule. Een tip: telefoneer - er is geen website - en vraag naar de beschikbare data. Het loont de moeite om je eigen agenda af te stemmen op die van L'Astrance.

Vijf jaar stond Pascal Barbot naast Alain Passard in L'Arpège en in 2000 opende hij met vennoot Christophe Rohat restaurant L'Astrance. Vijf maanden later kregen ze de eerste ster. Nummer twee volgde in 2005 en twee jaar later nummer drie. Een statement van de rode gids. Niet de entourage maar de persoonlijkheid van de chef is bepalend voor de hoogste culinaire erkenning. Barbot kookt lichtvoetig en herkenbaar, zelden verliest hij zich in te veel opsmuk. Hij verrast door ongewone puurheid en een aparte zwier die je blij maakt. Als hapje vooraf in het menu voor 120 euro verschijnt bijvoorbeeld een sneetje getoast briochebrood geparfumeerd met licht citrusaroma. Briljant in zijn ogenschijnlijke eenvoud. Het eerste voorgerecht is flinterdunne bladerdeeg waarop Barbot een taartje componeerde van witte champignons, eendenlever en groene appel. Alle drie rauw en flinterdun gesneden, een gel van citroen zorgt voor smaakbinding. Daarop volgt een smeuïg delicaat tussenspel: rijke velouté van jonge erwtjes, opgepept met verse gember, een snuifje saffraan en een hint kardemom. Heerlijk heet geschroeid zijn daarna twee flinke Bretoense langoustines die hij ondersteunt met een loepzuivere sojaconsommé, peultjes en kapucijnblad. Fris en exotisch smaakt daarna met het vel gepocheerde tarbot en schuimende saus van groene curry met kokosnoot. Quenelle van klein gesneden papaja en groene mango prikkelt extra het palet.

En dan komt het hoogtepunt, extreem sappig en smaakrijk Bretoens mesthoen exclusief gevoederd met dadels en abrikozen. Onder de krokante gebakken huid van filet en bout zit een mengsel van amandelspijs verpakt in daslook. Morieljes maken het feest compleet. Net voor de verfrissende pikante sorbet van gember en citroenkruid proeven we nog van een koteletje en filet van twee maanden jong, extreem sappige Lozère-melklam. Uit het rijke zoete register onthouden we een warme madeleine van kastanjebloem en honing. Barbot biedt in het topsegment met ruime voorsprong de beste deal in de Franse hoofdstad.

- DeMorgen.be - Willem Asaert - 18/06/11

Foodsnobblog - 2009 January 7th
L'Astrance

L'Astrance

To think, I almost did not make it to l’Astrance. In all honesty, I had nearly crossed it off, naïvely pigeonholing it as a restaurant better suited to spring than midwinter. This was until a far better knowing friend told me ‘go! You must go!’ – and as regular readers may know by now, I always do what my friends tell me to.
 

Wanting to go is one thing, getting a reservation is another. Apparently a table at l’Astrance is not easy to attain; apparently there is a permanent two-month waiting list. The fact that, by the time I decided that I had to eat there, they had already closed for Christmas, did not help either. Nevertheless, undaunted, I called the morning they reopened (the fifth) and asked for a table for today (the sixth). I did have to ply not inconsiderable charm, then wait on hold not an inconsiderable while, but I finally got what I wanted.

In October 2000, Pascal Barbot and Christophe Rohat, formerly sous chef and maître d’hôtel at l’Arpège respectively, opened their own restaurant. With the aid of bank loans borrowed by the pair after Rohat won a prestigious Heidsieck Monopole prize for best restaurant business plan, the two bought a closed-down bistro in a sleepy street in the 16th. They were an instant success. Leading Parisian critic, Bénédict Beaugé, even commented that their new venture was ‘the most important gastronomic event’ of the time. Such coverage, as well as Passard’s personal mailing list of five hundred loyal clients, ensured that from then on, l’Astrance would be one of the city’s most sought-after tables.

Within only months (five) of setting up, Michelin awarded them their first star (2001), though they did have to wait a little longer for the second (2005) and then third (2007). With this dramatic, rapid rise came controversy. l’Astrance, the smallest and most casual of Paris’ three stars, is different. First, there is no traditional menu. Instead, diners choose how many courses they want and the kitchen chooses what to prepare – a scenario that Joël Robuchon once fantasised about, but did not think possible. Secondly, classic French cuisine and ingredients i.e. heavy saucing, cream, butter have all been abandoned in favour of a healthier, lighter cooking with a decidedly Oriental leaning. Going against the grain however gained them their detractors, some of whom even claimed that the restaurant’s third étoile was political: at the time, there was a cloud around Michelin concerning the stress, emotional and financial, faced by chefs desperate to cling to their stars and they alleged that informal l’Astrance’s third was the guide’s attempt to dispel this. Whether the accusation is true or not, not many would argue that the food here is not of the highest standard and that Barbot is not a talented chef. The pair also seem happy regardless; with a team of half a dozen in the FOH, the same in the kitchen and a self-imposed fifty-covers-a-day limit ‘things are perfect now. We work hard for four days [and] have the weekend to relax and be with our families,’ to quote Rohat.

Barbot, who spent his childhood harvesting vegetables in the family garden and watching his parents cook, claims he knew from the age of seven that he wanted to be a chef. With this in mind, he attended cooking school before stints at Maxim’s, Clavé (1*) and Troisgros (3*). He then moved to London to work under Joël Antunes at Les Saveurs (1990-92) before completing his military service, which had him cooking for the admiral of the French Pacific fleet and island hopping between New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji. He returned to France in 1993 and joined l’Arpège (3*) where he met Rohat. Here, ‘five magical years liberated [him] and gave [him] the desire, with Christophe, to rehabilitate a certain idea of the restaurant that, for [them], must be a place of interchange, coherence and complicity.’ Prior to realising this ‘idea’ though, he went to Ampersand in Sydney for a year (1998-99) and, on his second return, he and Rohat had a very brief spell at historic Lapérouse. Within months, however, they were gone and l’Astrance was born.

The astrance title is not, of course, without a story of its own. Parisian restaurateurs share a belief that having a name starting with A is advantageous as this places them at the beginning of dining guides thus improving their chances of customers calling them first. Barbot and Rohat think the same way, but were at a complete loss as to which A they would use. This was until Rohat, one day hiking in the Auvergne, came across a wild, ironically inedible, star-like flower called Grand Astrance. He immediately phoned his partner…

Barbot, who includes Passard, Gagnaire, Bras, Veyrat and Wakuda as inspirations, is somewhat of a maverick in the kitchen. Rarely does he use measures or weights; his favourite tool is a mortar and pestle he brought back from Thailand with which he loves to make curry paste; just hours after dinner service, he can be found strolling the city’s food markets, like that at Rungis or Iéna; and he is even working with molecular gastronomy scientists. He is impulsive – last-minute weekend trips to Sweden, Morocco and Italy are not unusual – and has an adventurous spirit – James Cook is his hero. In contradiction to his Vichois heritage, his cooking principles are humble, ‘one can do as many things with citrus as with a truffle for example; for me, one and the other deserve the same attention.’ He marries all these influences together to create contemporary, dynamic and exciting food.

l'Astrance - les Fleurs l'Astrance - la Table

l‘Astrance’s unassuming façade is formed of windows filled with bushels of straw. There is a small wooden bar to the left as one enters; to either side of it there is a spiral metal staircase leading, on the left, down and, to the right, up to a cantilevered chrome balcony bearing two tables. Beyond the bar, the Bauhaus dining room, encased by high ceilings and textured, charcoal grey walls has warehouse chic. Bright apricot leather banquettes and chairs stand on stone tile floor. There are just twenty-five covers, but the seven small and single, circle centre table are well-spaced, surely at the expense of larger capacity. The area has a larger-than-real feel from horizontal and vertical mirrors with gilded frames that hang on the walls, which are also inlaid with flower stations. On the far side, a grey, portholed swing-door leads to the kitchen; its colour matches the tall steel poll that is planted in the room’s middle. Uncluttered tabletops are laid with only little vases fashioned from black rock, Bernaudaud crockery and charger plates that come in different tie-dyed shades. Spotlights and recessed halogen panels provide illumination. The room certainly reflects the cooking; minimalistic, colourful and modern. It is also functional, but comfortable; urbane, but modest.

l'Astrance - la Carte

La carte covers merely two pages. One side offers three choices: menu Déjeuner (three courses), menu Hiver (five) and menu Astrance (seven) – each with or without wine pairing. An inventory of ingredients on the other side intimates at what may come. One simply must decide how many dishes they want and let the staff know if there is anything on the list they cannot or will not eat.

