A New Season at Le V, Four Seasons George V

November 7, 2008

Though I suspect the clientele for meals in Paris that run at least $200 a head has dramatically diminished during the last few months, the arrival of a chef at the Four Seasons George V is still major gastronomic news and the 85 Euro lunch menu here is one of the best buys in Paris right now. Former chef Philippe Legendre, ex-Taillevant, put Le V on the map as one of the great tables in Paris after he won three Michelin stars, and then, talented though he may be, seemed to wobble when he lost one.

   Whatever transpired between Legendre and the hotel remains confidential, but suffice to say he left a few months back and was replaced by Eric Briffard. Who? Well, Eric Briffard, who came from the two star Les Elysees Vernet at the Hotel Vernet, which is where he’d taken refuge after having been unceremoniously swept out of the his post as chef at the Plaza Athenee some ten years ago to make room for Alain Ducasse.

   Though he’s prodigiously talented, Briffard, who trained with Joel Robuchon, has always been one of the most conspicuous quiet men of the Paris food scene. While Jean-Francois Piege at the Crillon has made a reputation for his edible wit, Eric Frechon at the Bristol does brilliant haute cuisine riffs on French soul food like pig’s trotters, and Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon are the Mercedes and the Lexus of the haute scene, Briffard has never forged a strong identity. I ate his food at the Plaza Athenee, where he won two stars, several times and then again at the stuffy Les Elysees du Vernet, and while I always enjoyed, it left me with no enduring memory a week later.

   So I was curious to see what Briffard would get up to at the plush dining room of the Four Seasons. And since summer is perhaps the most challenging season to cook haute cuisine—no one’s all that hungry and the season’s bounty is timid compared to autumn and winter (wild mushrooms, game, truffles, oysters, etc.)—this season seemed perfect for a debut meal.

Suffice to say that on a beautiful warm Sunday afternoon when both Bruno and I would probably have been much happier barbecuing with friends in the country or eating falafel in the Marais, we were extremely impressed by our meal. We ate a sublime dish of grilled rougets (red mullet) grilled with dried fennel stalks to give it a delicate anise flavor and its brilliant garnish of braised zucchini flowers with curry and fresh almonds; braised pigeon with five-spice powder, a luscious foie gras pastille and sumptuous chutney of cherries and celery; and Provencal goat cheese with wild-mint (nepita) oil and black-olive preserves. The only off note in our 135 Euro prix-fixe was a truly awful dessert—strawberries with mojito granite, a violent ending, in terms of taste and temperature, to an otherwise excellent meal.

   Service was surprisingly sloppy and disinterested, too, and I’ll never understand a sommelier who takes umbrage when a client knows exactly what wine he or she wants instead of asking for advice (our Culleron Condrieu was perfect with this meal), but Briffard is off to a truly brilliant start in one of the world’s favorite Paris dining rooms. And after this meal, I finally came away with a clear idea of his cooking style: Briffard cooks like a Swiss watchmaker, with such an exultant precision that his occasional creative cautiousness is veiled by a dazzling perfection.

Le V, Four Seasons George V Hotel, 31 avenue George V, 8th, Metro: George V