In addition to being one of the very best French chefs of his rapidly ascending generation, Jean-François Piège, 45, is also an aesthete with a remarkable talent, not only for cooking but also for creating restaurants with a signature level of charm. Exiting a partnership with restaurant entrepreneur Thierry Costes, Piège is now completely independent and has just opened a little jewel box of his own – a 30-seat table in the heart of Paris, on a quiet street near the British Embassy and the Élysée Palace.
Piège and his wife, Elodie, worked with the LosAngeles-based, Iceland-born interior designer Gulla Jonsdottir to create a strikingly original décor, which plays with the visual codes of Parisian good taste, to achieve a look that might be described as ‘tongue-in-cheek mineral chic’. Entering the restaurant, you immediately come across the chef’s open kitchen, a beautiful marble-lined lozenge by the same marbriers who are currently putting the finishing touches to rooms at the Hotel Ritz. You’re then led into a low-lit dining room with a thick, fitted, custom-made woollen carpet featuring an abstract spider’s web motif, grey-painted cement walls with Baccarat appliqués and a bold modern verrière (glass ceiling), which looks like it might have been inspired by the Cubist art produced in Prague or Vienna during the 1930s.
This suave, serene setting is as suited to eye-gazing evening tête-à-têtes as it is to power lunches, and that’s the best measure of its success. The young, well-drilled service team is gracious, charming and includes an excellent female sommelière who runs her wine list with a contagious enthusiasm and deep knowledge which she’s winningly eager to share. Suffice to say, there’s a particularly excellent selection of Rhône Valley wines as Piège is a native of Valence.
A sly culinary wit and a certain gastronomic playfulness have always been Jean-François Piège’s signatures, but as his career and stature’s grown, these traits have become exhilaratingly subtle. For his new table, Piège has deepened and refined many of the ideas he first showcased at Clover, his excellent Left Bank bistro – most noticeably, largely fat-free dishes which feature layered tastes and textures.
After several brilliant starters – langoustines in almost transparent buckwheat ‘veils’ with a sauce made from their own shells and an umami-rich onion and smoked herring tart – main courses during a recent dinner here were sensually succulent and unexpected. They included lobster cooked in fig leaves and garnished with pickled blackcurrants and a blackcurrant-and-fig coulis, and veal sweetbreads lacquered with walnut juice and cooked over smouldering walnut shells in a hot box. The chocolate-raspberry dessert was magnificent too.
Le Grand Restaurant is grand, indeed, and has immediately become one of Paris’s best high-end tables.
7 rue d’Aguesseau, Paris 8th. Tel: +33 1 53 05 00 00. Open Mon-Fri for lunch & dinner. Lunch menu €80, prix-fixe menus €190 & €245www.jeanfrancoispiege.com
From France Today magazine