Pour moi, bien sûr, c’etait le menu Astrance…

 l'Astrance - Amuse Bouche 1: Biscuit sablé et feuille de thym; pomme vert et raisin au café et cognac

Amuse Bouche 1: Biscuit sablé et feuille de thym; pomme vert et raisin au café et cognac. Biscuit sablé square inset with thyme leaf came with coffee and cognac soaked raisins and sliced Granny Smith quarters. Already on the teaspoon, the biscuit required minimum effort to eat. The texture was more of fudge – brittle to begin, but then breaking apart and melting into a rich paste – yet the flavour was only subtly sweet with mildly menthol linger. The plump and permeated raisins had a very gentle hit of cognac-coffee to them and the sour green apple was fresh; having them together, however, had little extra effect.

l'Astrance - le Pain: Pain campagne

Le Pain: Pain campagne. For bread there was but Hobson’s choice of country brown and bought-in, but at least bought from Jean-Luc Poujauran. If we judge Paris’ bakers by how many three Michelin-starred restaurants they supply, his bakery is the best and by some margin. The slightly sourdough slices had crunchy, lightly charred crusts with fluffy middles and fairly open crumbs. The well-salted butter was Échiré from Deux-Sèvres and carries the AOC stamp of approval.

l'Astrance - Amuse Bouche 2: Velouté de courge, yaourt à la graine de moutarde, mousse du lait au safran et cardamome

Amuse Bouche 2: Velouté de courge, yaourt à la graine de moutarde, mousse du lait au safran et cardamome. A shot of butternut squash soup sitting on mustard seed yoghurt and topped off with saffron and cardamom foam formed the second amuse. The sweetness of the velouté, which had a pleasingly grainy thickness to it, was balanced by the sourness of the yoghurt beneath. The mustard had minor effect offering only a limited heat. Saffron and cardamom meanwhile had surprising strength and clarity, bringing floral, punchy warmth with them.

l'Astrance - Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit

Entrée 1: Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit. Innumerable micro-thin laminae of raw, mandolined Paris mushrooms, assembled on a maple syrup sweetened sheet of pâte â brik, made for an aesthetic alabaster architecture, interrupted only by ingots of verjuice-infused foie gras and flecks of lemon and orange zest; cèpe powder peppered its testudo-esque carapace while confit lemon and hazelnut oil occupied either side of the plate. Although rather fine, the feuilles of fungus still offered a bite that contrasted agreeably with the buttery consistency of the foie, which having arrived at the right temperature, was already ready to melt immediately on the tongue; the flavours were also in as much accord – the earthy, woody delicacy of the former reflected equally by the richness of the latter. The crunchy, sweet pastry, secreted citrus and earthy cèpe sprinkling each added to, rather than distracted from, the mushroom-foie millefeuille. The luminous roasted lemon purée, acting as the mustard to this deconstructed pie, provided some acidity and hazelnut oil, distinctly deep nuttiness.

l'Astrance - Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit 2 l'Astrance - Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit 3

This is the only ever-present on an ever-evolving menu. And for good reason. It pleases the eye through the contrast of colour, consummate craftsmanship and elegance of form. Each element, uncooked, remains scarcely manipulated, its natural quality, texture and freshness on show, pleasing the palate too. Neither is one’s intelligence ignored – the witty juxtaposition of common, basic button mushroom and luxurious, expensive foie gras provides a little mental stimulation whilst the simple fact that the chef has fashioned something so pretty out of offal and fungus provides some more.

l'Astrance - Coquilles Saint-Jacques, coquillages l'Astrance - Dashi

Entrée 2: Coquilles Saint-Jacques, coquillages, dashi. A small auburn splash of seaweed butter was circumscribed with shellfish and citrus with a clay bowl of mussels, razor clam and komatsuna in kombo dashi delivered alongside: moving anticlockwise, this marine ring consisted of scallop sprinkled with lime zest; Meyer lemon confit; Aquitaine caviar on golden beetroot; oyster over lemon caviar with shiso leaf; and abalone. Pan fried scallop was cooked well, but tasted weak; the Meyer lemon – a Chinese cross between common lemon and mandarin with a smooth, fragrant, edible skin and less acidity – was agreeably bittersweet; and pickled betterave jaune, more sugary than regular red beetroot, was matched by the salty caviar d’Aquitaine. The oyster Marenne d’Oléron, a fine example, was briny-sweet but clean; it was balanced by the tangy, tiny lemon bubbles with the shiso, minty and anise, a nice addition. Abalone had mild sea-like savour and chewy consistency. The pick of the plate was the tasty kombo butter – rich, creamy and crammed with umami, it brought the dish together.

From the dashi, the fleshy razor clam and komatsuna – a Japanese member of the turnip family similar to slightly spicy cabbage – stood out. The clear, pure bouillon d’algue itself supplied more MSG.

l'Astrance - Cabillaud, salade au carotte et cacahuètes 

Plat Principal 1: Cabillaud, salade au carotte et cacahuètes. A chunk of cod, caramelised perfect persimmon colour yet its centre still almost translucent, sat on julienne yellow and orange carrot, roasted peanut and fennel salad and was partnered by a deft duxelle of papaya and mango. The cod was cooked impeccably; this was possibly the best form of this fish I have ever eaten. Its firm, moist, flavourful flakes were contrasted against crunchy, creamy peanuts; sweet, crisp carrot; and al dente fennel, which, with the Thai basil seasoning, shares an affinity for seafood. Red chilli gave the salad some spice and a subtly acidic counterpoint came in the frame of the fruity, finely-diced quenelle.

l'Astrance - Turbot, Oursin, Epinard l'Astrance - Turbot, Oursin, Epinard 2

Plat Principal 2: Turbot, oursin, epinard. Thin, but fatty fillet of turbot was teamed with cream of sea urchin, their tongues as well as barely sautéed spinach, secreted beneath which was citron confit. This succulent specimen, like the previous cod, could not have been cooked better; slow-roasted, the fish’s fat had slowly fused into its flesh – the surface was almost crisp, whereas the meat, rich. Its delicate flavour found consensus in both incarnations of the sweet, briny urchin: the unctuous crème, full of relish, and the scrumptious, melt-away roe. The coarse lemon pulp was contrastingly sour whilst the spinach, supple and well-seasoned.

l'Astrance - Entremet 1: Velouté de celeri, truffe noire, gratiné à la Tomme d’Auvergne

Entremet 1: Velouté de celeri, truffe noire, gratiné à la Tomme d’Auvergne. A bowl brimming with concentric circles of black truffle cream, surrounded by chiffon-coloured celery purée, was trimmed with triangles of Tomme d’Auvergne au gratin and a tranche of truffle. This crowning cheese, with rust-tinted crust, is local to Barbot’s native Auvergne; (as tomme suggests) it is made on a small farm and is a cheese of distinction. Is it also ideal warm and released a nutty aroma that mingled with that of the truffle. The celery was surprisingly saccharine, but the crème de truffe, very earthy; when mixed together, each tamed the other, meeting at a pleasant medium.

l'Astrance - Canard de Challans, salade au poireau, truffe noire 2 l'Astrance - Canard de Challans, salade au poireau, truffe noire l'Astrance - Canard de Challans, salade au poireau, truffe noire 3

Plat Principal 3: Canard de Challans, salade au poireau, truffe noire. A couple of brink pink pieces of Challans duck poised over additional duck set in jus de truffe, lay upon leek, caper and black truffle, all chopped and seasoned with ginger, garlic and soy sauce. Grilled and then roasted at low temperature, the duck lived up to its reputation. This black Barbary had delicious, juicy steak-like meat and a lean lining of tempting fat that melted in the mouth. The truffle and jus rôti together had real deep, savoury relish yet remained rather light, clearly made without much cream or butter. More minced truffle was intersprinkled through the vegetable salad. The leeks were moist but crunchy, their mellow sweetness balanced by the saltiness of the soy. Although the capers went unnoticed, the ginger did add some citric spice.

l'Astrance - Entremet 2: Surprise - s'avancer à dire!

Entremet 2: Surprise – s’avancer à dire! Next it was the infamous ‘can you guess what it is?’ course. A small bowl bore warm, airy mousse around a central spoonful of colder, denser substance. The mousse was slightly sour, sweet and starchy at once whereas the middle matter was aromatic and creamy.

For those curious, I, obviously, deduced all the ingredients correctly (wink), but I think it best that I not reveal them here and spoil the fun for future diners.

l'Astrance - les Desserts

Savouries savoured, it was time for sweets. Four treats arrived simultaneously with instructions to start on the right and work my way around.

l'Astrance - Sorbet Piment-Citronelle

Dessert 1: Sorbet piment-citronelle. To clear my palate and revive my appetite I began with a trou Normand: soft, cold sorbet shot. Immediately the scent of lemongrass and ginger carried from the little glass. On tasting the concoction, my taste buds were initially confused. Simultaneously, I sensed the crisp heat of exotic peppers, but also the icy temperature of smooth sorbet – hot and cold concurrently. If that was not enough, then came a subtle undercurrent of exotic ginger and heady lemongrass. Barbot, apparently having come across these unusually strong chillies in Asia, then found a way whereby suffusing them with syrup extracts their savour without their burning sensation. It worked wonderfully well.

l'Astrance - Thé vert, mousse de lait, sorbet pamplemousse l'Astrance - Dedans le thé vert, mousse de lait, sorbet pamplemousse

Dessert 2: Thé vert, mousse de lait, sorbet pamplemousse. A small quenelle of grapefruit sorbet, submerged in milk foam, came sitting on crème de thé vert studded with caramelised pistachio and pumpkin seed, itself coating Génoise cake; a sugar tuile straightjacket held all the elements together. The supporting sponge had become moist after absorbing the juices from above; the matcha mousse was smoky and ever so slightly astringent; its nuts and seeds were crunchy; whilst the emulsion on top was clean and light. The sorbet, distinct and sour, complemented the green tea; and the croustillant coat was sugary and crispy.

