Not too long ago, fine dining required a dinner jacket, or at least a blazer. Working at the door of Maxim’s in Paris in the late 80’s for a while, I remember helping gents into them as if putting on ceremonial garments. Choosing the right size from our collection of loaners was an important skill. Getting it wrong on the first try would negate a tip. In the evenings, I would add a tie.
Things have changed a lot since. In 2016, pretty much anywhere you can have a 3-star meal wearing a hoody. Most dining rooms now are contemporary, which usually denotes a minimalist décor. You can eat like a king sitting on a plastic chair, although, I presume, not without the nagging feeling that a real king wouldn’t. His majesty would be eating at Le V.
Walking into this palace just off the Champs Elysees, you are greeted by a line-up of hospitality professionals on your way to the dining room. Eric Beaumard, who may be among them, is the Restaurant Director and a famous Sommelier. Having telephoned a reservation, they will somehow know your name and guide you, past a huge pink flower arrangement, to your table. Sitting down, they will push small wonders of wood and upholstery under you just so.
The space is, well, palatial: A grand chandelier, walls in crème and taupe, guilt, mirrors and potted palm trees. Just outside in the courtyard, a waterfall murmurs beneath hydroponic floral arrangements. You could have travelled back in time to pre-revolutionary Versailles. If you are a proletarian Francophobe, don’t come here. On the other hand, if you feel something might have gotten lost in our decades-long war on ostentation and are looking for a place that checks all the old boxes, you’ll love it.
The menus are tall enough for Napoleon to hide behind, and in a delicious throwback to more “gender biased” times, ladies get the privilege of perusing one without prices. They also get a little stool for their purse. In case this rubs you or your companion the wrong way, rest assured, everyone has the right to pay. Service is incredibly attentive, to the point where, whenever your highness rises, someone will fly to pull back your chair. (Whenever I noticed something just slightly imperfect I had the teasing urge to yell “off with their heads!”)
To get started, only Champagne seems right, then whites of course for the starters, such as the abalone and razor clam with seaweed butter and a gingered hen broth, or the duck fois gras roasted with Sarawak pepper, steamed Rhubarb, Strawberries and Elderberry juice. Maybe the blue lobster roasted in the shell with clams? Then it will be red wine for the lamb or pigeon or the peacock tongues (just kidding.) You’ll get help selecting from the 50 000 bottles in Le Cinq’s cellars.
By the time the deserts roll around, like the Caribbean chocolate Napoleon with blackberries, black tea whipped cream, blackberry and blueberry sorbet, just to name one of many you can pick from the desert cart, you’ll be in another world.
31, Avenue George V