There can be few more glamorous, inspiring or evocative venues for a meal than at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We visited Alain Ducasse's Le Jules Verne on our first evening in the French capital, primed for one of those experiences you spend your lifetime reliving. It all started well too - we were delighted to find that our request for a table by the window had been adhered to, and a Pumpkin Velouté with diced bacon and croutons amuse bouche was delicious, kicking things off on an almost perfect note.
Our Menu Degustation then began with FOIE GRAS ET VOLAILLE cuisines ensemble, salade de legumes croquants, pain de campagne toaste - Duck foie gras and poultry layers, crunchy vegetables salad, toasted country bread; and here came an immediate, and sharp, downturn that, sadly, would last for most of the evening. A thoroughly passable if wholly unexciting terrine of foie gras was alternated with, and totally ruined by, pieces of boringly bland poultry that added absolutely nothing( positive) to the dish, in a pairing which completely failed to mesh texturally.
Next, SAINT-JACQUES doree, pomme de terre, sucs de cuisson au Mont-d'Or - Pan-seared scallop, potato, cooking jus with Mont-d'Or featured a sweet, well-seared scallop, and a light, but slightly over-salted sauce - not terrible, but imminently forgettable.
The fish dish, Blanc de TURBOT a la plancha, cresson/caviar, sauce Champagne - Pan-seared turbot, watercress/caviar, Champagne sauce, elicited much the same response - a steadfastly run-of-the-mill dish that would be forgotten before the next course was served, even allowing for the special surroundings in which we were eating.
CHEVREUIL Grand-Veneur, garniture d'hiver - Grand-Veneur style venison, winter vegetables was dry, a bit over-cooked, and not particularly flavourful either. The best thing on the plate was the vegetables - a lovely mix of apple, pumpkin, chestnut and pear.
So of all the savoury dishes, the amuse bouche, and the vegetables accompanying the meat dish, were comfortably the best elements, and that should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of the cooking on display.
Things did pick up with the desserts so the meal at least finished on a relative high. SABLE AUX FRAISES DES BOIS, fromage blanc acidule - Wild strawberry shortbread, lightly tangy fresh cream cheese was delicate and delightfully light; L'ECROU AU CHOCOLAT et praline croustillant, glace noisette - Tower bolt, dark chocolate praline, hazelnut ice cream presented in the form of a bolt in a nod to the fixture that is such a key component of the tower's design, was a tried and tested, fail safe, if somewhat uninspired combination. It was nice, very nice in fact; just that I've had it so many times before. In any case, it was far too little, and came far too late, to redeem what had come before it.
In a nutshell...
A meal atop the most iconic of Parisian, for that matter global, landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, in a restaurant run by Alain Ducasse, arguably the best French chef of this, or any, generation, should, quite simply, be one of the greatest experiences of one's life. That it didn't come even remotely close is a travesty bordering on the criminal. This should have been a meal that excited and stimulated all the senses; instead we got the exact opposite - food so insipid that they could hardly have made it more forgettable if they had tried. This wasn't just a dining experience that did its dreamy location a complete disservice, it flat out insulted it. Never mind inspiration, there wasn't even any appreciable effort, or evidence of thought, that went into the composition of these dishes. Not once was I moved to say, "oh that's clever". When the height, by a considerable distance, of creativity on show is the shaping of a chocolate cake in the form of a bolt, you know you've got a problem. You know what, never mind ingenuity, just serve some classics and do them well. Heck, just serve food that actually tastes of something and that would be an improvement.
The Menu Degustation, at EUR 200 was, needless to say, not cheap, but eating here is not about the price; it's about the romance and mystique of the Eiffel Tower, of magic carpet rides and faraway lands. The name, Le Jules Verne, was a perfect choice, and indicated an understanding of how special and unique this location is; unfortunately the actual restaurant, and more to the point the food, failed, spectacularly, and scandalously, to step up to the challenge. If this restaurant was anywhere else but where it is, I would, admittedly, not be this harsh. It would have been just another non-descript meal to go with the many other non-descript meals, Michelin-starred or otherwise, we have all had in our lives. But with the great honour of hosting a dining institution at the Eiffel Tower comes a duty and responsibility; one that Le Jules Verne failed miserably to uphold. I have thus marked it down accordingly.
Le Jules Verne
Tour Eiffel, Piller Sud, Avenue Gustave Eiffel, 75007, Paris, France
Average Price: €200