l'Astrance - Sabayon de mangue, clafoutis de mangue et pomme

Dessert 3: Sabayon de mangue, clafoutis de mangue et pomme. Another Génoise cake acted as a cushion for mango and apple clafoutis that lay covered in mango sabayon soused with jus de mangue and embedded with a caramelised cluster of peanuts and almonds. Airy, sweet sabayon had a fruity zing that corresponded with the concentrated mango juice that surrounded it. The fruit filling was aromatic and tasty; clafoutis, like custard, was creamy and rich; whilst the cake supplied some substance.

l'Astrance - Riz au lait parfumée au yuzu

Dessert 4: Riz au lait parfumée au yuzu. Rice pudding imbued with yuzu was layered with a thin film of honey jelly upon which passion fruit caramel was poured at the table. This sauce was like syrup and had seriously strong passion fruit tanginess whilst the honey film (made with agar agar) was opposingly sweet. The rice pudding underneath was thick and yummy with little surprise pieces of yuzu zest that added nice acidity.

l'Astrance - Petit Fours: Lait de poule, madeleines au miel de châtaignier, fruits frais de saison l'Astrance - Petit Fours: Lait de poule, madeleines au miel de châtaignier, fruits frais de saison 2

Petit Fours: Lait de poule, madeleines au miel de châtaignier, fruits frais de saison. Jasmine egg nog served in an egg shell à la Passard; baby basket of chestnut honey madeleines; and a plate of seasonal fruit formed the petit fours. The floral fragrance and flavour of jasmine was startlingly clear and egg nog, fluffy and sweet. Unfortunately, the madeleines, soft, crusty and faintly honeyed, came cold – apparently this was intentional, but I do always like these more when warm. The fruit salad – apple, date, mango, mandarin and pineapple – though an unusual finish, was refreshing and very much in keeping with the character of the cooking. The jumbo, fleshy Californian date and sugary, but not overly sharp, pineapple pleased the most.

The service here is very smooth. The minimal wait staff – I counted only four, including Christophe, in the FOH today – work well as a team; efficient, attentive and always available. There is also a real relaxedness, enthusiasm and humour to all, whilst still being courteous, discreet and professional. Every attempt seems to be made to engage the customer, culminating in having them even guess what they are eating. The courses were timed expertly and I was pleased with the detailed knowledge of the food that my serveur had. However, my only whine, and it is only a minor one, was his insistence on speaking English (which, to be fair, he spoke well). Maybe he was not convinced by my own fluency in his tongue, but I did hope that only addressing him in French may have been hint enough that that was what I preferred in return.

l'Astrance - Pascal Barbot et moi

After lunch, I was able to speak to Barbot himself and he certainly lived up to expectation – curious, unassuming, sincere and constantly smiling. He was still visibly full of energy, even after a full service, and was very easy to talk to – his perfect English helped. As an aside, whilst we talked, I was also struck by how very small the kitchen was (twelve metres square).

It must be said that the restaurant is strikingly quiet – but not in a hushed, one-must-remain-respectfully-silent sort of way. Instead, there was an almost palpable concentration in the room as diners were intently focused on their dishes. I guess not knowing what was coming and because each plate had a certain exclusivity and possibly personal touch to it may explain this. As does the limited seating and spacious interior. I like to think though that it has more to do with the former and that l’Astrance’s clientele really care about what they are eating – as if the restaurant were full of foodies. That said, it does seem to attract more than its fair share of gastro-tourists.

I, for one, love Barbot’s concept. When I first heard that it was the chef who decided what to cook and each dish would be a surprise, I was delighted. In fact, it would not be the first or last time I have left it up to the kitchen to choose what courses I would be having. I like this strategy as, first, I am impossibly indecisive when it comes to ordering (as regular readers may know) and secondly, I am firmly in the school that believes no one knows better than the chef what ingredients are best that day and what he is in the mood to cook – and surely if the chef is enjoying what he is making, there is more chance that I will enjoy eating it. Actually it was not until a friend pointed out the opposite view point that I was even aware one existed. In short, he argued that what Barbot is doing is utterly shellfish; that he is having fun at the customers’ expense and has settled on this method to keep himself from getting bored. Now, he may be right, but, with all due respect, I do not care if he is; at the end of the day, what really matters to me is whether I enjoyed my meal – which I did.

Some of the cooking on show today was stunning. The galette, the cod (which, I repeat, I have never had better), the turbot, the duck – each was perfectly prepared. Technically brilliant, the food was also full of flavour, colour and vibrancy. The ingredients impressed with both their taste and their originality. Barbot is very well-travelled and his cuisine clearly reflects this; before each course, not only was I guessing whether it would be meat, fish or…other, but also where the recipe would come from. Lunch was a gastronomic tour that started and ended in France but stopped in Japan and Thailand along the way.

It was on his own comprehensive journeys that the chef developed and refined his approach: ‘of my two years spent in London I kept the soy, the ginger, the lemongrass and all the spices that expand the taste palate. From my military service in New Caledonia I brought back the coconut, vanilla and lime. From Japan, the tea ceremony and a different approach to the meal’. During his time in the (hotter) Far East, he also became accustomed to cooking without cream and butter, using milk as his base liquid instead. This is all in addition to his l’Arpège training and Passard’s presence is indeed keenly felt through the cleanness of presentation and cuisine and the respect for fruit and vegetables.

It is minimalism, personality and detail that dictate Barbot’s style. Minimalism comes in many forms: treatment of ingredients; cooking processes; plating and even calories. There is an obvious absence of saucing (condiments taking their place) as well as salt and pepper, which have been replaced with herbs and spices. The chef also appears to prefer to preserve inherent form as well as flavour; where possible, produce remains whole and intact. Cooking is simple, again not distorting the shape of the food, its texture or its taste.  Barbot’s attention to detail comes through with respect to plate aesthetics especially; there is striking neatness, lightness and elegance in appearance. His motto is quality over quantity – and it shows. By personality I refer both to his character and to a lesser extent the personal tailoring of each dish to the diner. A love of the Auvergne is obvious as his affection for Asian cuisine. That being said, the ubiquity of acidity and especially citrus is possibly the clearest clue as to his own tastes. He has been quoted as saying, ‘I love citrus; it’s impossible for me to cook without it’ and he repeated as much again after lunch.

The Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras is an excellent illustration of Barbot’s approach. Here he employs really just two main ingredients, both raw, both minimally treated. Instead of transforming them, he uses their innate properties and principally how these contrast to ‘make’ the dish. Building on the basic physical differences – smooth against crisp, rich against earthy – he also incorporates the visual variation of dark against light and then, to maybe a more quixotic extent, luxury against economy. Additionally, there is that always-present acidic touch, which works excellently here, and a presentation that demonstrates the kitchen’s precision and artistry too.

When l’Astrance first opened, it was regarded as revolutionary. Many saw Barbot as a cook acting contrarily to French customs – no saucing and eschewing cream and butter, the staples of French cookery. He was redefining French cooking. I cannot really comment on much of what went before, but today, in my opinion, Barbot seems to encapsulate contemporary French haute cuisine. Light, simple, clean, harmonious, fascinated with the Far East – these are some of the governing dynamics that dominate Paris’ gastronomy at present. This is not a value judgement, but what is deemed by many as quintessentially French – hearty, rich, saucy recipes – seems to have become anachronistic and a symptom of yesteryear. This sort of cooking is certainly still alive, but is more common at the two star level. It is as if to get that third star, food needs daintiness.

As much as I approve of l’Astrance’s approach, I know it is an inherently risky one, relying largely on two things – the quality of the ingredients; and the mood/presence of Barbot. His elemental, Spartan style leaves him susceptible and at the mercy of his materials. To ensure against this the best suppliers are sought – for example, Hugo Desnoyer is Barbot’s butcher – and the surprise concept helps too as there is no obligation to deliver specific dishes; each day meals are made only from products that meet the mandatory minimum. As mentioned earlier, the menu may also aide in mitigating the second risk in that the chef is challenged each day and kept interested. The fact that the restaurant is open only four days a week is another concession to this.

To summarise, I really enjoyed the food at l’Astrance. Being served some of my favourite ingredients no doubt helped and this was very much luck of the draw, but I was impressed with the technique apparent and the appetising, vivid arrangements on the plate. I appreciated the attentiveness to detail as well, which as readers may be able to attest to, is something I always like to see. I also had fun and definitely feel that not knowing what to expect next enriched the whole experience.

I must admit that I admire Barbot. Many regard Gagnaire as the mad scientist behind the stove, but, to a degree, I think this label can apply to this chef too. It is no easy thing to conceive and create such dishes on a daily basis. I think that the fact that he has been able to do this – whilst also essentially at the top of his game – so consistently and for so long, says a lot about his character.

For one thing, the man must really love to cook.


- Foodsnobblog - 2009 January 7th

ALifeworthEating.com
L'Astrance

L'Astrance

I’d always considered French cuisine to be stagnant and unchanging: thick mother sauces blanketing filets of meat and fish with fancy adornments.  It was when I actually lived here for a few years that I discovered the new wave of French cuisine led by garden fresh vegetables and lighter preparations.  Mother sauces were on vacation.

L’Arpège quickly became the restaurant spearheading Paris’s back-to-the-garden movement.  L’Astrance peaked my interest when I heard of the restaurant’s compulsiveness for fresh vegetables combined with its ability to integrate elements of molecular gastronomy: spherification, foams, and non-traditional flavor extractions made this menu really exciting.  Here was a young and extremely talented chef, Pascal Barbot, who went from one Michelin star to three in just under seven years.

