dines at l'Arpège in Paris...

l‘Arpège is the tiny Lalique-panneled restaurant owned by the legendary Alain Passard.  In 2001 Monsieur Passard declared that he would be be focussing on a more vegetable driven menu, but more importantly a seasonal, home-grown menu.

This statement seems to have lost something in translation, because in 2012 it seems perfectly reasonable, indeed appropriate.  But in Paris a decade ago, turning your back on a very protein-heavy menu, seems to have caused considerable ripples.  Alain had held three Michelin stars since 1996, but maintained those stars after swapping over to his new style - clearly the inspectors felt that the standards were maintained.

Alain does offer protein on the menu, but the objective is to strip dishes back to showcase ingredients grown in the restaurant's gardens North of Paris.

I can still 'taste' certain dishes in my mind - most notably the incredibly simple gratin of parmesan, onion and candied lemon... When Alain popped up to ask which dishes I liked, I said this one, because I had wanted to lick the plate clean (I mimed this to him - after all it was an umami addicts dream!) - he became very enthusiastic, nodding vigorously - clearly I had understood...

Also sensational was the lemon puree served with the roast beetroot - exquisite earthiness and smooth citrus.  Tiny details make the difference, and Alain ran into the room to grate fresh horseradish over the veal, running back out again to dress another dish.  The horseradish added a sharp, fresh piquancy which lifted the dish.

Though my photographs are appalling, you can see his minimalistic style clearly.  Never before have I been served a quarter of a lobster tail - but Monsieur Passard is right - I didn't actually need any more than this.

A small note of caution - the prices are a little eye-watering, even for us.  Care needs to be taken with alcohol: two gin and tonics came in at €50, though two glasses of dessert wine were €17...  Having said that, we would definitely return.  Eye-watering prices or not, some of those dishes were amongst the most memorable dishes we've eaten, and I defy you not to want to lick that parmesan gratin from the dish...

Jerusalem artichoke and red onion,
beetroot lavender and turnip, zucchini and candy beetroot, served in potato skins
Gazpacho, celery ice-cream and mustard

Gratin of white onion, parmesan, and candied lemon, chervil
Chicken egg, quatre épices, creme fraiche, sherry, maple syrup, fleur de sel
Consommé of celery root, with multicoloured ravioli, celery and verbena
Roast beetroot in salt crust, bay-leaf oil, lemon purée
Normandy lobster, finely sliced turnip, sweet and sour sauce with home-grown honey dressing
Pumpkin velouté, with a frozen ham foam
Risotto, flavoured with sorrel, and finely diced white celery
Scallop with matcha, bay leaf oil and roasted shallot
Vegetables, couscous, argan oil, turnip, pumpkin,
beetroot, butternut, garam masala, cumin, coriander
Turbot, white wine sauce, smoked potato, cabbage, chives
Veal rump, puffball mushroom, chard, horseradish, stuffed tomato and shallot
Pear tart, almonds, millefeuille and chocolate sauce
Petit Fours: tonka bean, pear tart, watermelon paté de fruit, white truffle, fudge, macaron

84, Rue de Varenne
75007 PARIS
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 05 09 06