To eat a meal at two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Clarence, Paris, is to enter a gastronomic and oenological temple.
“Chef would like to invite you into the kitchen for a sandwich, Madame.” I was in the process of working my way through a 16-course feast (not including desserts and extra treats) and the thought of an additional bite seemed extreme, but I wasn’t about to say no to one of the world’s top chefs.
In the relatively tight space of the bright white kitchen of two-Michelin-starred Le Clarence, Chef Exécutif Christophe Pelé was busily guiding his team around. Perfectly choreographed, they were ducking and diving with pots and pans, missing each other by centimetres.
As expected, it was no normal sandwich: as I bit into the caviar-coated diminutive delight, it blissfully melted in my mouth.
A few metres away from the Champs Élysées in the heart of Paris lies a 19th-century mansion house with an old-world charm: Le Clarence, newly ranked the 28th best restaurant in the world.
One of the world’s most exclusive restaurants, Le Clarence is owned by HRH Prince Robert of Luxemburg, who wanted to create a truly luxurious destination where guests could feel comfortable and enjoy a unique experience.
Le Clarence is named after Prince Robert’s great-grandfather, Clarence Dillon, an American Francophile, born in 1822 in San Antonio, Texas. Clarence always wanted to own his own restaurant; he was one of the earliest students to take classes at the Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Paris. He later bought Château Haut-Brion in 1935, creating the Domaine Clarence Dillon. In 2008, Prince Robert of Luxembourg succeeded his mother as President of Domaine Clarence Dillon.
Chef Christophe Pelé came from the kitchens of Ledoyen, the Bristol, Pierre Gagnaire and the Royal Monceau. He opened his own restaurant, La Bigarrade in 2007, which quickly became one of the most desired tables in Paris. After closing La Bigarrade in 2012, Pelé met Prince Robert and a new adventure was set in motion.
Le Clarence opened at the end of 2015 and earned two Michelin stars in 2017. Chef Pelé designed his kitchens and the Prince designed the interior and exterior of the building; their worlds would unite at the table.
The Prince and the chef worked together to conquer the challenge of establishing a new ‘gastronomic and oenological temple’ in the ‘epicurean capital of the world’, eventually putting their own stamp on Le Clarence.
A large double doorway, once used by guests arriving by horse and carriage, leads to the ground floor and restaurant lobby. Stepping inside, there’s a certain serenity to the place. Just off the lobby is La Cave du Château, an elegant fine wine boutique, where spectacularly stocked shelves boast some of the world’s most exclusive wines.
The Grand Salon on the second floor is where the magic happens. This room is classic in style: warm and welcoming with nothing outrageously modern; filled with antiques yet with contemporary hints and colours. Once described as a Rolls Royce rather than a Ferrari, Le Clarence is a rare French gem, oozing luxury from a past era.
The place is tranquil, with no music to interrupt or distract from your culinary and wine-tasting journey. There’s no menu either, which means that no meal will ever appear or taste the same twice. Chef Pelé only uses produce found in the market that day to inspire his daily creations.
Our linen-covered table was set with silver cutlery and sparkling crystal soon to be flowing with Château La Mission Haut-Brion (2006) and Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (2010).
Servers proudly presented exquisitely plated creations, each dish more inspiring than the last, including red mullet on the skin with bone marrow, scallops and buffalo milk; matcha tea powder, caviar and lemon; Mediterranean ikijemé red tuna belly confit with soy sauce; potato spaghetti with poached oyster, cosmos flour, kimchi and a dashi reduction; saffron risotto with sea urchin and quail fillet; smoked eel with veal sweetbread gyoza; porcini mushrooms and langoustine... just a few of the exquisite dishes served.
Sometimes plates arrived together, while others were served with instructions from the maître d’ on how to tackle the dish. On occasion, the servers were as uninformed about a dish as the diners, as spontaneous edible creations appeared on the table. We also received additional unlisted courses, and numerous desserts.
Each dish was intricately presented, the portions relatively small, and everything had an inimitable flavour and look.
We retreated to the third-floor lounge for dessert by way of the ornate spiral staircase. This large room is full of antique furnishings, beautifully matching and luxuriously papered walls and draped windows in classic shades of green, complemented by elaborately and skilfully arranged flower displays.
Seated around low marble-topped tables, dessert wine filled glasses in hand, a colorful parade of delicate desserts arrived: pear granita in sake; lemon cream and pomegranate jelly; umeboshi pie; almond cream, daikon radish, candied carrot and taragon pesto – pure epicurean excellence... and the chocolates followed.
It was a privilege to not only taste but witness Chef Pelé, a great master, at work.
Prince Robert once said, “I truly believe that ‘the unique’ is the new luxury and that many today seek soul, warmth and a true story over perfection. Like a fine wine, perfection and excitement can only be found in a blend that includes passion and smatterings of imperfection.”