Reservations, though, were not easy to obtain.  I made my L’Astrance reservation nearly two months to the date and even that required some negotiation.  When the much anticipated day finally came it was cold, dark, and rainy.  Trekking through the Paris metro with damp clothes and squeaky shoes was uncomfortable.  Particularly because the metro stations become slippery death traps when wet.  After a fourty-five minute struggle through what seemed to be a tornado we arrived soaked and hungry.  Perhaps by chance, perhaps because we were embarrassingly wet, we were seated upstairs away from the other diners.  But I really liked the birds-eye perspective this gave us of the dining room.  It felt like, just for a moment, the restaurant was ours.

Service started pretty quickly from M. Christophe Rohat.  While at first he seemed a bit cold he quickly began to warm up to us, even laughing and smiling at our jokes.

Cuiller de parmesan crémeux – Thick wedges of butter-laden toasted brioche with small bubbles of spherified parmesan.  The small bubbles tasted like cheese but had a creamy and silky smooth molten texture.  We were also brought thick slices of bread by Jean-Luc Poujauran.

Dr. Loosen 2006 (Wehlener Sonnenuhr) Riesling Kabinett – Fresh lime from the nose through the finish lends a juicy and invigorating streak, and a distinct sense of wet stone, too, provides a cantus firmus.  Just kidding.

Purée d’asperge verte, yaourt au sésame, lait au champignon – A tall shot glass of asparagus purée, sesame yogurt, and mushroom-infused milk foam.  The raw asparagus created a smell similar to freshly cut grass.  This reminded me more of an occasional wheatgrass shot than something I would want to drink regularly.  A generous salting would have helped to better bring out the asparagus flavor, but this still tasted too fresh and overall unappealing.  The pairing with the sweet riesling somehow made the asparagus taste sweeter, however, and made this a great combination for an otherwise weak course.

Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit – A speciality of chef Barbot.  This entire layered cake was raw, not a single component cooked.  Thin slices of button mushrooms with verjuice-marinated foie gras.  Orange zest was sprinkled throughout the layers to add a hint of acidity while brightening up the mushrooms.  The paper-thin layers of mushroom were supported by a crispy layer of brik dough.  The pleasantly squeaky cold wedge was dusted with a salty porcini powder.  This nearly carbohydrate-free dish was fascinating conceptually.  This is the only dish that can always be found on the menu at L’Astrance, everything else changes constantly.  I really liked this.

Langoustines juste poelées, soupe thailandais, legumes et fleurs de printemps - A Thai-influcenced course of flash-fried langoustines served alongside coconut milk, lemongrass, and ginger.  The langoustines were cooked just to the border of raw and soft leaving the stringy and creamy texture intact.  This was delicious and the lightly charred flavor from the shell added a smokey component to the broth which really brought everything together.  This was paired with Loimer 2006 Grüner-Veltliner “Kamptal,” whose dry acidity helped break down the creamy coconut broth.

Asperges vertes et blanches au cumin, purée de cédrat, sauge cassis, amandes caramélisées – Thick stalks of white and green asparagus seasoned with cumin and Andean silverleaf sage.  The cumin added a tannic element to the asparagus with a hint of smokiness while the sage added a subtle frutiness.  This was served with a very bright quenelle of lemon purée, bringing a very strong acidity to the dish.  The addition of lemon wasn’t bad, but it strongly contrasted against my anticipation of how the dish was going to taste.  At first I didn’t like it, but as I approached the dish from a fresh vantage point, I really liked how the lemon brought out the sweetness of the asparagus.  The dish was decorated with a few caramelized almonds which added a chewy but sweet crunch.  This was paired with a 2004 Riesling Wineck Schlossberg (Alsace Grand Cru) which was dry and nutty.

Sériole sautée, coquillages cuisinées légèrement, purée des légumes verts, confit d’agrumes – A sautéed filet of yellowtail with an entire small abalone and large mussel.  The abalone was firm and smooth making it essential to slice it thinly to maximize flavor.  The yellowtail was tender, soft, and flaky: the light pan searing really locked in the juices.  This dish was seasoned with nothing more than salt and a hint of butter letting nature speak for itself.  This was served with a watercress purée adding a vegetal bitterness to the palate of flavors.  There was also a bright citrus confit tucked away behind the filet which made this dish a bit sour.  I really liked everything on the plate except the sharp inclusion of citrus.  My palate was a little sore from the sourness the citrus had added to the previous course.  This was served with Domaine de la Louvetrie 1993 Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Fief du Breil (Jo Landron).

Saint-Pierre cuisiné lentement, chou-fleur, piment doux, câpres, puntarelles – Slow-cooked John Dory with cauliflower and a bed of capers, red peppers, and puntarelle, a bitter Italian vegetable in the chicory family.  One of the things I like most about John Dory is the smooth and butter flavor it develops when lightly cooked.  The fish here was a little too firm for my liking.  This might have been the intention of the dish, I just wasn’t used to it and it was difficult to overcome my preconcieved notions of how the dish should taste.  I’m also not crazy about capers and the acidity they contributed to the dish; it sort of made me pucker my cheeks.  I’m still not sure if I liked it; this was the third course in a row with strong acidity and sourness.  This was served with Pierre Gonon (2006??) Saint-Joseph Les Oliviers (Blanc) whose minerality rounded out the bright capers.

Poitrine de porc, haricots blancs, émulsion de chorizo – A thick slice of pork belly with equally thick stripes of meat and fat.  The fork-tender meat literally melted in my mouth.  It was served atop a small bed of white beans and chorizo dashed with chili and paprika.  Everything about this dish was wonderful, from the doneness of the meat to the subtle spice the chili added to the fatty layers.  My friend Julien who shared this meal with us was so enamored with this course that he snuck to the bathroom to ask for a second round.  The restaurant served us a second course with as much enthusiasm as I had anticipating its arrival.  This was served with a full-bodied Bodegas Toro Albalá 1922 Viejisimo Solera Amontillado which really cut through the pork’s fatty mouthfeel.

Poularde de Bresse aux morilles, fondue de parmesan, sauce au vin jaune – My god this was amazing!  This was the softest, most tender, juciest piece of Bresse hen I have ever tasted.  The browning of the skin made it seem like it was roasted, but my friend Julien insisted it was cooked on the stove.  The cooking process removed much of the fat from the skin leaving behind an ultra-thin layer of crispy flavor.  The chicken came a bit undersalted for our tastes, but our waiter fixed that.  An extra pinch of salt and this dish was outstanding.  The meat sat atop a bed of parmesan fondue, sautéed morels, and a sharp vin jaune sauce.  This was the highlight dish of the afternoon.  It was also paired with 1996 “Mysterre” Vin de Table (Patrice Lescarret; Dix ans de voile).


Sorbet piment-citronnelle – Lemongrass and hot pepper sorbet.  I tried something similar to this at Alinea where habanero pepper was infused in water and later distilled to remove all the spice while leaving behind the pepper’s sweetness.  Here, the spice remained creating a twist of cold and hot in the mouth at the same time.  I can’t say this tasted great, but it was very stimulating to my palate.  This was paired with the very sweet and fruity 2003 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese.

Sabayon à l’orange amère, nougatine – Bitter orange sabayon with nougatine.  Bright, sour, delicate, and airy.

Tartelette pistache-abricot, mousse de rhubarbe – A pistachio and abricot tart with rhubarb mousse.  This too was surprisingly light and airy with hints of lemon zest to further brighten this up.

Mousse au safran et citron vert, sablé breton – A cylinder of saffron mousse adorned with lime zest.  This sat atop a buttery cookie crumble.  My girlfriend noted that the fruity mousse tasted sort of like Trix cereal.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing … just funny.  Barbot’s use of acidic elements in all of his dishes really shined through with the desserts, particularly in this case where the citrus tasted great alongside the saffron mousse.

Lait de poule au jasmin – Jasmin-infused eggnog inside hollowed-out eggs.  I couldn’t help but think that this smelled like a home cleaning product.  The eggnog really tasted good however; it was light and creamy with subtle sweetness.

Madeleines au miel de châtaignier – Chestnut and honey madelines.  These were very good, but think about how much better they could have been had they arrived warm like at Daniel Boulud restaurants.  What a difference temperature can make.

Fruits frais – A gorgeous plate of grapes, mango, orange, and plump and juicy medjool dates.  The dates were so exceptionally juicy we asked for a second round.  They really were outstanding.

Barbot’s cuisine is precise, intentional, and exceptionally careful: all ingredients are methodically prepared ensuring accurate cooking.  But at the end of the meal I was left in a bit of confusion.  On the one hand there were some courses I loved.  The Poularde de Bresse, for example, was the finest cooking of hen I’ve ever experienced.  Barbot’s obsessiveness with fresh ingredients really came through with his unabashed use of raw vegetables throughout the meal, as if to say, “these vegetables are so fresh, they don’t need cooking.”  And he’d be right.  It really takes a level of humility and confidence to take a step back and let nature speak for itself.


However on the other hand, there was an almost obsessive need to include strong acidity in every course.  While this is something loved by many, my palate is very sensitive to sourness and at times I found this off-putting.  More than three quarters of the meal was influenced with sourness.  Thankfully most of the acidic components were side accompaniments and I could control their inclusion with each bite.  This was very clever: it’s there if you need it, but not required.  I guess that’s just a difference in taste.

Sommelier Alexandre Jean’s pairing was so scrupulous that there were several courses where I didn’t particularly care for the dish but when paired with the wine the amalgamation was exceptional.  I would argue that Alexandre Jean’s pairing is essential to maximize the experience.

