Friday, July 24, 2015

Lunch in a Paris Chateau

Saint James Paris didn't look like anything we would normally find in the middle of a city - a chateau in the secluded 16th Arrondissement, built in the late 19th Century by a wealthy widow in memory of her late husband, and at one time served as a student residence and even an airfield for hot-air balloon. Now it has become an exclusive members club, a Relais & Chateaux hotel and a Michelin-starred restaurant.  

During the day, the bar and restaurant are accessible only by club members and hotel guests for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, but we took advantage of the reciprocal benefit of our new club membership at home to make arrangement for lunch there on a Monday afternoon as guest members.

After we settled down in our AirBnB apartment on the other side of town in the morning, we rode the metro and made a leisurely walk towards the grand mansion in a mainly residential neighborhood. Arrived right on time for our reservation after noon, we were led through the dining room and seated at a table inside the garden, just as everyone else - I thought all agreed that it was a waste of this beautiful sunny day to sit indoors (that was the day before the heat wave hit for the rest of our Paris stay) The decor was classic yet with a touch of flamboyance - Victorian style interior completed with high ceilings, grand staircase and crystal chandeliers with an intimate, well-stocked library bar, then in the middle of the outdoor terrace was a real-size hot-air balloon, reminiscent of the property's past life being the first balloon aerodrome in town in the 20s. There's a little garden right behind the entrance gate where some herbs and vegetables were grown too.

In a sense, the young Chef Virginie Basselot serves her food in a similar style at the restaurant too - based on classic French cooking with a contemporary flair, highlighting the tastes of seasonal ingredients rather than relying on elaborate seasonings. We opted for the 3-course menu which came with choices for each of the courses.

We began with 2 chilled amuse-bouche small bites - first the shrimp with light mustard mayo "wrapped" in a thin slice of daikon radish, followed by a bowl of smoked haddock salad with chunks of oranges and quinoa. Both were refreshing and tasty and I particularly loved the simple yet classy presentation of the shrimp "dumplings".

My first course of a marinated beef salad was clearly of Asian influence. Thick slices of raw beef with slightly charred surface was marinated in a soy and citronella-based broth with a hint dried chili peppers, and served with bean sprouts, carrots and shiitake mushrooms. This cold dish with an acidic and spicy kick was perfect in the summer days. The main course was another simple but well-executed dish - with roast cod fillet coated with paprika, then served with garden peas and shoots and lime butter sauce. Even though I am sure there's no coconut flavor in it, the dish reminded me of a Thai "Tom kha kai", perhaps with the presence of lemon verbena and the light creaminess of the sauce. The paprika brought along a hint of smokiness rather than being spicy, with contrast well with the sauce. I was glad the portion for both courses was just right as I wouldn't want to over-stuff myself with a heavy meal.

We had a bottle of simple Chassagne-Montrachet village wine (half-bottle size) which was bone-dry, minerally-focus with recessed stone-fruit on the palate and good acidity. Worked well with our dishes, elegant yet cheerfully refreshing.

Dessert was based on daily selections made in-house, on display from a trolley, and my dark chocolate and yuzu cake was as decadent as it could be. I also loved the mini Kouign-amann served as part of the petit fours. Overall the meal was delightful in a lovely surrounding and exclusive venue - something we could only dream of back at home. It's a little bit pricey for lunch but we enjoyed the meal. For the good part of the afternoon, we just chilled in the garden sipping our tea long after the meal was over, with no rush to get on with our obligated sightseeing and shopping. Even with Arc de triomphe a short walk away, we just couldn't be bothered. For us, this is what we wanted to know Paris by anyway - just being carefree and relaxing in style, dining in a chateau in a gorgeous summer day.

More pictures at my Flickr page:

When? June 29 2015
Where? Saint James Paris, 43 Avenue Bugeaud, Paris, France
Menu Highlights? Roast cod with paprika, French-style garden peas, lemon verbena and lime butter sauce.
Drinks? Domaine Fontaine Gagnard, Chassagne-Montrachet 2010

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