It’s just about time to blog my superb meal long eaten but not forgotten at L’ Astrance by Pascal Barbot. First impression? A cloud of mystery as L’ Astrance does not have its own website. Bookings are taken by phone only–two or three weeks in advance I’d say–providing you can understand French and can get beyond the voicemail. Luckily I managed to scrape by with my mediocre French.
At the restaurant–one tiny one that can squeeze in no more than 30 diners–there is the cloud of mystery no.2: the tasting menu. No one knows what the chef will cook; you are only asked to inform them of allergies. All I know is that the menu is innovative and with L’ Astrance being placed No.16 on the San Pellegrino List, that guarantees something noble. That’s it. The good thing is, looking at the enigmatic menu, there are several tasting menus to choose from, varying by price and the number of dishes. In autumn, when I went, you also had the option of some grated white truffle from Alba (45€ supplement), half the truffle (about 70-80€) or the whole truffle (my sight failed me and I thought it soared above a hundred!). As usual–the lesson I should learn really–I went for the lengthiest tasting menu with wine pairing, the price of which was acceptable in Paris.
The cloud of mystery began to disperse with the succession of amuse bouche
(1) Truffled Chantilly Cream, Pistachio, served with Brioche
The mousse was airy and delicated; strong truffle and gentler pistachio aroma. The mini brioche square was cruncy with some minimal contrast of texture from the grated pistachio that dissolved when it reached your tongue.
(2) Apple, Almond Cracker
Very crispy and as thin as a piece of paper. Variety of flavours with the almond hitting first and then the juicy crunch of the fresh, pleasantly acidic apple and a brush of sweet jam.
(3) Spiced Pumpkin Veloute
There were layers of thick yogurt in the bottom, the veloute itself and the spiced foam. The creaminess was the centrestage here, the sweet and sour contrast of the veloute and the yogurt and the burst of wonderful spices–cardamon and saffron–though I found the pumpkin to be quite subtle.
(4) Foie Gras, Apple and Mushroom
This was a millefeuille-like cake made of layered foie gras, thingly sliced raw mushroom and green apple. It came with a drop of hazelnut oil and a dot of lemon confit. I must say, it was a smart dish marrying the rather obscure mushroom with expensive foie. Personally I did not like it. There was not enough sweetness to counter the bitter and sour lemon. The monumental cake itself, though juicy and full of textures, did not have any strong flavour.
(5) Scallop, Oyster, Kombu and Milk Foam
This dish steered me away from tasting an innovative French dish. The diagram-shaped kombu had this pronouced Oriental flavour and when coupled with the perfectly cooked scallop and raw oyster that submerged in the delicate milk foam, it made me feel like I was invading some foreign sea territory of taste. Another interesting ingredient on the dish was the black syrupy dot, which I though was made from Kombu but oozed a Marmite flavour. I stirred it in with the foamy milk and BOOOM!!! Not underwater mimes but just amazing explosion of bold flavour, turning the delicate dish into something well beyond it. Loved it!
(6) Fillet of Sole, Broccoli, Tamarind Sauce served with Mixed Shellfish
The sole was perfectly done and came with this appetising, bouncy texture. I dipped a small piece into the tangy tamarind sauce and again BOOM!! Very deep and salivating. Sweetness from the fish and the vegetable well contrasted with the sauce here. The little quenelle of red pepper and spinach spoke foreign influences. To be honest, there was diaspora in Barbot’s cuisine: east meet west, French meet Morrocan and Japanese. Loads of Thai ingredients, too. It’s the innovation that most people would either feel so confused eating or find a segment of themselves and their gastronomic background in. In my case, it was the latter and so far I found my meal at L’ Astrance fascinating. Back to the dish, as much as I loved the dish. I thought the shellfish was redundant. It did not add or bind with the main strong component of the course, which was the sole and the tamarind.
(7) Mackerel, Smoked Sardine, Orange, Oyster Leaf
Oily mackerel went brilliantly with the zingy orange that came in form of caviar. The soy braised turnip and onion–was it turnip?–had this flavour not too distant from some Japanese broth.
(8) Anchovie, Creamed Rocket Soup
A blend of dashi, chrysanthemum, angelica and cream, thoroughly balanced with a very chilled and soothing taste. The chrysanthemum hit very pleasantly.
(9) Chicken Stuffed with Cheese, Parmesan Cream, White Truffle
Luxurious taste of autumn. The melting cheese combined with moist, succulent chicken was a real treat; white truffle added excess; more dimension from the parmesan with some vigorating peppery kick, which I was not sure where from but amazing.
(10) Duck, Cherry Marmalade, Brazil Chilli
Perfectly cooked but at times the dish reminded me of a good old Chinese stir fry with a gruity sweet twist from the cherry marmalade. Solid, with enjoyable heat and crunch from the fresh chilli.
(11) Vanilla Ice Cream, Mashed Potatoes, Yogurt
Heavenly and innovative combination of hot and cold, sweet, sour and savoury. Different levels of texture from silky to grainy smoothness. There was also depth of sweetness.
(12) Passion Fruit Tart, Pineapple and Coriander Ice Cream
Amazing ice cream! The aroma and earthy taste of the coriander came in nicely.
(13) I screwed my note up and was not sure what this one was!!
But my memorial reconstruction had it that, the texture was jelly-like soup.
(14) Petit Four
Lemongrass, Ginger, Chilli Pepper Sorbet–very smooth until the heat kicked in waking up the palate really!–chestnut madeleine, jasmine-flavoured egg nog–mind blowing jasmine aroma and subtle sweetness–and fresh fruit.
Overall, one very memorable meal, exciting cooking and magic behind the kitchen door. The wine pairing was also one of the best I’d had. Price-wise, comparing L’ Astrance to other 3 starred in Paris, I’d say it was reasonable, apart from the truffle perhaps.
My head rating says, “9 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
4, rue de Beethoven
Tel. +33 1 40 50 84 40