I really enjoyed my experience at L’Astrance.  But it’s a bit of a a bit like roulette as the menu and its focus changes on a daily basis.  It’s possible that the overwhelming acidity was simply the focus of the day’s menu, though I doubt it.  I hope to return to return again to L’Astrance again sometime soon.  Hopefully when lemons are out of season.

- ALifeworthEating.com

Foodsnobblog.wordpress.com
l’Astrance, Paris

l’Astrance, Paris

l'Astrance

To think, I almost did not make it to l’Astrance. In all honesty, I had nearly crossed it off, naïvely pigeonholing it as a restaurant better suited to spring than midwinter. This was until a far better knowing friend told me ‘go! You must go!’ – and as regular readers may know by now, I always do what my friends tell me to.

Wanting to go is one thing, getting a reservation is another. Apparently a table at l’Astrance is not easy to attain; apparently there is a permanent two-month waiting list. The fact that, by the time I decided that I had to eat there, they had already closed for Christmas, did not help either. Nevertheless, undaunted, I called the morning they reopened (the fifth) and asked for a table for today (the sixth). I did have to ply not inconsiderable charm, then wait on hold not an inconsiderable while, but I finally got what I wanted.

In October 2000, Pascal Barbot and Christophe Rohat, formerly sous chef and maître d’hôtel at l’Arpège respectively, opened their own restaurant. With the aid of bank loans borrowed by the pair after Rohat won a prestigious Heidsieck Monopole prize for best restaurant business plan, the two bought a closed-down bistro in a sleepy street in the 16th. They were an instant success. Leading Parisian critic, Bénédict Beaugé, even commented that their new venture was ‘the most important gastronomic event’ of the time. Such coverage, as well as Passard’s personal mailing list of five hundred loyal clients, ensured that from then on, l’Astrance would be one of the city’s most sought-after tables.

Within only months (five) of setting up, Michelin awarded them their first star (2001), though they did have to wait a little longer for the second (2005) and then third (2007). With this dramatic, rapid rise came controversy. l’Astrance, the smallest and most casual of Paris’ three stars, is different. First, there is no traditional menu. Instead, diners choose how many courses they want and the kitchen chooses what to prepare – a scenario that Joël Robuchon once fantasised about, but did not think possible. Secondly, classic French cuisine and ingredients i.e. heavy saucing, cream, butter have all been abandoned in favour of a healthier, lighter cooking with a decidedly Oriental leaning. Going against the grain however gained them their detractors, some of whom even claimed that the restaurant’s third étoile was political: at the time, there was a cloud around Michelin concerning the stress, emotional and financial, faced by chefs desperate to cling to their stars and they alleged that informal l’Astrance’s third was the guide’s attempt to dispel this. Whether the accusation is true or not, not many would argue that the food here is not of the highest standard and that Barbot is not a talented chef. The pair also seem happy regardless; with a team of half a dozen in the FOH, the same in the kitchen and a self-imposed fifty-covers-a-day limit ‘things are perfect now. We work hard for four days [and] have the weekend to relax and be with our families,’ to quote Rohat.

Barbot, who spent his childhood harvesting vegetables in the family garden and watching his parents cook, claims he knew from the age of seven that he wanted to be a chef. With this in mind, he attended cooking school before stints at Maxim’s, Clavé (1*) and Troisgros (3*). He then moved to London to work under Joël Antunes at Les Saveurs (1990-92) before completing his military service, which had him cooking for the admiral of the French Pacific fleet and island hopping between New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji. He returned to France in 1993 and joined l’Arpège (3*) where he met Rohat. Here, ‘five magical years liberated [him] and gave [him] the desire, with Christophe, to rehabilitate a certain idea of the restaurant that, for [them], must be a place of interchange, coherence and complicity.’ Prior to realising this ‘idea’ though, he went to Ampersand in Sydney for a year (1998-99) and, on his second return, he and Rohat had a very brief spell at historic Lapérouse. Within months, however, they were gone and l’Astrance was born.

The astrance title is not, of course, without a story of its own. Parisian restaurateurs share a belief that having a name starting with A is advantageous as this places them at the beginning of dining guides thus improving their chances of customers calling them first. Barbot and Rohat think the same way, but were at a complete loss as to which A they would use. This was until Rohat, one day hiking in the Auvergne, came across a wild, ironically inedible, star-like flower called Grand Astrance. He immediately phoned his partner…

Barbot, who includes Passard, Gagnaire, Bras, Veyrat and Wakuda as inspirations, is somewhat of a maverick in the kitchen. Rarely does he use measures or weights; his favourite tool is a mortar and pestle he brought back from Thailand with which he loves to make curry paste; just hours after dinner service, he can be found strolling the city’s food markets, like that at Rungis or Iéna; and he is even working with molecular gastronomy scientists. He is impulsive – last-minute weekend trips to Sweden, Morocco and Italy are not unusual – and has an adventurous spirit – James Cook is his hero. In contradiction to his Vichois heritage, his cooking principles are humble, ‘one can do as many things with citrus as with a truffle for example; for me, one and the other deserve the same attention.’ He marries all these influences together to create contemporary, dynamic and exciting food.

l'Astrance - les Fleurs l'Astrance - la Table

l‘Astrance’s unassuming façade is formed of windows filled with bushels of straw. There is a small wooden bar to the left as one enters; to either side of it there is a spiral metal staircase leading, on the left, down and, to the right, up to a cantilevered chrome balcony bearing two tables. Beyond the bar, the Bauhaus dining room, encased by high ceilings and textured, charcoal grey walls has warehouse chic. Bright apricot leather banquettes and chairs stand on stone tile floor. There are just twenty-five covers, but the seven small and single, circle centre table are well-spaced, surely at the expense of larger capacity. The area has a larger-than-real feel from horizontal and vertical mirrors with gilded frames that hang on the walls, which are also inlaid with flower stations. On the far side, a grey, portholed swing-door leads to the kitchen; its colour matches the tall steel poll that is planted in the room’s middle. Uncluttered tabletops are laid with only little vases fashioned from black rock, Bernaudaud crockery and charger plates that come in different tie-dyed shades. Spotlights and recessed halogen panels provide illumination. The room certainly reflects the cooking; minimalistic, colourful and modern. It is also functional, but comfortable; urbane, but modest.

l'Astrance - la Carte

La carte covers merely two pages. One side offers three choices: menu Déjeuner (three courses), menu Hiver (five) and menu Astrance (seven) – each with or without wine pairing. An inventory of ingredients on the other side intimates at what may come. One simply must decide how many dishes they want and let the staff know if there is anything on the list they cannot or will not eat.

Pour moi, bien sûr, c’etait le menu Astrance…

 l'Astrance - Amuse Bouche 1: Biscuit sablé et feuille de thym; pomme vert et raisin au café et cognac

Amuse Bouche 1: Biscuit sablé et feuille de thym; pomme vert et raisin au café et cognac. Biscuit sablé square inset with thyme leaf came with coffee and cognac soaked raisins and sliced Granny Smith quarters. Already on the teaspoon, the biscuit required minimum effort to eat. The texture was more of fudge – brittle to begin, but then breaking apart and melting into a rich paste – yet the flavour was only subtly sweet with mildly menthol linger. The plump and permeated raisins had a very gentle hit of cognac-coffee to them and the sour green apple was fresh; having them together, however, had little extra effect.

l'Astrance - le Pain: Pain campagne

Le Pain: Pain campagne. For bread there was but Hobson’s choice of country brown and bought-in, but at least bought from Jean-Luc Poujauran. If we judge Paris’ bakers by how many three Michelin-starred restaurants they supply, his bakery is the best and by some margin. The slightly sourdough slices had crunchy, lightly charred crusts with fluffy middles and fairly open crumbs. The well-salted butter was Échiré from Deux-Sèvres and carries the AOC stamp of approval.

l'Astrance - Amuse Bouche 2: Velouté de courge, yaourt à la graine de moutarde, mousse du lait au safran et cardamome

Amuse Bouche 2: Velouté de courge, yaourt à la graine de moutarde, mousse du lait au safran et cardamome. A shot of butternut squash soup sitting on mustard seed yoghurt and topped off with saffron and cardamom foam formed the second amuse. The sweetness of the velouté, which had a pleasingly grainy thickness to it, was balanced by the sourness of the yoghurt beneath. The mustard had minor effect offering only a limited heat. Saffron and cardamom meanwhile had surprising strength and clarity, bringing floral, punchy warmth with them.

l'Astrance - Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit

Entrée 1: Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit. Innumerable micro-thin laminae of raw, mandolined Paris mushrooms, assembled on a maple syrup sweetened sheet of pâte â brik, made for an aesthetic alabaster architecture, interrupted only by ingots of verjuice-infused foie gras and flecks of lemon and orange zest; cèpe powder peppered its testudo-esque carapace while confit lemon and hazelnut oil occupied either side of the plate. Although rather fine, the feuilles of fungus still offered a bite that contrasted agreeably with the buttery consistency of the foie, which having arrived at the right temperature, was already ready to melt immediately on the tongue; the flavours were also in as much accord – the earthy, woody delicacy of the former reflected equally by the richness of the latter. The crunchy, sweet pastry, secreted citrus and earthy cèpe sprinkling each added to, rather than distracted from, the mushroom-foie millefeuille. The luminous roasted lemon purée, acting as the mustard to this deconstructed pie, provided some acidity and hazelnut oil, distinctly deep nuttiness.

