Fine dining: Start me up!

Not long ago, I posted a fairly unfavourable review of a Paris restaurant where we lunched in September to celebrate Jan’s birthday. It was called “Disappointment at a starred restaurant” (September 13). And one of the reasons for our disappointment was the amuse-bouche we were served before the entrées arrived.

An amuse-bouche is so-called because it’s meant to tickle the palate (“amuse the mouth”), and it’s supposed to showcase the chef’s creativity. What each of us received was a single small bowl with a piece of grilled octopus tentacle, sitting on a pool of not-very-tasty bean paste. So, to show what can be done — and what I’d expect to be served in a Michelin-starred restaurant — I’m now going to show the amuse-bouches we receive yesterday at Le Petit Léon, a wonderful restaurant in Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère. (Funnily enough, the amuse-bouches are described on the restaurant menu simply as “Snacks.”)

You may remember that I posted a fairly full review of the restaurant on September 1. In it, I wrote: “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!”) This time, I took photos, although I didn’t take notes on what we were actually receiving, since there was such a flurry of information. Anyway, here’s a look at some of the selections, which include oysters on the half shell and a variety of tasty creams or mousses on pastry bases:

Just three of our selections.

This next tray shows the dark, crunchy wafers that were gluten-free, and fairly sweet. On top were little dabs of delicious mousse and jelly:

The crisp wafers were surprisingly sweet.

In this selection of egg shells, we received velouté of potato, quite foamy on top, and rich and delicious lower down. This was, in a word, yummy:

The eggshells were filled with a rich, foamy broth.

The next and final photo actually shows the second of the main courses, the fish course. But I include it because it was so delicate. It’s described on the menu as a confit of trout, which I assume means that it was either (barely) cooked sous vide, or else lightly poached in warm olive oil. With the fish came a beurre blanc sauce, pieces of fresh peach, and something Japanese (seaweed?) sprinkled on top. Here’s my delicious serving, which was refreshingly sweet because of the peach:

Not actually an amuse-bouche, but rather the fish course.

So, in my mind, this is how you start up a fine-dining meal. There were actually five of us at lunch (Jan and I were with friends Joanne, Kathy and Keith) and all of us oohed-and-aahed as we munched away happily.

A final note: While the restaurant is described as a New Zealand place — because Chef Nick Honeyman and his lovely wife have a top-flight restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand, called Paris Butter — we discovered during a table-side chat after lunch that he was born in South Africa. Very friendly young man — and obviously, amazingly creative.

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