Cuisine Suprême à Paris
Stunning food and wine and elegant Parisian surroundings makes Le Clarence a magnet for food and wine lovers. Its La Cave du Château offers an outstanding and reasonable selection of French wines to take away after your memorable meal
Review by Rupert Watkins
Located a short walk from the iconic Avenue des Champs-Élysées lies the opulent Hôtel Dillon and its restaurant Le Clarence. Housed in a late 19th century Second Empire townhouse (a former doctor’s residence), the property was extensively renovated prior to opening in its current form in 2015.
Hôtel Dillon is the Parisian outpost of Domaine Clarence Dillon (“hotel” is used more in its French sense, this is still very much a private residence). Founded in 1935 by the American financier Clarence Dillon when he bought the grand cru estate Château Haut-Brion, the Domaine now owns Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Château Quintus and Clarendelle. Still in family hands, the current CEO Prince Robert of Luxembourg is the great grandson of Clarence Dillon.
Walking in, there is a small courtyard at the back of the maison, the former coachyard and stables that is used in summer for al fresco dining and is the spot for a post prandial cigar. The entrance to Le Clarence is opposite the entrance to Hôtel Dillon’s wine shop, La Cave du Château. La Cave specialises in French wines and spirits. The original cellar has been extensively restored – every brick in the ceiling has been individually cleaned – and is now home to a quite stunning selection of French wines and spirits. From show stopping vintages from names such as Château Haut–Brion, Margaux, Pomerol and Yquem to a wide array of Armagnacs by the magnum or French whiskies distilled in Corsica and Lorraine and a wide range of carefully sourced wines in the €25 – €60 bracket, La Cave has something to tempt any wine lover. “We look to deal directly with each Château and maker,” explains Domaine deputy managing director Philippe Vidal, “if we have to deal with an intermediary, we declare it.”
Before lunch, the latest Clarendelle 2018 Rosé was uncorked for sampling. Bordeaux is perhaps not as famous for rosé but this was a delightful wine; fruity but very balanced it is another elegant string to the Clarence Dillon bow. At 14 Euros a bottle it is outstanding value – it will be released in the UK later in 2019.
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Moving into Le Clarence, Philippe points out the extensive renovation the Domaine lavished on this elegant Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt townhouse; paint was stripped away and carpets removed to reveal the original marble flooring. Prince Robert personally oversaw much of the interior design and selection of the museum grade antiques and artwork that furnish the building, “the aim was create a Bordeaux embassy, as it were, in Paris” comments Philippe. The care and attention is clear; being shown into the Grand Salon on the second floor for pre-lunch drinks you are confronted with a beautiful room, immaculately furnished with 19th century French furniture and French and Flemish paintings. The deep green damask wall paper does give the room a slight English feel. “Throughout the renovation, Prince Robert was very keen to re-create the feel of Château Haut-Brion” Philippe explains. The saloon and small next-door bar are for the use of diners only creating an intimate and luxurious ambience.
Moving downstairs to the restaurant – housed in part in the old doctor’s library – you await executive chef Christophe Pelé’s gastronomic experience. There is no menu at Le Clarence, you are in the hands of Christophe. To start, we had cuttlefish with karashi and kiwi, the cuttlefish was delicate but not overpowered by the karashi (a type of Japanese mustard) whilst the kiwi added a burst of fresh tartness to the dish. No sooner than that was whisked away by the impeccably drilled team under the eye of manager Cédric Servain, then we had scallops with buffalo milk, bacon and beef broth alongside raw scallops with black radish placed before us. Bursting with freshness, the radish offered bite whilst the bacon gave a crispy texture and a little supporting depth of taste to the scallops.
To begin our meal, we were offered a 2012 La Clarté de Haut Brion. A wonderful light and fruity wine with just a hint of wood to give it depth, it was an appropriate accompaniment to our initial fish courses complimenting but never overpowering the food.
We moved onto red mullet with white butter infused cockles alongside red prawns and fried artichoke and Pyrenees black ham. The mullet fell apart when cut by a fork, the white butter giving a rich, slightly salty edge with the cockles. The fried artichoke was delicate, perfectly judged to retain its flavour. To accompany this, we were offered a 2009 Le Clarence du Haut-Brion; medium bodied on the palate, with hints of blackberry, whilst powerful wine it did not prove too much for the more fragile flavours of the dishes.
This was followed by, what was for me, the show stopping course. Beef fillet with anchovy, squid ink and celeriac puree with a side of mushroom and foie gras ravioli with black truffles. A truly memorable dish, the tenderness of the beef – Le Clarence sources from farms in Brittany and it’s hung for three weeks – was lifted by the slight salty tang of the anchovy. The accompanying ravioli was dense, the earthiness of the mushroom and foie gras coming together harmoniously. Such a magnificent dish needed a stunning wine to match and the 2000 Pessac-Leognan Château la Mission Haut-Brion was perfect. A complex and brooding wine, with powerful hints of blackberry, blackcurrant and oak on the nose – and coming through onto the palette – it was incredibly smooth. Its richness had a well-judged compliment to the beef.
All the courses are well judged and, despite this being a gastronomic extravagance, I did not feel at any time during the meal overly full and sated so I lost neither my palette nor enjoyment of the meal. This judgement continues with the selection of French soft, blue and hard cheeses we were then offered – even though I could cheerfully have kidnaped the entire trolley. All wonderfully aged, ripe and tangy they came with a glass of 2012 Saint-Emilion Château Quintus Grand Cru. Very full bodied with good length with liquorice and berries on the palette it sat well against the pungent cheeses.
Delicate small deserts – rum baba, lemon cream, chocolate tart and bloody orange sorbet – the tart decadently rich and the sorbet light and palette cleansing rounded off what was a truly special meal. The dessert wine was a Clarendelle 2003 – with hints of honey and orange, this was a delicious final tipple to end the meal.
There is no doubt Le Clarence is a stunning restaurant, one that you will remember whether you have the means to dine there frequently or it is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Even if you don’t have the means to enjoy the restaurant, La Cave du Château’s selection of wines and spirits alongside its wide price points means you should still swing by Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt. La Cave runs regular tastings (booking recommended) – a recent one being for less talked about Chartreuse. As Philippe puts it, “we are still in a learning process, but we are growing.” Given the speed – Le Clarence received two Michelin stars within 18 months – and all-round precision and panache Hôtel Dillon has now, this will remain a food and wine lovers destination for years to come.