l'Astrance - Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit 2 l'Astrance - Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette, citron confit 3

This is the only ever-present on an ever-evolving menu. And for good reason. It pleases the eye through the contrast of colour, consummate craftsmanship and elegance of form. Each element, uncooked, remains scarcely manipulated, its natural quality, texture and freshness on show, pleasing the palate too. Neither is one’s intelligence ignored – the witty juxtaposition of common, basic button mushroom and luxurious, expensive foie gras provides a little mental stimulation whilst the simple fact that the chef has fashioned something so pretty out of offal and fungus provides some more.

l'Astrance - Coquilles Saint-Jacques, coquillages l'Astrance - Dashi

Entrée 2: Coquilles Saint-Jacques, coquillages, dashi. A small auburn splash of seaweed butter was circumscribed with shellfish and citrus with a clay bowl of mussels, razor clam and komatsuna in kombo dashi delivered alongside: moving anticlockwise, this marine ring consisted of scallop sprinkled with lime zest; Meyer lemon confit; Aquitaine caviar on golden beetroot; oyster over lemon caviar with shiso leaf; and abalone. Pan fried scallop was cooked well, but tasted weak; the Meyer lemon – a Chinese cross between common lemon and mandarin with a smooth, fragrant, edible skin and less acidity – was agreeably bittersweet; and pickled betterave jaune, more sugary than regular red beetroot, was matched by the salty caviar d’Aquitaine. The oyster Marenne d’Oléron, a fine example, was briny-sweet but clean; it was balanced by the tangy, tiny lemon bubbles with the shiso, minty and anise, a nice addition. Abalone had mild sea-like savour and chewy consistency. The pick of the plate was the tasty kombo butter – rich, creamy and crammed with umami, it brought the dish together.

From the dashi, the fleshy razor clam and komatsuna – a Japanese member of the turnip family similar to slightly spicy cabbage – stood out. The clear, pure bouillon d’algue itself supplied more MSG.

l'Astrance - Cabillaud, salade au carotte et cacahuètes 

Plat Principal 1: Cabillaud, salade au carotte et cacahuètes. A chunk of cod, caramelised perfect persimmon colour yet its centre still almost translucent, sat on julienne yellow and orange carrot, roasted peanut and fennel salad and was partnered by a deft duxelle of papaya and mango. The cod was cooked impeccably; this was possibly the best form of this fish I have ever eaten. Its firm, moist, flavourful flakes were contrasted against crunchy, creamy peanuts; sweet, crisp carrot; and al dente fennel, which, with the Thai basil seasoning, shares an affinity for seafood. Red chilli gave the salad some spice and a subtly acidic counterpoint came in the frame of the fruity, finely-diced quenelle.

l'Astrance - Turbot, Oursin, Epinard l'Astrance - Turbot, Oursin, Epinard 2

Plat Principal 2: Turbot, oursin, epinard. Thin, but fatty fillet of turbot was teamed with cream of sea urchin, their tongues as well as barely sautéed spinach, secreted beneath which was citron confit. This succulent specimen, like the previous cod, could not have been cooked better; slow-roasted, the fish’s fat had slowly fused into its flesh – the surface was almost crisp, whereas the meat, rich. Its delicate flavour found consensus in both incarnations of the sweet, briny urchin: the unctuous crème, full of relish, and the scrumptious, melt-away roe. The coarse lemon pulp was contrastingly sour whilst the spinach, supple and well-seasoned.

l'Astrance - Entremet 1: Velouté de celeri, truffe noire, gratiné à la Tomme d’Auvergne

Entremet 1: Velouté de celeri, truffe noire, gratiné à la Tomme d’Auvergne. A bowl brimming with concentric circles of black truffle cream, surrounded by chiffon-coloured celery purée, was trimmed with triangles of Tomme d’Auvergne au gratin and a tranche of truffle. This crowning cheese, with rust-tinted crust, is local to Barbot’s native Auvergne; (as tomme suggests) it is made on a small farm and is a cheese of distinction. Is it also ideal warm and released a nutty aroma that mingled with that of the truffle. The celery was surprisingly saccharine, but the crème de truffe, very earthy; when mixed together, each tamed the other, meeting at a pleasant medium.

l'Astrance - Canard de Challans, salade au poireau, truffe noire 2 l'Astrance - Canard de Challans, salade au poireau, truffe noire l'Astrance - Canard de Challans, salade au poireau, truffe noire 3

Plat Principal 3: Canard de Challans, salade au poireau, truffe noire. A couple of brink pink pieces of Challans duck poised over additional duck set in jus de truffe, lay upon leek, caper and black truffle, all chopped and seasoned with ginger, garlic and soy sauce. Grilled and then roasted at low temperature, the duck lived up to its reputation. This black Barbary had delicious, juicy steak-like meat and a lean lining of tempting fat that melted in the mouth. The truffle and jus rôti together had real deep, savoury relish yet remained rather light, clearly made without much cream or butter. More minced truffle was intersprinkled through the vegetable salad. The leeks were moist but crunchy, their mellow sweetness balanced by the saltiness of the soy. Although the capers went unnoticed, the ginger did add some citric spice.

l'Astrance - Entremet 2: Surprise - s'avancer à dire!

Entremet 2: Surprise – s’avancer à dire! Next it was the infamous ‘can you guess what it is?’ course. A small bowl bore warm, airy mousse around a central spoonful of colder, denser substance. The mousse was slightly sour, sweet and starchy at once whereas the middle matter was aromatic and creamy.

For those curious, I, obviously, deduced all the ingredients correctly (wink), but I think it best that I not reveal them here and spoil the fun for future diners.

l'Astrance - les Desserts

Savouries savoured, it was time for sweets. Four treats arrived simultaneously with instructions to start on the right and work my way around.

l'Astrance - Sorbet Piment-Citronelle

Dessert 1: Sorbet piment-citronelle. To clear my palate and revive my appetite I began with a trou Normand: soft, cold sorbet shot. Immediately the scent of lemongrass and ginger carried from the little glass. On tasting the concoction, my taste buds were initially confused. Simultaneously, I sensed the crisp heat of exotic peppers, but also the icy temperature of smooth sorbet – hot and cold concurrently. If that was not enough, then came a subtle undercurrent of exotic ginger and heady lemongrass. Barbot, apparently having come across these unusually strong chillies in Asia, then found a way whereby suffusing them with syrup extracts their savour without their burning sensation. It worked wonderfully well.

l'Astrance - Thé vert, mousse de lait, sorbet pamplemousse l'Astrance - Dedans le thé vert, mousse de lait, sorbet pamplemousse

Dessert 2: Thé vert, mousse de lait, sorbet pamplemousse. A small quenelle of grapefruit sorbet, submerged in milk foam, came sitting on crème de thé vert studded with caramelised pistachio and pumpkin seed, itself coating Génoise cake; a sugar tuile straightjacket held all the elements together. The supporting sponge had become moist after absorbing the juices from above; the matcha mousse was smoky and ever so slightly astringent; its nuts and seeds were crunchy; whilst the emulsion on top was clean and light. The sorbet, distinct and sour, complemented the green tea; and the croustillant coat was sugary and crispy.

l'Astrance - Sabayon de mangue, clafoutis de mangue et pomme

Dessert 3: Sabayon de mangue, clafoutis de mangue et pomme. Another Génoise cake acted as a cushion for mango and apple clafoutis that lay covered in mango sabayon soused with jus de mangue and embedded with a caramelised cluster of peanuts and almonds. Airy, sweet sabayon had a fruity zing that corresponded with the concentrated mango juice that surrounded it. The fruit filling was aromatic and tasty; clafoutis, like custard, was creamy and rich; whilst the cake supplied some substance.

l'Astrance - Riz au lait parfumée au yuzu

Dessert 4: Riz au lait parfumée au yuzu. Rice pudding imbued with yuzu was layered with a thin film of honey jelly upon which passion fruit caramel was poured at the table. This sauce was like syrup and had seriously strong passion fruit tanginess whilst the honey film (made with agar agar) was opposingly sweet. The rice pudding underneath was thick and yummy with little surprise pieces of yuzu zest that added nice acidity.

l'Astrance - Petit Fours: Lait de poule, madeleines au miel de châtaignier, fruits frais de saison l'Astrance - Petit Fours: Lait de poule, madeleines au miel de châtaignier, fruits frais de saison 2

Petit Fours: Lait de poule, madeleines au miel de châtaignier, fruits frais de saison. Jasmine egg nog served in an egg shell à la Passard; baby basket of chestnut honey madeleines; and a plate of seasonal fruit formed the petit fours. The floral fragrance and flavour of jasmine was startlingly clear and egg nog, fluffy and sweet. Unfortunately, the madeleines, soft, crusty and faintly honeyed, came cold – apparently this was intentional, but I do always like these more when warm. The fruit salad – apple, date, mango, mandarin and pineapple – though an unusual finish, was refreshing and very much in keeping with the character of the cooking. The jumbo, fleshy Californian date and sugary, but not overly sharp, pineapple pleased the most.

