• Vegetarian Degustation at L'Espadon (Ritz, Paris)

Despite Les Ambassadeurs redeeming itself by dessert, I was still apprehensive about another expensive meal in another traditional (ie. non-vegetarian-friendly) restaurant in the meat-centric France.  Like for Les Ambassadeurs, we had told the staff I was vegetarian weeks in advance.  My angst was heightened by the name ‘Swordfish’ implying a focus on seafood.   With all this in mind, you can understand it when I say that I had never been so happy to be given a vegetarian menu.

The Ritz (in which L’Espadon is located) is beautiful.  The decorations are so lavish that we saw ourselves walking around taking snapshots in amazement both before and after the meal.

These beautiful flower arrangements were throughout the hotel.

To start we were given rounds of parmesan bread.  These had an interesting texture, crumbly but almost powdery.  The flavour was lovely.  These went with a fresh and flavoursome basil and tomato paste.

With all the finery, we were presented with salted and unsalted butter.  The different between the two indicated by an embossed R. I smeared this onto a traditional French baguette which was crusty but dense inside.

The waiters were all standing at attention, constantly scanning the room to be at our sides the moment we asked each other “shall we ask them to take a photo?” or  commented “is there anymore butter on your side?”  All were men in sharp suits.

Soon we were tasting toasts topped with strong-tasting feta and chives.  The toasts were crunchy and oiled.  They showed strong but simple flavours.

The next dish was a natural Greek-style yoghurt with peas, uncooked red capsicum and a mint puree around the edge.  It had cucumber and fennel at the bottom along with dill.  It was refreshing, like a modern and sophisticated tzartziki.

We didn’t order matching wine but selected a bottle of Medoc, Chateau Castera, 2004, Cru Bourgeois.  It was a blend with 65% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet France and 5% petit verdot.  It smelt like honey and dust and after the first taste, I had to ask for it to be decanted (not because it was an old wine) but because it needed oxygen.  Even after having been open for half an hour, it was still a big wine with strong tannins.  It held up to the food, but would probably be better to drink in several years.

The next course was a ‘coeur de boeuf’ tomato.  It was one massive tomato, hollowed then filled with a spicy tomato salsa and topped with salad.  The dots providing colourful decoration were of honey mustard, basil and a thick balsamic.

The next course was also tomato based, a crisp shell encassing a semi-dried tomato and cheese.  The crust was thin but the texture was still dense.  A dehydrated tomato sat on top.

Two tomato entrees, yet each dish was different and together they included tomatoes in all their forms: chopped like a salsa, raw and almost whole, dehydrated, cooked, semi-dried.  They were very creative and well executed.

As we ate, I enjoyed the sounds of the silverware against the fine bone china plates.   The venue really is at the height of luxury.

My main course was an artichoke gnocchi.  The others had this as their first course and really enjoyed it.  It was very pretty with roasted tomato foam (just when I thought the fruit could not be done in any other way) which was surprisingly sweet.  Added to the flavours was a green sauce of basil and fetta, crispy salted sage that seemed to have been dehydrated rather than fried. Semi-dried tomatoes with fresh sage leaves were rolled up and used to garnish.  Underneath these was a paste that looked like quince but that I could not figure out.

“It’s eggplant with a little bit of zucchini,” explained the waiter.  It was so sweet I had assumed it was a fruit.

The actual gnocchi was flavoured with parmesan.  It was firm with a stodgy potato mash inside.  This enclosed finely diced artichokes which had been cooked in their own juices then reduced so they formed a thick, gluggy sauce.

Each component was a work of art in itself.  Eating it as a whole, you would lose the subtlety of each part, and for this I really enjoyed trying each little bit separately, before bringing them together in one indulgent mouthful.   I felt the others lost the mastery of this dish for not doing so.

Desserts were raved about with my mum declaring hers to be the best dish she had had throughout our entire holiday.  It was moist, stewed cherries with toffee and lemon sorbet.  The textures were delectable with the soft, moist cherries, cold sorbet and hard brittle of the toffee.

I enjoyed the chocolate and Bailey’s dessert.  The Bailey’s ice-cream, perhaps unsurprisingly, really tasted like Bailey’s with a creamy flavour but without being too rich or creamy in texture.  To the side was a chocolate tower like a fine ice-cream cone filled with a light, foamy coffee mousse.  A moist chocolate liqueur cake sat like a molten cake with a base of crushed nuts.

This is delicious!  I thought in a daze whilst sucking the chocolate off my silver fork. It was amazing.  A lot of work had gone into each little bit: the crunch of the chocolate tower, the soft moist cake, the fluffy mousse, the cold melting ice-cream, coffee, chocolate and nuts.

To top it off, this meal was celebrating my birthday.  With a congratulations, the waiters presented me with a candle-clad-birthday cake. It was a hazelnut sponge with stewed, cold, moist strawberries.  A fresh, sweet strawberry sat on top.  Happy birthday to me.

The meal did not end there.  Next arrived a candelabra of petit fours, three uniquely flavoured choux pastries.  One was with orange blossom, another with strawberry and one with chocolate.  All contained cold creams despite the pastry being at room temperature.  They were refreshing and flavoursome.

It was an amazing meal, up there as one of the best I had ever had.  The food appeared classically French on the surface, but so much effort and creativity had gone into each fragment of each dish.  Not only this, but the service and ambience were outstanding.  It was such a memorable meal.

Hoetl Ritz
15 Place Vendôme
75001 Paris
+33 (1) 4316 3080