In the heart of the fashion district of Faubourg Saint Honore across from the official residence of the President of the French Republic, the five-star Palace Hotel Bristol exudes the very essence of French elegance. This family-owned hotel may be grand but it is not stuffy. Two beautiful Burmese cats, Fa-Raon and Kleopatre, are the official welcoming committee and always enjoy a gentle stroke wherever you may find them.
We walk through the spacious flower-filled lobby to be welcomed warmly at Eric Frechon’s three-Michelin-star Epicure Restaurant. It is named for Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who believed that pleasure without excess is the surest path to happiness and wisdom.
The light and airy dining room opens out through French doors to Le Bristol’s fragrant courtyard garden with its towering magnolia trees. Floor-length floral curtains and bowls of fresh flowers bring the garden inside as do the crystal butterflies that are found on each table. Ivy engraved on the Christofle silver cutlery and hand blown wine glasses further evoke the organic theme.
But the raison d’etre of the restaurant comes from the humble man from Normandy who has been the chef here since 1998. Since starting his career at 15 at the Ecole Hoteliere de Rouen, Eric Frechon has trained at some of the finest restaurants in Paris including Taillevent and Le Crillon and was made knight of the Legion of Honour in 2008. He hasn’t forgotten his roots, however, saying simply, “My grandfather grew vegetables, my father sold them, and I cook them.”
A meal at a three-Michelin-star restaurant is both a theatrical event and an ode to all five senses. At Epicure this is filtered through the prism of offering a quintessential French immersion. Yet the experience is neither formal nor rigid but filled with a joie de vivre as each of the sublimely professional waiters also jokes with the guests who are here to have a wonderful time.
The sommelier offers a glass of champagne with our amuse bouches, one even shaped like a delicate daffodil on a stalk. He mentions that the owner of the champagne house is dining with companions at the restaurant today. Later I notice a very obedient terrier sitting beside their table with its own bowl.
We choose the tasting menu and what follows is a symphony of exquisite tableaux served on the finest porcelain, each one remarkable in its design, colours, flavours and textures. The sommelier recommends a beautiful complex Chardonnay from Meursault in Burgundy to accompany the seafood courses and a classified growth from Pauillac in Bordeaux for the lamb and exquisite cheese course. He tells me that their cellar has 35,000 bottles.
Every single dish is superb but two are revelations: the finest crayfish from Brittany infused with celery and caviar and served in a creamy sauce with yuzu juice which has a tart citrus tang and a saddle of milk-fed lamb in a seaweed crust with Espelette pepper served with fresh herb gnocchi in a kohlrabi puree.
“If years later, every guest can still remember one of my dishes, my goal has been achieved,” says Frechon.
Authentic and refined, Frechon’s cooking is truly unforgettable. And the whole experience at Epicure offers guests a moment of grace around the table.
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