The service here is very smooth. The minimal wait staff – I counted only four, including Christophe, in the FOH today – work well as a team; efficient, attentive and always available. There is also a real relaxedness, enthusiasm and humour to all, whilst still being courteous, discreet and professional. Every attempt seems to be made to engage the customer, culminating in having them even guess what they are eating. The courses were timed expertly and I was pleased with the detailed knowledge of the food that my serveur had. However, my only whine, and it is only a minor one, was his insistence on speaking English (which, to be fair, he spoke well). Maybe he was not convinced by my own fluency in his tongue, but I did hope that only addressing him in French may have been hint enough that that was what I preferred in return.

l'Astrance - Pascal Barbot et moi

After lunch, I was able to speak to Barbot himself and he certainly lived up to expectation – curious, unassuming, sincere and constantly smiling. He was still visibly full of energy, even after a full service, and was very easy to talk to – his perfect English helped. As an aside, whilst we talked, I was also struck by how very small the kitchen was (twelve metres square).

It must be said that the restaurant is strikingly quiet – but not in a hushed, one-must-remain-respectfully-silent sort of way. Instead, there was an almost palpable concentration in the room as diners were intently focused on their dishes. I guess not knowing what was coming and because each plate had a certain exclusivity and possibly personal touch to it may explain this. As does the limited seating and spacious interior. I like to think though that it has more to do with the former and that l’Astrance’s clientele really care about what they are eating – as if the restaurant were full of foodies. That said, it does seem to attract more than its fair share of gastro-tourists.

I, for one, love Barbot’s concept. When I first heard that it was the chef who decided what to cook and each dish would be a surprise, I was delighted. In fact, it would not be the first or last time I have left it up to the kitchen to choose what courses I would be having. I like this strategy as, first, I am impossibly indecisive when it comes to ordering (as regular readers may know) and secondly, I am firmly in the school that believes no one knows better than the chef what ingredients are best that day and what he is in the mood to cook – and surely if the chef is enjoying what he is making, there is more chance that I will enjoy eating it. Actually it was not until a friend pointed out the opposite view point that I was even aware one existed. In short, he argued that what Barbot is doing is utterly shellfish; that he is having fun at the customers’ expense and has settled on this method to keep himself from getting bored. Now, he may be right, but, with all due respect, I do not care if he is; at the end of the day, what really matters to me is whether I enjoyed my meal – which I did.

Some of the cooking on show today was stunning. The galette, the cod (which, I repeat, I have never had better), the turbot, the duck – each was perfectly prepared. Technically brilliant, the food was also full of flavour, colour and vibrancy. The ingredients impressed with both their taste and their originality. Barbot is very well-travelled and his cuisine clearly reflects this; before each course, not only was I guessing whether it would be meat, fish or…other, but also where the recipe would come from. Lunch was a gastronomic tour that started and ended in France but stopped in Japan and Thailand along the way.

It was on his own comprehensive journeys that the chef developed and refined his approach: ‘of my two years spent in London I kept the soy, the ginger, the lemongrass and all the spices that expand the taste palate. From my military service in New Caledonia I brought back the coconut, vanilla and lime. From Japan, the tea ceremony and a different approach to the meal’. During his time in the (hotter) Far East, he also became accustomed to cooking without cream and butter, using milk as his base liquid instead. This is all in addition to his l’Arpège training and Passard’s presence is indeed keenly felt through the cleanness of presentation and cuisine and the respect for fruit and vegetables.

It is minimalism, personality and detail that dictate Barbot’s style. Minimalism comes in many forms: treatment of ingredients; cooking processes; plating and even calories. There is an obvious absence of saucing (condiments taking their place) as well as salt and pepper, which have been replaced with herbs and spices. The chef also appears to prefer to preserve inherent form as well as flavour; where possible, produce remains whole and intact. Cooking is simple, again not distorting the shape of the food, its texture or its taste.  Barbot’s attention to detail comes through with respect to plate aesthetics especially; there is striking neatness, lightness and elegance in appearance. His motto is quality over quantity – and it shows. By personality I refer both to his character and to a lesser extent the personal tailoring of each dish to the diner. A love of the Auvergne is obvious as his affection for Asian cuisine. That being said, the ubiquity of acidity and especially citrus is possibly the clearest clue as to his own tastes. He has been quoted as saying, ‘I love citrus; it’s impossible for me to cook without it’ and he repeated as much again after lunch.

The Galette de champignons de Paris et foie gras is an excellent illustration of Barbot’s approach. Here he employs really just two main ingredients, both raw, both minimally treated. Instead of transforming them, he uses their innate properties and principally how these contrast to ‘make’ the dish. Building on the basic physical differences – smooth against crisp, rich against earthy – he also incorporates the visual variation of dark against light and then, to maybe a more quixotic extent, luxury against economy. Additionally, there is that always-present acidic touch, which works excellently here, and a presentation that demonstrates the kitchen’s precision and artistry too.

When l’Astrance first opened, it was regarded as revolutionary. Many saw Barbot as a cook acting contrarily to French customs – no saucing and eschewing cream and butter, the staples of French cookery. He was redefining French cooking. I cannot really comment on much of what went before, but today, in my opinion, Barbot seems to encapsulate contemporary French haute cuisine. Light, simple, clean, harmonious, fascinated with the Far East – these are some of the governing dynamics that dominate Paris’ gastronomy at present. This is not a value judgement, but what is deemed by many as quintessentially French – hearty, rich, saucy recipes – seems to have become anachronistic and a symptom of yesteryear. This sort of cooking is certainly still alive, but is more common at the two star level. It is as if to get that third star, food needs daintiness.

As much as I approve of l’Astrance’s approach, I know it is an inherently risky one, relying largely on two things – the quality of the ingredients; and the mood/presence of Barbot. His elemental, Spartan style leaves him susceptible and at the mercy of his materials. To ensure against this the best suppliers are sought – for example, Hugo Desnoyer is Barbot’s butcher – and the surprise concept helps too as there is no obligation to deliver specific dishes; each day meals are made only from products that meet the mandatory minimum. As mentioned earlier, the menu may also aide in mitigating the second risk in that the chef is challenged each day and kept interested. The fact that the restaurant is open only four days a week is another concession to this.

To summarise, I really enjoyed the food at l’Astrance. Being served some of my favourite ingredients no doubt helped and this was very much luck of the draw, but I was impressed with the technique apparent and the appetising, vivid arrangements on the plate. I appreciated the attentiveness to detail as well, which as readers may be able to attest to, is something I always like to see. I also had fun and definitely feel that not knowing what to expect next enriched the whole experience.

I must admit that I admire Barbot. Many regard Gagnaire as the mad scientist behind the stove, but, to a degree, I think this label can apply to this chef too. It is no easy thing to conceive and create such dishes on a daily basis. I think that the fact that he has been able to do this – whilst also essentially at the top of his game – so consistently and for so long, says a lot about his character.

For one thing, the man must really love to cook.

- Foodsnobblog.wordpress.com

UlteriorEpicure.com
Atonal ...

Atonal ...

1st Course: Foie gras Mariné au Verjus

Statistics alone would suggest that, of the twenty-plus meals I had in Europe earlier this year, there would be at least one dud.

I just didn’t expect it to be l’Astrance.

Perennially celebrated by chefs and “lists,” Pascal Barbot’s restaurant in Paris’s upper-crust 16eme is considered by many to be one of the best in the world.  And its climb to three Michelin stars was one of the fastest.

Sadly, based on my meal there in January, I can’t join in their enthusiasm.

 

*       *       *

2nd Course: Saint-Jacques Dorées

*       *       *

Ingredient quality was not our objection.  In fact, the produce, fish, and meat were all exceptional.

Plating and presentation couldn’t have been lovelier.

And the execution, with the exception of a couple of slightly overcooked langoustines and some gritty cockles, was unimpeachable.  The stunningly cooked sea bass at course four, alone, was evidence enough of this kitchen’s capabilities.

But the flavors. Oy.

Of the three or four different menus offered, my friend – a regular and friend of the house – and I chose the top tasting menu (but not the seasonal, special menu with black truffles), which clocked in at around 190€.

Here is what we had:

-

Amuse Bouches

Soupe de Pain Grillé
Brioche avec Truffe Noir
Pommes et Amandes

1st Course
Foie gras Mariné au Verjus 
Galette de champignon de Paris, pâte de citron confit.

2nd Course
Saint-Jaques Dorées
Mousse de lait, huître raidie, beurre de Kombu, fleurs sauvages.

3rd Course
Langoustine Poché 
Pâte de crevette épicée, croustillant concombre-piment, sauce Saté.

4th Course
Bar
Jus de mandarine, ravioles de Cédrat, condiment épinard et cumin.

5th Course
Cochon Confit 
Cockles and black bean sauce.

Cochon Confit
Feuille de chou cuisinée au Parmesan, purée de noix et Parmesan.

6th Course
Truffe Noir
Celery root puree, Parmesan potato puree, black truffle puree, and black truffles.

7th Course
Chevreuil
Cuit à la poêle, aubergine laquée au Miso, curry noir, ail noir, jus de cuisson.

8th Course
Mousse de Pomme de Terre
Fromage blanc, glace de vanille.

9th Course
Citronnelle et Piment
En sorbet.

10th Course
Tiramisu à Notre Façon 

11th Course
Vacherin 
Glacé miel et orange, crème de thé vert.

12th Course
Sorbet Poire et Cannelle 
Biscuit Spéculoos.

