Few cities in the world are on par with Paris for anyone who loves seafood, since its best fish houses are supplied by artisans who ply the waters off both the country’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Due to over-fishing and environmental degradation – including global warming –France’s hard-working mariners are catching fewer fish during a period when the demand for best quality wild poisson continues to increase. And as you’ve surely guessed by now, this means that the price of fresh wild seafood in Paris has become stunningly high.
This is why the new €55 menu at Le Duc, one of the grandest of the French capital’s old-line fish restaurants, is major news. It’s your relatively affordable ticket to an excellent seafood meal, and will also include the spectacle of one of the great ‘power tables’ of the French establishment. François Mitterrand, the late French president and a famous gourmand, was a regular and on the night I dined here, the low-lit room with its wood-panelled walls and ceiling was dotted with famous faces, including a famous writer or two, one of the best-known political operatives in France and a jet-setting Italian countess.
I’m not at all interested in celebrity spotting but the presence of these bold-faced names accentuated the rather nostalgic ‘la vie en rose’ atmosphere of this dining room, which was composed by the late great restaurant designer, Slavik, aka Wiatcheslav Vassiliev.
Some people may find that this room, with its brass-lined window frames and yacht-cabin look, rather fusty but others will surely appreciate the time-capsule charm of a place that’s barely changed at all since it was opened by the Minchelli brothers in 1967. I liked it very much and hope that it won’t soon see the wrecking ball, to be replaced by something erroneously deemed hip and modern, since this place is now so outdated that it’s on the cusp of becoming chic all over again.
Before I extol the superb fish cooking at Le Duc – the Minchelli brothers pioneered the Zen style of seafood cooking that’s become the norm in France today, I’d also mention that this restaurant is rather clubby and that the service is often more alert for the regulars than it is for newcomers. That said, the crew here are cordial and very professional, but before setting you up for an expensive meal, providing a warning about any possible thorns on the experience seems prudent.
Though the prix-fixe menu, which changes according to the catch-of-the-day, appealed – with its fish soup and grilled sea bream – we offered ourselves the rare thrill of being wantonly extravagant. As our starters, we ordered an excellent carpaccio of sea bass and a portion of poached Scottish langoustines the size of a baby’s forearm with a pot of freshly made mayonnaise.
Then we enjoyed perfectly cooked sea bass with a sublime beurre blanc, a scattering of fresh thyme and a garnish of baby clams, and sole grilled on a salamandre so that it was an alluringly blistered black hue when the waiter deboned it at the table.
Too often, desserts are also-rans at places like Le Duc, but not here, where they serve an epically good baba au rhum, which you douse with Clément rum from Martinique, and one of the best millefeuilles in Paris.
Le Duc, 243 boulevard raspail, 75014 Paris. Tel: +33 1 43 20 96 30. no website. Open Tuesdays to Fridays for lunch and dinner. Saturdays lunch-only. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Lunch menu €55. average à la carte €100.
Based in Paris, restaurant columnist Alexander Lobrano has published a new book, Hungry for France, along with a new edition of his popular Hungry for Paris. Find these books and more in our bookstore.
From France Today magazine