After hearing a rave review from a trusted foodie friend, I was eager to go to L’Allénothèque, three-star chef Yannick Alléno’s new bistro in Beaupassage, Paris‘s just-opened luxury enclave between Rue du Bac and Rue de Grenelle in the seventh arrondissement.
The evening started out well. A charming waitress came to take our order, and we were brought some delicious warm bread and butter to stave off starvation.
Things only started to go awry when a man, who did not appear to be a sommelier (no bunch-of-grapes pin on his lapel), arrived to serve our wine. He briefly flashed the bottle’s label and started to pour the wine into my male companion’s glass. Faux pas number one. My friend told him that I had ordered the wine and would taste it. He poured it into my glass sloppily, dribbling red wine down the glass and onto the table. “Sorry,” he mumbled, and walked away. We thought he was going to get a cloth to wipe it up, but no such thing. Faux pas numbers two and three.
After that, we bided our time. And bided. And bided. A couple came in and sat down at the table on one side of us, then another couple sat down at the table on the other side of us. Soon they were served their starters. They noticed us glancing enviously at their plates and commiserated with us.
After a while, we began to try to capture the attention of the waitress and busboy. It took awhile, as they seemed to have disappeared, but each told us at different times that they would take care of it. Nothing happened. The man who had spilled the wine (who must have been the maître d’hôtel) eventually passed by and said the starters would be right out.
More time passed. It was like sitting at the gate at the airport watching the clock tick past your departure time with no sign of any airline staff and no information about what is going on. We wondered if we were being punished for something. For being English speakers? For asking for tap water rather than overpriced bottled water?
We had been sitting there for nearly an hour when I told the waitress we would leave if we weren’t served within a couple of minutes. Suddenly, the starters arrived, with no apologies or explanations.
The food seemed almost beside the point by then. It was very good, but was it worth the long wait? Not really.
I had the “œuf parfait” (perfect egg), served with cooked and raw mushrooms, a kind of mushroom compote and “mouillettes,” rectangles of butter-soaked toast to dip into the yolk. I didn’t see any sign of the bulots (sea snails) mentioned on the menu.
There were only three choices on the menu for each course. For dessert, we passed over the chocolate cake option because the couple on one side of us said it was nothing special, and we weren’t tempted by the roasted pineapple, so we went for the cheese, which turned out to be a tiny slice of goat cheese from the famous fromagerie Barthélemy, located nearby.
When the bill came, I asked the maître d’ what the problem had been. “It’s the waitress,” he said sullenly. “Elle n’est pas bonne” (She’s no good). He told us that she had just started working there the day before. I remarked that she was very charming, and he agreed but said, “I’m sick and tired of having to apologize for her.” It seemed that he might have been a little more indulgent toward someone who just started the day before, but no such thing.
I myself might have been more indulgent about the restaurant’s growing pains if he had been a little more on the ball and more apologetic. As it was, thé grumpy maître d’ offered no compensation for our hour-long wait until my friend asked for “un geste,” after which he deducted the price of the starters. Better than nothing, I guess.
As you can imagine. I am in no hurry to return to L’Allenothèque. Why would I, when food that is just as good or better can be found in so many Paris bistros for the same or more reasonable prices, with far better service (click here for a few suggestions)? And neither am I in any hurry to try Alléno’s other new Paris restaurant, L’Abysse, “a modern sushi counter in an ultra-contemporary setting.”
The upside of the evening was that our troubles enabled us to engage in friendly conversation with our neighbors, a couple of art collectors from the city of Rodez on one side, and a couple from Aix-en-Provence with a pied-à-terre in Paris on the other, all of whom seemed embarrassed by the way we had been treated. Anglo-French relations are looking up!