French dining: value
I love eating really good French food. But, like a lot of visitors to Paris, I’m put off by the €200 plus prices of French dining at the grand eateries – just not within my budget. Therefore, on a recent trip to Paris, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to savour really good classic French food served in the formal European style at a relatively bargain price.
The Institut Vatel in the outer reaches of the 17th arrondissement is a school for the next generation of great French chefs, pâtissiers and waiters. The Institut opens its doors to the general public for lunch and dinner. I made a booking and arrived on a chilly Tuesday night.
On arrival, I was greeted with beaming smiles from the team of waiters and their ever-present, all-seeing supervisor. My coat was whisked away and I was seated at my table. An apéritif, menu and bread soon followed, all with an anxious smile and maybe just a slightly nervous shake of the hand.
Dinner menus range from €35 to €47, plus drinks. In the name of research, I decide to splurge and have the €47 menu, just to see what €47 can buy in an expensive city if you look hard and think creatively. I also order a half bottle of pricey French red (€27) and mineral water.
French dining: four courses
What followed was a delicious four-course set menu of perfectly prepared, classic French food made with the freshest, most beautiful ingredients. After an amuse-bouche I’m presented with a ceviche of scallops served with a pretty, light, citrusy salad.
Then follows a steak in truffle sauce with pommes Anna and vegetables. The steak barely requires a knife, and I quickly request more silver service bread to make sure I mop up all the sauce.
French dining: fromage
Next the cheese board: there’s a choice of five types of cheese and I choose three to finish off the wine. Each cheese is a perfect accompaniment to the other, and I’m hard-pressed to decide which one I like best.
French dining: dessert
Then, the grand finale – the dessert trolley. This is more like a three-carriage train, and is accompanied by a proud young pâtissier who identifies each gâteau and tarte, and supervises the serving by the waiters. I take three tiny slivers and never want to stop eating them –they are so light and delicious it is like eating perfumed and flavoured air. I’m now ruined forever – no more cheap pâtisserie for me!
While I’m eating, I watch the young staff move around the room, serving each patron with the same care and attention I’ve been shown. They move seamlessly between French and English as required and show good knowledge of the food and the wine to accompany it. Despite it being Tuesday, the restaurant is half full, so I’m not the only one in the know.
What impresses me most is the care that has clearly gone into each of the elements of the menu. Not only are these young professionals learning the practical skills of their trade they are also being taught the art of great French food and French restaurants.
Time to go. The bill comes to €85 including drinks and I’m well satisfied. As I’m bid goodnight by more smiling faces I know I’ve chosen well.
French dining: And who knows, maybe those young waiters were just a bit scared of me … but I hope not!