Les Elysees du Vernet, 25 rue Vernet-75008 Paris

This elegant two star Michelin restaurant is only open Monday through Friday under the watchful eye of head chef Alan Soliveres, a man described Alain Ducasse's most gifted student. He has also trained under such celebrated purveyors of the culinary art as Jacques Maximin of the Chantecler in Nice and Bruno Cirino of Le Jardin in Paris. Now he rules at Les Elysees where he has been since 1992.

On a recent trip to Paris I was fortunate enough to get a reservation after a bit of arm twisting, and have to report that it lives up to it's reputation in dazzling style. Situated in the elegant Hotel Vernet just off the Champs Elysee, the small restaurant specialises in "reinvented Provencal" olive oil scented cuisine. The hotel was built at the turn of the century and completely renovated in 1989. It is the discreet haunt of many celebrities and the week we were there Pete Sampras was in town for the French Open, but selected to dine in his room as opposed to coming down and eat in the restaurant itself. The highlight of the room is the glass dome with an original metal frame originating from the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, and the painted glass panels are signed by Chavignol, a famous artist of the modern style.

We went for Le Menu Soleil at 840ff, a feast of small dishes showcasing the chef's talents and living up to the 2 star Michelin status that the restaurant proudly owns. First thing to point out is the quality of the bread, which is considered the best in Paris, no idle boast. The bacon bread and the bread sticks were standouts of the comprehensive selections on offer. No problems here about having to summon a waiter for a second piece helping here. An appetiser of red tuna fish with red , green and yellow peppers with spinach and parmesan cheese kicked of the meal in style and we followed up with swordfish with langoustine, green salad and stuffed shells with calamari that was very tender and excited the taste buds no end. The ravioli with mousserons(tiny mushrooms) is strictly a delicacy and was served very hot. A very strong sauce with powerful flavours throughout made this a dish to savour.

Next up came salmon with asparagus in a béarnaise sauce with crisp vegetables and served in a rectangular shape. Absolutely delicious and well complemented by the Pommard Rugiens 96 wine from the Laurent Pillot vineyard. Of course the obligatory Foie Gras on an artichoke base and a banyuls sauce with rocket salad was just as pleasing, as was the baby lamb from the Pyrenees served with green beans and girot mushrooms. The strength in the food comes from the flame fried style of cooking giving the meat a very tender flavour to complement the sauces and the petite vegetable dishes that tend to be served in high quality French establishments.

One of the many highlights in French restaurants is the extensive choice of cheeses that are wheeled out, and it does help if you know exactly what you want, as hesitation and uncertainty can make the cheese waiter a bit uncomfortable. As soft cheeses go the Brie is never a bad choice, and we complemented it with a selection of petit fiancé and St.Nectair. After a three-hour extravaganza and the volume of food, dessert must be light, and the strawberry dessert with honey ice cream fitted the bill. Again like the vegetables earlier, the strawberries were tiny and highly unusual. A follow up egg white dessert was the piece de resistance to wrap up a marvellous dining experience that you will enjoy as much as we did. A final touch was the cigar trolley which like the rest of the meal offered quite a range.

There are other options not quite as expensive such as the Menu Gourmet at 650ff or the Menu Plaisir at 480ff or a choice of dishes to choose from at prices that will not rupture the wallet. As one would expect the service is entirely professional and a lot more relaxed and informal than many lesser operations in London or elsewhere.

Michael Hepworth, June 1999

Tel: 1-44-31-98-00
Fax: 1-44-31-85-69
Nearest Metro-Etoile
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