By Jonathan Hatchman
It’s no secret that Paris is generally regarded as the fine dining capital of the Universe. With thousands of restaurants, brasseries, and patisseries located across the French capital, boasting a selection of both classic and contemporary examples of the type of French cooking that has become so universally renowned. However, a tired stereotype often accompanies the notion of French gastronomy here in the UK, with grand expectations of stuffy dining rooms with over-starched table linen, laid with rows and rows of cutlery with a necessity that nobody can quite manage to comprehend, not forgetting famously pretentious service. While this may have been representative of the Paris of yesteryear, it’s refreshing to find that this is far from the case at Alcazar.
Located within the trendy Saint Germain district, the restaurant has recently undergone an extensive three-month renovation, and is now amongst the most aesthetically pleasing dining rooms I’ve visited. A flood of green is apparent with olive walls and bottle green leather sofas, matching the tropical forest ambiance that’s delivered by the amount of plant life that garnishes the interior. All of this is accentuated by warm lighting and contrasting icy marble tables. The main dining space is located downstairs, while upstairs Le Balcon bar space serves a cocktail menu and various bar snacks, turning into more of a club space in the evening, sourcing DJs to soundtrack the venue with catalogues of “happy music”. But what’s most exciting, from an English point of view, is the sheer fact that a return lunchtime visit from Paris to London and back is manageable all within the space of just one day thanks to the ultra-speedy Eurostar.
At the break of day on a spring Saturday morning I found myself at St. Pancras Station to awaiting one of the earliest trains across the channel. Soaring between London and Paris’ Gare Du Nord in a tremendously swift two-hours and fifteen minutes, offering a take on a full English breakfast, designed by Raymond Blanc. Then after a short taxi ride across the Seine we’d arrived at Alcazar just in time for the lunch service.
As for the food on offer, the a la carte menu at Alcazar favours a selection of unashamedly French classics, with a strong focus on fish provided within the starter’s section of the menu, offering the likes of spiced consommé with prawn, lightly spiced crab cakes, and a very contemporary sea bass ceviche amongst the choices. However, given the circumstances (when in Paris…), an overwhelming desire to order the foie gras dish prevailed. A simple yet salient starter, with three elements to the dish: a wedge of foie gras terrine – presumably the duck variant, with a flavour intensity that has an edge over the more expensive, though creamier, goose – was joined by acidulated pear to cut through the richness of the liver, and Banyuls – a French dessert wine. An unsurprisingly decadent introduction to the great Parisian dining experience.
Next, sole meunière was served with the option of being filleted by the waiter, table side, yet my choice to eat the fish from the bone allowed a chance to devour the salty cheeks that are generally disregarded with the filleting process. What’s more, the choice of self-filleting prevented my inner greedy child from gluttonously guzzling the four fillets within the space of less than two minutes. An indulgent butter-based sauce with hints of lemon also provided a delightful accompaniment to the perfectly cooked, generously-sized fish, though a pot of steamed potatoes (although fine) did seem as though an unnecessary accompaniment. The potato purée, on the other hand, was delightfully smooth, creamy, and rich; providing further evidence that the simplest of dishes are often the most remarkable. To conclude, a passion fruit pavlova comprised a hard, crunchy meringue dome that housed an unctuous gel of unbelievably sweet passion fruit, topped with the thickest of whipped cream, flecked with vanilla and refreshing passion fruit seeds.
After the long, relaxed lunch there’s just enough time to explore the area and make the most of the day out, whether that includes photographing nearby tourist attractions, visiting the Musee D’Orsay, or walking off lunch with a meander along the banks of the Seine. Alternatively, the food theme can easily be continued with a visit to some of the many nearby artisan patisseries and wine merchants; before catching the train back to London. All within a day’s work, arriving at St. Pancras with plenty of time to catch the last tube home, without any need to book into a hotel.
The original article can be found online at thelondoneconomic.com.