Mignardises

Les Fruits
Madeleines au Miel de Châtaignier
Lait de Poule au Jasmin

*       *       *

L'Astrance

*       *       *

I’ve encountered some pretty outlandish attempts at “fusion” cooking, at both the higher and lower ends of the culinary spectrum.  And a couple of the plates we got at l’Astrance were among the strangest, if not the worst examples I’ve ever had – crude and groundless approximations of Asian flavors that, like a bull in a china closet, carried little regard for subtlety.*

Those slightly over-poached langoustines came with a chunky satay sauce that, other than an aggressive infusion of lemongrass, was indistinguishable from something you’d find at a mediocre Thai restaurant.  As my friend aptly put it, blindfolded, you could have been eating this out of a take-out box.  And blindfolded, you might miss the langoustines altogether. The sauce was so thick and spiced you really couldn’t taste anything else on the plate.

At course number five came a gorgeous slice of confit pork that was unfortunately accosted by a (fermented) black bean sauce so sweet it might have been caramel.  The cockles had sand in them.  I rarely see train wrecks in restaurants.  This was a pretty gruesome one.

We both stopped eating.  With a pretty direct message, my friend sent our plates back to the kitchen.  Our server couldn’t have been more gracious about it, or sincerely concerned.

The apologies lasted a couple of courses, as our pork was replaced anew with the version from one of the other menus. This one was painted with Western umami - cabbage, Parmesan, and a rich demi glace.  This was delicious.

And following that, the kitchen sent out a trio of purees – celery root, Parmesan-nut, and black truffle – topped with black truffle slices.  This one too, was delicious.

*       *       *

4th Course: Bar

*       *       *

Barbot’s fascination with the Asian and exotic bled less harmfully over the rest of our meal.  Although, we did suffer a plate of underripe tropical fruits at the end, a tradition, I understand, that is perpetuated despite the season.

In quite a few dishes, I wondered whether Barbot was trying a little too hard to be different.  Some of the compositions were off-key.

Postage stamp squares of “kombu butter,” alone, were way too strong, concentrated jellies of soy sauce and seaweed. But mixed and melted into a frothy milk mousse, it became more palatable, a briny sauce for a beautifully cooked scallop.

The mandarin orange sauce that came with that fabulous slice of sea bass was a little sweet for me.  And the ravioli of cedrat a touch too perfumey.  But the tight little quenelle of cumin-spiked spinach was all the condiment I needed.  Take away all the rest, and this fish course was easily the most impressive dish of the day.

And there was a blushing cut of venison - nicely cooked – served with a dark curry sauce, black garlic, and Miso-glazed eggplant. Together, it was a bit sombre and serious, but solid and safe. Nothing new was gained after the first bite.

*       *       *

12th Course: Sorbet Poire et Cannelle

*       *       *

Were there no true pleasures?

Thankfully, there were a few, most of which appeared at either end of our meal, where the food seemed to stay closer to home.

At the beginning, there was a delicious slice of toasted brioche slathered with melted cheese flecked with black truffles.  Beside the mini truffled toasts were marzipan chips piped with apple puree, a crunchy, sweet and sour croquant. These were great too.

At the end, I really loved a quenelle of pear and cinnamon sorbet, even if the bars of spéculoos underneath were completely forgettable.  There was also an exquisite vanilla ice cream nestled in frothy potato mousse with fromage blanc.**  And the madeleines made with chestnut honey were great, with a deep, sexy voice and a nice golden tan.

And what about Barbot’s famous foie gras and mushroom stack?  It was alright. I wish there was more foie gras and less mushroom, and I’ll note that the citrus confit served on the side was a misfit.  Personally, I found Stephen Harris’s version, which was inspired by Barbot’s, to be more satisfying and – well –  inspired.

*       *       *

8th Course: Mousse de Pomme de Terre

*       *       *

Can my disappointments be simply blamed on a difference in taste?  You know, Sondheim makes me cringe.

For Barbot’s (and Sondheim’s) sake, I’d like to think so.

But my lunchmate, who has been to l’Astrance many times and, according to him, has had excellent meals there, agreed that we saw some particularly piss-poor dishes at this meal.  He’s never sent anything back to the kitchen at l’Astrance before.  So, I can only hope that this experience was a sad exception.

I don’t need bel canto from a meal, as lush and easily digestible as that would be.  But I do need a little melody.  The tune at l’Astrance was a little hard to swallow.

What a pity.

L’Astrance
4 rue Beethoven
Paris 75016
France

*** Michelin 

Notes

* At the risk of appearing histrionic, I nearly gagged over the rich, jasmine-infused “lait de poule” (think eggnog) served in hollowed eggshells at the end of the meal. It was far too sweet and cloying.

** Without describing this dish, the server asked me to guess its contents by tasting it. Potato mousse, creme fraiche, vanilla ice cream, and thyme was my final answer.  I was off by one – it was fromage blanc, not creme fraiche.  Later, an acquaintance noted that his server had played the same little game with him.

- UlteriorEpicure.com

EntreChefs.co.uk - Laurent Feneau
Measure by Measure

Measure by Measure

Pascal Barbot

With no menu, but with perfect mastery of the products and seasons, Pascal Barbot freely composes his dishes day to day. A single rule: Pleasing the guest !

A sign of the times, L'Astrance was born with the new millennium. It only took seven years, the age of reason, to disrupt the gastronomic landscape of France. A revolution led by the expert hand of Pascal Barbot and his associate Christophe Rohat who runs the dining room. In the end, an upheaval of flavors, the perfect balance between cuisine and service all rewarded by a host of stars. But what is so special about the creations of this young chef unlike no other?
First an approach founded on very personal bases. Each of Pascal Barbot's recipes tells a true story, preferably a journey. "Of my two years spent in London I kept the soy, the ginger, the lemongrass and all the spices that expand the taste palette. From my military service in New Caledonia I brought back the coconut, vanilla and lime. From Japan the tea ceremony and a different approach to the meal'' he confides.

Creative constraint
Still today, he escapes on weekends to Sweden, Italy or Morocco. His famous black curry, between cocoa, coffee and licorice, is composed of 25 ingredients, all harvested during his gourmet trips. It is evident that Pascal's path can be followed on the globe. If he could take a plane every day to shop for produce, there is no doubt that the chef of l'Astrance would! Instead of a jet, he climbs into his Kangoo to buy his fresh produce at the largest wholesale market in France, Rungis.
"Market products are the foundation. What guides me are the seasons, shapes, color, but also an understanding of the constraints of the butcher, market gardener, the poultry seller''. "Constraint", the word is out! For at l'Astrance, everything is born and built around constraint. That of "beginning without a penny in pocket" as Pascal likes to recall, and "that of having to fill the dining room every day, of finding quality personnel and good products". And, he adds "Everything is a constraint; hence our choices: a small dining room, a small team and no menu".
That's it, at l'Astrance, there is no menu, just 25 place settings but nearly 60 suppliers. An approach inherited from years spent with Alain Passard. "At L'Arpège, I started from scratch. Those five magical years liberated me and gave me the desire, with Christophe, to rehabilitate a certain idea of the restaurant that, for us, must be a place of interchange, coherence and complicity". In all, total freedom and immense complicity between Pascal's cooking and service in the dining room by Christophe, the long-time partner.

Improvisation according to Barbot
"It's custom-made according to the guests. Christophe is in the dining room to assess the mood, gauge the clientele, to see if there are any interdictions like food allergies for example. Depending on the products of the day, I then compose a menu that can differ from table to table". That's the secret of l'Astrance and its chef: the art and manner of finding inspiration in perfect improvisation. "One simply follows rhythm and movement sometimes searching deep into one's soul", adds Pascal.
The chef also owes his freedom to his impressive list of suppliers. Léman, Ile d'Yeu, Loire-Atlantique, the Mediterranean, l'Astrance has a dozen addresses just for fish! "I'm a little like the housewife with her shopping list", he jokes, adding "the day before, I call the fisherman, I discuss the products he has and eventually order them. It's a day to day business and I feel no obligation towards products I don't totally appreciate". According to the seasons and deliveries, Pascal composes his culinary partitions with extreme precision, but always legibly and simply. There is no systematic use of noble products for example. "One can do as many things with citrus as with a truffle for example; for me, one and the other deserve the same attention", he explains.

Special care for products
In his 12-meter square laboratory kitchen, no oven-cooking but the art of cutting and technical gestures that favor cooking on the bone for both meat and fish. That's the Arpège school. Rather than "attack" products by cooking them in the oven, Pascal cultivates his passion for unusual vegetables and the flowers of his native Auvergne. He also learned with Eric, his friend the botanist, how to accommodate angelica, ivy and all the wild herbs, but not Astrance that paradoxically is not a comestible flower!
In the end, as he confesses himself, "this yields highly personal original cooking". Cooking, we are tempted to add, that is extremely sensitive, as it produces the perfect synthesis between the flavors of a child of the Auvergne and the scents of a widely traveled and tasted globe; in short, pure emotion, like the story of l'Astrance. That of "a normal little restaurant", as Pascal likes to recall. The story of the constant complicity with Christophe, the unceasing search for equilibrium between kitchen and dining room.
A timeless recipe that far from gastronomic contingencies and miles from culinary fashion simply incarnates today's restaurant. Almost enough to make one forget its three Michelin stars…

"Pascal's way...
with Marcel Proust"

..my favorite color
green
...my hero
James Cook, the English navigator
...my favorite painters
The Russian painters, in particular Mikhail Matyushin
. God's gift I'd like to have
Be able to run and cross a multitude of landscapes as a river does…
...my motto
Quality rather than quantity !

EntreChefs.co.uk - Laurent Feneau

 

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