What is your dietary preference? Vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, paleo, Mediterranean-paleo, I-only-eat-circular-food? To me, a lifelong cynic, it seems that the continuously conflicting evidence churned out by branches of nutritional science (and sources less reputable) should be taken with a pinch of salt. Not too much salt, of course – everything in moderation! Exercise, don’t eat too much of anything and try and make most of what you do eat unprocessed. I’m not someone who would turn their own mother into a burger if deprived of meat, but I was doubtful upon seeing a menu at a five star hotel that contained no meat, just fish, flora and dairy. Even more surprising that this restaurant is at Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris, where the tiny 20-odd cover L’Orangerie has held a Michelin star since 2017 and where Chef Alan Taudon is pursuing a second.
L’Orangerie is, as its name suggests, a small glass construction within the hotel courtyard, adjoining the bustling opulent of La Galerie lounge. Upon entering, the shimmering gold and rich colours give way to clean and simple white linens and natural light. Maître d’ Antoine and his team are extremely polite and helpful in encouraging you to make the best of the menu. With a lightly bubbling flute of Charles Heidsieck in hand, we chose from the Discovering L’Orangerie menu and were intrigued by so many dishes that we threw in a few extra!
The menu is aesthetically appealing to the eyes as much as to the tongue. Modern presentations of the dishes result in striking colours and pique the curiosity so that one finds oneself poking at the “sealed” pomegranate used as a dish for some amuses bouches. Another nibble looks like a cactus sprouting from desert sand but is, on inspection, dried spinach. The hero of the pre-dinner was a mini pea tartlet with mint and an unusual selection of breads including a flaky pastry finger sandwiching a layer of salty plankton.
I chose the sea urchin with ‘egg yolk sparkles’ to begin and the presentation was particularly notable in its contrast between golden spherified egg blobs and the spiky urchin exterior in chichi it was served. Deep inside, some chunks of urchin bathed in sauce, its strong salty flavour made silky by bursting nuggets of yolk. It was well paired with a crisp, dry Sancerre Nuance by Vincent Pinard. By contrast, my dining companion was served a mineral Francois Merlin Condrieu Les Terrors from the Rhône. This was an excellent match for her grilled king crab dish, served with white asparagus ceviche. Citrus flavours abounded and perfect seasonality of the asparagus elevated the tender crab meat perfectly.
At this point, we snuck in a couple of extra dishes – a wise decision since our previous dinners at this hotel have been epic feasts of gluttony and L’Orangerie is clearly aiming for a different kind of experience. The spicy herb tartare from the first course menu was less spicy than woody, the strength of “green” flavor being particularly striking. It was unlike any tartare either of us had previously eaten but delicious anyway. The green asparagus with vegetal bacon was similarly puzzling; the asparagus was delightful, but the grilled coconut that accompanied had almost nothing bacon-y about it. It was slightly sweet, smoky, and definitely tasty, but it was the black miso and the parmesan sauce that stepped up to fill the umami-shaped gap in the dish’s flavour profile.
We had both opted for seafood for the main course. My choice was the red mullet, served with gnocchi cubes with a concentrated tomato flavour and a creamy saffron and Amaretto sauce. The fish skin had been tinkered with to produce crispy protruding scales and the whole dish had a warming, Mediterranean richness about it. We had asked for red wine to accompany the main courses and I was served a David Duband Chambolle-Musigny 2015. This Pinot Noir is fruity with some tannins, just light enough and savoury enough to carry the dish. Meanwhile, the lobster, fresh and mouthwateringly juicy, served with buerre blanc and steamed vegetables, had with it a sauce made from those same vegetables and presented in a tiny teapot. My dining partner was impressed with the choice of red wine, a J.M. Boillot Puligny-Montrachet Chardonnay 2017, which was an excellent choice for her lobster.
The meal continued with the arrival of a small potted tree into which had been placed some grapes and blueberries to allow the diner to pick their own fruit at the table! This was accompanied by a sharp and tangy granita of pomegranate, ginger and turmeric, served in half a coconut shell which was filled with shaved ice and emitted a bright light! This was very unusual but definitely added some mystery and theatre to the dining experience.
Finally, we shared three desserts, being the gluttons that we are. My choice, the dark chocolate leaves and soufflé was unrecognisable as a soufflé and contained so little sugar that only the hardiest cacao fiend should attempt it. The Rancy Rivesaltes Ambré 1992 was an excellent choice for wine, as it was full of dried fruits and caramel to contrast the depth of chocolate in the dessert. The ‘crunchy Tahiti vanilla’ was visually impressive in its contrast of light and dark, as well as having textural contrasts in the crispy malted cereals and creamy little towers. Alongside this was paired a Jurançon Marie Kattelin 2015 which had a citrusy bitter finish to cut through the dessert. The last dessert we tasted was a light cake with meringue petals that had been added individually to form a delicate flower. Inside was a fresh tasting basil sorbet and the dessert was a hit with my citrus-loving friend. Petit fours consisted of two kinds of chocolate bark served on halves of cacao pod and the range of digestifs and hot drinks was extensive.
L’Orangerie at Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris might not be to everyone’s taste. If you’re in Paris to gorge on steak frites or duck confit, this isn’t the place for you. Also, as a huge Four Seasons fan, there was something a little less confident and charmingly cheeky about the whole experience. It’s a restaurant that takes itself seriously, but I’m just not sure that I’m convinced that those making or serving the food would choose to forgo a good buttery sweetbread or, come to that, a real bacon sandwich. That said, I really liked L’Orangerie; the food is magical and, with environmental threats looming, it seems clear that this restaurant is trying to make some changes to our expectations about the availability of meat before our own complacency makes those changes for us. Last year, the Gault et Millau restaurant guide gave Chef Alan Taudon their ‘Grand de Domain’ award, signalling their prediction that his star is on the rise. This restaurant is an image of the future, full of bold colours and surprises. Leave your doubts at the door, sit down at L’Orangerie, and try to keep up.
Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris
31 Avenue George V