Among foodies worldwide, it’s not as famous as Alain Ducasse’s restaurant just a few steps away, but it is a great favorite institution among the locals.
You know how it is when foodies from overseas come to Paris, myself included.
We all want to eat in the famous restaurants with Michelin stars. Lots of excellent Parisian restaurants don’t make it on the world radar because of this.
In fact, as we were on our way over here, the Travel Companion asked me, with a hint of mild irritation in his voice: “Why did you choose this place?”
I think I’ve already told you how he’s way more into wine than food, and so he’d left all the restaurant choices to me.
SIMPLE, EXCELLENT, UNDER-THE-RADAR
But although he’s been to Paris as often as me — and honestly I’ve been to Paris way more than I can count — and he’s also stayed at the Plaza Athenee as well, he’d actually never thought of eating at Le Relais before.
It hadn’t been on his radar.
But for today’s lunch, I really wanted to go to Le Relais precisely because it’s so under the tourist radar. It’s a favorite of mine for good food and excellent service in a very comforting way.
A GREAT LOCAL FAVORITE
Le Relais is a local institution — albeit a very upmarket and elegant one that is patronized by the chic Parisians and favored by top French businessmen.
It’s kind of a power place rather than a tourist place, with quite masculine interiors done up with the sailing vessel Le Normandie as the inspiration.
In fact, today, we were the only foreigners in the room. Everyone else looked like a local and a regular.
Champagne to start lunch on the right foot…
The service at Le Normandie is unequalled, in my opinion.
It’s formal and yet friendly, and just right in every degree. You feel very comfortable having a meal here, but it’s not at all overdone in any way. They leave you alone exactly when you wish, and then suddenly they’re there just when you need them.
And the food of Chef Philippe Marc is excellent as well. Le Relais is traditional, simple and refined comfort food at its best.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS…
Mine. All mine.
The emphasis is on the quality of ingredients rather than on impressing with technique or plating.
In fact, the plating of dishes is more on the old-fashioned side — the kind of plating you’ve already seen a hundred times before, with no extensive frills or fancy techniques.
This is exactly why locals like it, by the way. It’s great no-fuss food that’s simple and simply delicious.
WHITE ASPARAGUS TO START
For lunch, I chose a plate of white asparagus — again, so simple but so difficult to get at this quality in Asia.
The server arrived bearing a plate of giant asparagus stalks that had just been blanched in a little salt.
It’s the kind of dish you can’t ever get in Asia as the freshness is paramount here.
At Le Relais, it was as served in an almost shockingly simple way: about a dozen giant white asparagus stalks on a plate, was put in front of me.
IRRESISTIBLE BLACK TRUFFLES
My wonderful risotto with black truffles
For a main dish, I chose a risotto with black truffles.
Yes, this is France and risotto is from Italy.
But anything with truffles catches my attention. Again, this dish was so simply presented — rice was ladled onto a plate with shavings of black truffles on top of it.
You can’t really get more simple than this.
But one spoonful put me in seventh heaven for honest-to-goodness good food. I ate every single thing on my plate.
A DESSERT CHOSEN FOR US
For dessert, our server asked us: “Will you leave the dessert to me? I have something I would like to recommend to you.”
Of course we were leaving ourselves in her hands, after such a definitive statement.
And in a few minutes, a beautiful plate containing two desserts arrived.
One was a luscious-looking strawberry tart with berries and pistachio, with the combination giving a Christmas decor effect; and the other was the most perfect combination of salted caramel without ice cream that I’ve ever tasted.
TRUSTING A TRAVELIFE
It was such a wonderful lunch, in an institution of a restaurant inside an institution of a luxury hotel in Paris.
And one I was so happy to have insisted on doing, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.
The Travel Companion was ecstatic with lunch and all I could do was sigh. This has happened before, that some friend I’ve traveled with has been reluctant to go along with something I’ve chosen. And then they end up pretty happy with it after all.
Now if only more of my friends would trust me with a Travelife.