No wonder l'Astrance has 3 Michelin stars and is one of the top 10 restaurants in the world: Mona Farrugia and TW fly in for lunch.
There are few restaurants â€˜hotâ€™ enough in Paris to warrant a two month waiting list, and Lâ€™Astrance is one of them. I tried to get a table last year and no amount of cajoling and pleading warranted a seat. When you consider that a table for one is like a table for two in terms of size, I donâ€™t blame the management for probably giving a couple preference. Harrumph.
This year, I was determined. The Writer and I had agreed that this trip would be about romance and not reviewing, that it would be about bistrots not Michelin-starred restaurants, but he let me get away with one. That â€˜oneâ€™, I decided, would be lâ€™Astrance.
I called them one evening a month before our trip. Friday night would not be available. No sorry Madame, we donâ€™t open Saturday, or Sunday, or Monday. We are packed for lunch. Thursday is out of the question too, Iâ€™m afraid.Â I hung up.
I called back within half an hour. â€˜Iâ€™m a restaurant critic from Maltaâ€™ I explained calmly to the (thankfully) different guy who answered â€˜And I am flying in specifically to review lâ€™Astranceâ€™. Â Lies were, up to an extent, flying out of my mouth. I was even willing to call again and pretend to be my own assistant if this one didn't work. It had worked when booking The Ivy. I stopped short of adding â€˜yeah, hah, fat chanceâ€¦snortâ€™.
A lunch table on Thursday became suddenly available. Our Air Malta flight landed at 11.00am and we literally dashed to the Hotel de la Sorbonne (http://www.hotelsorbonne.com) to check in, then to the restaurant, having made our receptionist call and postpone. We arrived at 1.30pm. Nobody complained.
Lâ€™Astrance is small. There are 5 tables for two downstairs and a few others for four. Upstairs, there is one large table for six and another for two. The couples seemed to be colleagues having affairs. Â Or maybe that was just my imagination running riot in France. The larger tables were all, bar none, full of men. â€˜Bankersâ€™ I told TW â€˜Theyâ€™re the only ones for who eating out like this is a daily choreâ€™.
There is no menu at lâ€™Astrance. No menu at all. The poor sod sitting to the left of Â us was on his own and was taking minutae of notes of every single dish he was eating. â€˜A food writerâ€™ I told TW, as the neighbour took more photos of the dishes. â€˜Arenâ€™t you lucky? You can just eat without writing a thingâ€™ TW said. So I didnâ€™t take a single note.
We had the degustation â€“ of course, thereâ€™s no choice. I just remember the lamb cutlets which were so pink they were almost raw. They were also sublime and as tender as a a baby lamb could ever be. The hand that makes this food is a gentle one: ingredients were treated with care, with a deference and it would be useless of me to add that everything is seasonal and fresh. Nonetheless, I have added it anyway.
I know we had a moussey thing with a thick brioche toast as amouse bouche. I know that we had a sourdough bread. I am sure we had a very light custard which could have been whipped and foamed raw egg, in an egg shell. I know we had fresh fruit on the side. I know there were madeleines with the coffee, light as air but obviously not Proustian enough.Â I know that because I sneaked photos when TW wasnâ€™t looking.
I do not remember a single other thing, except that our neighbours, a more than middle aged couple who â€“ this is a frequent occurrence â€“ suddenly turned to us and asked where we were from, were having a different main. Theirs was duck, the lady explained, obviously tipsy from the amazing wine. We had the wine degustation and it was perfect. So perfect that I bothered to write down the name of one of the reds. â€˜Where can I buy a bottle of thisâ€™ I asked the waiter â€˜It is difficult to get a table here, madameâ€™ the waiter said â€˜So we ensure the wines you find here are difficult to find outside tooâ€™. Talk about French diplomacy.
There are two places where the wine matching has literally thrown me: the first time was at the Atelier Joel Robuchon; the second was here. In my books, that makes lâ€™Astrance worth visiting. No wonder itâ€™s in the top 10 restaurants in the world.
Bizarrely neither TW nor I can remember dessert. It was at this point that the Maitre dâ€™ promised to e-mail me the menu of what we had eaten on the day. Not only does the menu change daily, but your neighbour, as was ours, can get something completely different from you. I gave him my e-mail address and hoped that he would be as attentive to this as he had been to us during lunch.Â I would have bet a couple of euro that he would absolutely not send a thing.
We walked out of lâ€™Astrance having bought ourselves an experience, thanks to Bascal Barbotâ€™s mastery. Not knowing what youâ€™re going to eat and leaving all up to a super chef like him is divine. Lâ€™Astrance is exactly what a restaurant critic needs: it is smart but not overwhelming, it has wonderful service and wine, its foodÂ requires absolutely no choice and no thought by the punter but still manages to stun.
You may not be a restaurant critic yourself, but Iâ€™m sure youâ€™d love it anyway. If youâ€™re planning to be in Paris next year, or even just during the January sales, book now. Please remind the Maitre d' to send me that menu.
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