Disappointment at a starred restaurant

We had been very much looking forward to dining this past Tuesday (September 7) at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, chosen by my wife Jan because the specialty was seafood, and Tuesday was to be her special birthday lunch, with our great friends Keith and Kathy, visiting from Toronto.

As it turned out, I am sorry to say, our lunch at Divellec, on the rue Fabert, not far from Les Invalides, was a disappointment. Not bad, and rather pleasant as a gathering of friends, but disappointing nevertheless. There were a few reasons why.

Let’s start with Michelin’s own description of the restaurant, which in some measure led us to choose it: “The famous restaurant of Jacques Le Divellec has treated itself to a makeover. At the helm is the starred chef Mathieu Pacaud (Hexagone and Histoires in Paris), who channels his considerable talent into impeccable fish and seafood cuisine. The delicacies come thick and fast. Le Divellec is back with a vengeance.” Well, that sounds promising, yes?

We began by toasting Jan’s birthday with a bottle of Champagne. Then we placed our orders and sat back, waiting to be dazzled. What we received was a single amuse-bouche, which was a small bowl containing a piece of grilled octopus sitting atop some bean paste (which I wrongly thought was hummus).

Now the octopus-and-bean-paste was fine — but frankly not much better than I would expect as an appetizer at one of the Greek restaurants on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. Contrast that with what I wrote about Le Petit Léon (September 1): “We began with a generous selection of amuse-bouches, including minced fresh oysters served on the half-shell with a tart sauce. The variety and number of the little taste treats were so stunning that I forgot to take any photos of the dishes!”

Then, at Divellec, came our entrées. For Jan, it was a tuna tartare, served in a bowl, with an accompaniment of mashed avocado. Once again, it was fine — but certainly not particularly creative. Have a look:

Tasty, but not really exceptional.

The one “creative” dish of our meal, in my view, was my entrée — a “carbonara” with thinly sliced squid rings instead of pasta, topped with an egg yolk. It was delicious, although in all honesty the creamy pasta I had enjoyed at Romantica Caffé was better, simply because the squid has a more firm texture than pasta, and so was somehow less satisfying. Again, however, I give the Divellec creation full marks for being creative and also yummy. Here’s my serving:

The pasta was, well, not pasta. Pretty yummy.

And now we come to the real heart of the problem: the main course. Jan, Kathy and I had all ordered the sole — cooked with butter in the classic way for Kathy and me, and grilled for Jan. (Keith, ever seeking la différence, even in a seafood restaurant, had Bresse chicken.)

And when the fish arrived, and was de-boned (skillfully) by our waiter, we were stunned. The only word I can use for our portions was “huge.” In each case, we had a whole fish, and while all three of us are reasonably hearty eaters, this was simply too much. I’m not sure the following photo will really convey the size of each serving:

Well prepared, well cooked, quite delicious — but huge.

My sole was perfectly cooked. The butter sauce was delicious. So was the fish itself. But I could eat only about a third or a half of it. The same problem was faced by Jan and Kathy. So when we were “finished,” the waiter returned, took away our plates, and that was that. No question, such as “Didn’t you enjoy your sole?” or “Was there something wrong with the fish?” Nothing, as if it was completely normal that diners would return half or two-thirds of their main course to be dumped in the garbage.

And then, just to be finished, we had coffee and some not-very-inspiring mignardise, of which I had none. No dessert — just please order a taxi for us.

When we returned home, we received an email from the restaurant, asking us to complete a questionnaire regarding our experience. And that I did, with the same sort of tone I’ve used for this review. But, obviously, my comments and ratings were pretty unfavourable.

Follow-up: Another day passed, and we received a phone message from the manager of Divellec, asking us to phone — which I did. We had a rather long conversation, in which I again spelled out why we were disappointed in our lunch. In a nice way, he apologized, expressed surprise that we were taken aback by the size of our fish portions, and said to call him personally if we wanted to return. He also acknowledged that, given our reaction, we probably wouldn’t be returning. And of course he was right.

Final thought: Although it’s not stated on the menu, the manager told me that the restaurant sometimes offers sole to be shared. I could be wrong on this, but I think the three of us may have been served — each — a fish that was meant to be shared between at least two people. We’ll probably never know.

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4 Responses to Disappointment at a starred restaurant

  1. Jill and Sam Hershfield says:

    Lorenzo, sorry for the filling, yet unfulfilling gastronomic adventure?

    And the “Prixe Disappointment de Pesce”?

    • loren24250 says:

      I am almost embarrassed to say that for each couple it was a whopping 360 euros. Yes, we had a bottle of Champagne, and two bottles of (medium-priced) wine, but everything on the menu was a la carte. As I recall, each sole was a large 60 or 65 euros.

  2. Roy S says:

    Wow Loren! Don’t want to get on the wrong side of your meal! Well done for telling it like it is. Burger & chips anyone?

    • loren24250 says:

      Thanks Roy. I do sincerely love fine dining, and Michelin-starred restaurants. But the lobster roll and chips we had at the start of our Paris stay, and at the end, were actually more enjoyable. I do try to be fair in my reviews, as you know, and it sort of pained me to write this one.

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