September 30, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

The Sweet Scent of Stardom

All the elements of success: gray-beige decor, great food sources, a talented chef and well-schooled staff.

It’s getting to be a bit much, all this gray-beige decor. Every aspirational restaurant startup has it. Have those Michelin inspectors been putting the word around? Is there a shortage of designers? A blight of designer color blindness? Don’t they eat in restaurants?

And slate. The European Union must be subsidizing the stuff. That might explain why something is served at least once a meal on a piece of slate.

There’s also the de rigueur nod to the best suppliers: vegetables from Joël Thiébault, Guilardeau oysters, “Iberico pata negra” ham – you get the picture.

L’Arôme does it all in spades, but carries it off exceedingly well. It also has the now de rigueur open kitchen, where you can watch the chef at work. The discreetly affable Thomas Boullot is an award-winning chef who has done time at the Royal Monceau and the George V, while manager Eric Martins has paid his dues with Ghislaine Arabian, Alain Senderens and Hélène Darroze. This place is a launch pad to Michelin stardom, so go there before they get stars in their eyes and think about hiking prices.

The place was heaving with business-suited Brits the evening I ate there, but the acoustics are kind, and our table was off to one side in splendid isolation: just the ticket for catching up with someone I hadn’t seen for 25 years.

The evening menu changes every few weeks, but the lunch menu depends on what’s available at the market. I had a delightful tarte aux legumes – a fairytale castle construction of nearly raw greens sitting on a wafer-thin foundation of short-crust pastry. It seemed heresy to disturb its contents. My companion went for the foie gras, which came with a couple of deglet noor dates, a swirl of lemon “marmalade” (the added sweetness was surprising at first, but worked well), a long finger of lightly toasted Poujauran bread (those suppliers again: this one’s a “boulanger-créateur” in the 7th arrondissment) and a shiny bay leaf spear, which was an addition of genius, according to my long-lost dining companion.

She moved on to the hampe de boeuf du Limousin au poivre blanc Malabar, poêlée de cèpes et figues de Soliès. To you that’s flank steak with white pepper and a fry-up of ceps and figs. It was stupendously robust and tasty, the mushrooms and figs perfectly textured, the gravy an unctuous reduction.

I was tempted into ordering the tempura of shrimp served with a creamy crustacean sauce and delicious carrots and turnips from Thiébault. I’m not a connoisseur of tempura, but it did seem a bit soggy. That may have been because I felt the need to take over the conversation at that point (to the detriment of the tempura, no doubt), so my companion would have a chance to eat. The shrimp sat on half a lettuce – but what a lettuce! All a-crackle and bursting with flavor.

We decided to split the dessert of quetsche plums in a juniper nage, with honey on the comb (something I hadn’t eaten since childhood) and a house pain d’épices ice cream. Elegantly, the chef served it up on two plates – a nice touch. It had none of that acidity that you often get with poached plums and was a satisfying end to a truly pleasurable meal in congenial surroundings, served by a friendly, perfectly schooled crew.

To my consternation I noticed recently that Hélène Darroze’s Toustem bistro in the 5th arrondissement is closed. Now that HD is feeding Londoners, a fourth restaurant was perhaps a bit much. Pity.

I recently lunched on a sunny Saturday at Le Square Trousseau and can report that it is still serving up foursquare fare. An old-fashioned vanilla water ice was a revelation.

Richard Hesse

L’Arôme: 3, rue Saint Philippe du Roule, 75008 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 25 55 98. Métro: Saint Philippe du Roule. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 1, rue du Commandant Rivière; 49, rue de Berri. Closed Saturday and Sunday. A la carte: around €80*. Fixed-price lunch menu: €69. www.larome.fr

* three courses, not including wine

© 2008 Paris Update

More reviews of Paris restaurants.

Reader Reaction
Click here to respond to this article (your response may be published on this page and is subject to editing).


What do you think? Send a comment:

Your comment is subject to editing. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for free!

The Paris Update newsletter will arrive in your inbox every Wednesday, full of the latest Paris news, reviews and insider tips.