The Guardian restaurant critic Jay Rayner is getting a larger dose of notoriety than usual, thanks to his witheringly funny review of Le Cinq in Paris. He went to the the flagship Michelin 3-star restaurant of the George V Hotel expecting the gastronomic experience of a lifetime. What he got was the foodie equivalent of a slo mo train wreck. The review has gone viral, unsurprisingly. Rayner’s website briefly crashed under the weight of extra traffic, and the review has made headlines around the world.
The dining room, deep in the hotel, is a broad space of high ceilings and coving, with thick carpets to muffle the screams. It is decorated in various shades of taupe, biscuit and fuck you. There’s a little gilt here and there, to remind us that this is a room designed for people for whom guilt is unfamiliar.
The house champagne was €35 a glass, which seemed to add more salt to the wound. The evening’s modest drinking comprised one glass of bubbles each for Rayner and his guest, followed by a glass of white wine and one of red. The bill: €170. Ouch.
As for the food on this disastrous evening, there seemed to be little to like, although a tart with whipped chicken liver mousse received applause. The onion dish on its own has been causing international consternation, as what was presented to the food critic looked absolutely nothing like the PR shot supplied to The Guardian. It was a dark, globby, oozy thing on a plate, according to the iPhone shot taken by Rayner. Perhaps resembling an evil creature from Mariana Trench, containing a small, snarling alien ready to burst forth. Rayner says it better:
It is mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor at a teenager’s party. There are textures of onions, but what sticks out are burnt tones, and spherified balls of onion purée that burst jarringly against the roof of the mouth.
This is what the onion dish should have looked like:
The head chef at this establishment is Christian Le Squer. Le Cinq’s slightly quaint description of him is thus:
As far back as his souvenirs go, there are certain smells coming from the sea and filled with iodine, all linked to his native Brittany. They comprise the main thread that helps him to constantly explore flavors and to favor an encounter encompassing harmonious associations.
Today, as a pure product of « Parisian life», Christian Le Squer aims to perpetuate « the art of living à la française » at the heart of the Four Seasons Hotel George V, one of the most prestigious hotels of the capital and amongst the most luxurious in the world, by showcasing a French Haute Cuisine on the move and by bringing a lightness that is a far cry from the opulence traditionally associated with palaces.
Le Squer possibly encompasses fewer harmonious associations just for today. Joining Le Cinq in 2014, he was previously head chef at Ledoyen, one of the oldest restaurants in Paris, serving food since the French Revolution. It also has 3 Michelin stars.
Another image on Rayner’s site shows a dessert of cheesecake with frozen parsley. No, not a joke. He had it removed from the bill. And then there were the chocolate cigars, with a bit of milk skin draped over them. The pic below is Le Cinq’s PR shot. They pretty well match up. It may well have been a delicious pudding, but there is nothing enticing about the flaccid skin. A quick Google reveals some fabulous food shots from Le Cinq. How on earth the restaurant got it so spectacularly wrong on this particular night, I think will be the subject of an investigation.
The acidic Rayner says on Twitter he’s getting abusive emails from Parisians, telling him to go eat fish n chips because he’s British, and so on. C‘est la vie. It was a biting, hilarious review that will be remembered for a long time. Undoubtedly it has turned up the heat in Le Cinq’s kitchens, as well. The entire bill of Rayner’s meal was €600. If you’re travelling to Paris, your hard-earned euros may be, probably, better spent elsewhere. Let me know where you decide to eat!