May 3, 2009

Wedding in Reims day 6: playing tourist in Versailles

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We had a late start to the day, both due to the late night and our decision to change rooms at the hotel. Fortunately room 62 was available with no smelly bed, so we didn't have to worry about changing hotels on a Sunday.

We walked north on rue Vieille du Temple deeper into the Marais, passing by a popular boulangerie/pâtisserie where we picked up a giant sablé aux fraises and a giant palmier. We would save these for the afternoon. But first, gotta find somewhere casual for lunch...

We settled on Les Philosophes, a café with some outdoor seating facing rue Vieille du Temple. It looked busy so the food couldn't have been that bad. And sure enough, we weren't disappointed.

I started with assiette de rillettes - whose size I underestimated along with the amount of bread that I would consume. This was slightly less fatty than what I'd normally find at Brasserie on the Eighth in Hong Kong, but delicious nonetheless.

For main course I would order - yes, you guessed it - andouillette de la ville de Rodez! I figured that this would be my last chance to have it for a while, so what the heck... The sausage was yummy, and just about the best out of the three on this trip. I do have to say, though, that the look of this thing was a little disturbing...

The surprisingly thing about this place is the wine list. For a café of this size and calibre, the list was disproportionately heavy in Guigal LaLaLa's. What's more the prices for these wines were very reasonable, too, especially for a restaurant. If it had been dinner time, I would have seriously considered opening a bottle...

Fully stuffed, I hopped on the RER C5 to Versailles Rive Gauche. It was getting late as we arrived and started lining up to purchase our entrance tickets. I haven't played tourist in Paris for so long, I forgot how crowded these places can get. The sky was gray so I was totally not in the mood to take pictures of the exterior... When we finally got to the ticket counter, we were told it was too late for us to visit Marie Antoinette's Hameau de la Reine next to the Petit Trianon. It's a pity...maybe I'll just have to come back another time.

We enter the palace and go through the big maze that it is, initially bypassing the halls filled with paintings of the nobility which I found boring. Not that I don't like art, but I didn't come to Versailles to see a bunch of paintings of dukes and duchesses who were full of themselves...

But the palace IS grand - a full reflection of the Sun King's stature and the power of France at the time. Massive paintings on the walls and ceilings. Of course everyone came to see the Hall of Mirrors, the grandest part of the château where Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles to end WWI. A detour leads to the Queen's Suite, where we see the bed of Marie Antoinette which has been beautifully restored.

At this point I was suddenly hit with exhaustion. The lack of sleep over the last few days - plus carrying around my heavy camera bag - just overwhelmed me. It felt like I'd been hit with a giant hammer, and all my energy just drained away. From this point on I would stagger around, barely wandering around the gardens outside, before taking the return journey back to the hotel.

I dropped my camera gear at the hotel, change into a jacket and tie, and head off to the Four Seasons George V for a dinner at Le Cinq. I've been looking forward to this dinner for a long time, as everyone seems to be in love with this place. It had never been high on my list since it is "only" a 2-star, but I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

I knew that we weren't going to go for the tasting menu - which was a bummer - so we had to pick something a la carte. Our server Franck offered to split the starters for us so we could share them - which was a great idea.

I went through the wine list and picked out something that would be tough to get in Asia: 1973 Trimbach Riesling Clos Saint-Hune - France's single best Riesling. I wanted to see what this wine tastes like after aging. It was so elegant and subtle, not overpowering as I expected. Nose of minerals, lemon, petrol, plastic and honey - all typical Riesling elements - came at you with a velvet glove and gradually opened up. What a wonderful wine.

We were presented with a small basket of calamari and crayfish fritters, which interestingly came with bamboo skewers traditionally found in Japanese yakitori joints. I guess that's another sign that chefs are getting their inspiratons from around the world. Then there's the trio of amuse bouche: marinated octopus with red olives, onions and sundried tomatoes; a small, salty puff pastry that begs the question "Why?"; and an interesting gazpacho made from watermelon, avocado, sesame seeds, cumin and some pop rocks buried at the bottom which tickled our tongues.

Interestingly, this was the second restaurant in Paris which served seaweed butter. It's really, really yummy and I can devour a whole box of this easily...

Green asparagus from the Lubéron region blanched with poultry juice, gnocchi/Jabugo ham, sour ewe cream with matcha tea - this was the "hot and cold" plate that I had heard about. The asparagus was indeed yummy as it is in season. The hot spears had slices of jamon and red olives on top, with some lemon zest gnocchi. It's a classic combo of ham and asparagus.

The cold asparagus spear rested on top of some crème fraîche and there's a dab of caviar on top with lemon zest. The shot glass with the asparagus cream was kinda interesting.

Abalone from the Brittany seacoast wth seaweed butter, watercress fondant, hen broth flavored with lemongrass - I was intrigued by the presence of abalone on the menu, and decided to see how they would do it. One sits on top of a buttered mash with carrots; the other is topped with a nice watercress fondant. The texture of the abalone was pretty nice, not unlike what I've had elsewhere here in Asia.

The cold abalone was chopped and marinated like a tartare, which was pretty nice and sweet. The broth was flavored with a stick of lemongrass, which was a nice combination.

For main course we decided to pass on the roast leg of lamb for two recommended by Franck, which was probably a good thing because the whole thing looked huge. They did it with a whole load of herbs and spices, and I could smell the rosemary and pine leaves from 2 tables away...

Instead I took the suckling pig "Basque Race" from the Aldudes Valley: rack roasted with sage, trotters and cheeks slowly-stewed with spring vegetables. The plate looked lovely - three, actually four different ways to do the pig. But I was suddenly hit with fatigue again, this my appetite waned. Despite the delicious piggy, I just wasn't able to shovel it in. The veggies on the side actually had a hidden treasure: stuffed pig cheeks. I think we were definitely surprised by the size of the portions here.

I've been dreaming about enjoying the cheese selection here at Le Cinq, as it could only be even better than what Jeremy has at sister restaurant Caprice in Hong Kong. But there was no way I could fit that in without doing some serious damage.

We decided to skip dessert, but still got a pre-dessert of raspberries and cream. I couldn't pass up the petits fours, though, and got myself a canelé and some nougats.

I'm exhausted, stuffed and drunk, so what else can I do but ride the métro back to the hotel and collapse?

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