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Wednesday 17 April 2013

Les 110 de Taillevent‏, Paris

It was a Very Special Occasion in the CWB household - so much so that a meal out in Cambridge, or even London, would not have sufficed.

Instead, we found ourselves in Paris for a long weekend and, thanks to a last-minute recommendation from a local, seated for dinner a deux at Les 110 de Taillevent, just 10 minutes' walk from the Arc de Triomphe.

With dark-wood and low lighting, the restaurant has a hushed, upmarket edginess and the sort of cleverly quirky touches -adding to, but not dominating, the atmosphere - that will appeal to the lawyers, ad execs and businessmen that make up much of the clientele.

The unadorned interior and small, square tables give an informal feel yet also a sense of purpose - elegance, refinement and balance, rather than eye-catching ostentation.

The set menu is not extensive - just two choices for starters and mains and three for desserts - but each course has four wine recommendations at different price points.

Each glass arrives with a little paper base, to detach and keep, with details and a reference number for buying full bottles at next-door Les Caves de Taillevent, whilst the paper place mat has a space for tasting notes.

In practice, I doubt anyone seriously scribbles tasting notes over a business lunch or romantic dinner, and this is perhaps the one unconvincing gimmick in an otherwise flawless set-up.

If the nibbles on arrival serve as an indicator of the style and ambitions of the restaurant, setting the tone for the rest of the meal, the elegant cheese straws - light, flaky and neatly topped with poppy and sesame seeds - bespoke of classic dishes perfectly but unfussily executed with great attention to detail.

The bread - a crusty, stone-baked, chocolate-coloured rye - balanced an earthy rusticity with lightness and finesse.

For it is one thing to do flavour, yet quite another to do it so elegantly, to balance intensity, refinement and precision so skilfully and to match each course with perfectly-served, food-friendly wines whilst eschewing the siren call of vulgar theatricality.

Our starters of Pot au Feu en Gelee with vinagrette was a neat, square slice of terrine with delicious little blocks of gently cooked vegetables, cubes of tender meat and a deliciously rich chicken liver pate that had us both swooning.

The wine match for this was, unusually, a red Coteaux du Languedoc "Traversée" 2010 from Domaine G. Crisfield with food-friendly acidity, precision and great elegance.

The pike quenelles for our main were likewise light and delicate, yet strongly flavoured, and served with a wonderful sauce made from cream, tomatoes and lobster bisque.

This was matched with a southern French white, Bellet "Le Clos" 2011 Le Clos Saint-Vincent; ripe, waxy and citrussy with good acidity and weightiness, it cut through the richness and strong flavours of the dish.

If dessert was a little more pedestrian in description - a cheese cake - it was enlivened through deconstruction; the rich, dense creamy, yet perfectly smooth, mascarpone layer placed on a thin, separately baked base, then topped with a sharp lemon sorbet, fresh raspberries and a coulis on the side.

After an early start that day to arrive in Paris by lunchtime, we decided to skip coffees, but made a point of booking ourselves in for a return visit before heading back to Cambridge.
The other half of the menu proved equally impressive - a crisp, yet light sardine spring roll with a creamy sauce and broad beans, followed by the most meltingly tender piece of beef I can remember eating with an intense red wine jus. The wine match, Toscana 2010 La Massa, was focused and precise, with cherry fruit, good acidity and an elegant hint of spiciness.

For dessert this time, we finally showed some independence; Mrs CWB chose the sorbets (bitter grapefruit, sharp orange, zesty lime) with a freshly-baked madaleine whilst I opted for the yeasty St Nectaire cheese.

It was a chance recommendation that had taken us to Les 110 de Taillevent - I had pulled together a long list of suggestions from various contacts and ex-colleagues in Paris and had nothing more than "a good feeling" about this one.

For whilst you would be unlucky to get a bad meal in Paris, to find somewhere as memorable as Les 110 de Taillevent takes more than just serendipity and it was an incredibly fortunate series of events that brought us there.

The set menu costs €39 for 3 courses excluding wine.

Other related articles
L'Alembic, Nuits St Georges
Fischer's of Baslow
Plachutta, Vienna
The Box Tree, Ilkley (for Jancis Robinson)
Review by Fiona Beckett - http://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/news/reviews/les-110-de-taillevent-paris---food-and-wine-matching-nirvana/

Les 110 de Taillevent - website

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