We had every intention of taking advantage of Passage 53’s €65 lunch special. It is the cheapest Michelin star meal you can get in Paris and I was all up for affordable goodness. But when the ever so charming host described the chef’s famous tasting menu at €110…well, how could we pass that up? It was going to be several hours worth of 2 Michelin star quality and we were up for anything and everything…especially considering Sydney doesn’t even have a one Michelin star restaurant.
Le Verre Volé wins in terms of quality market food, Le Chateaubriand wins in terms of pushing the boundaries, Spring wins in terms of bursting with flavour but Passage 53 wins in terms of technique and excellence.
It’s a very tiny restaurant hidden in one of Paris’ many arcades, similar I guess to Sydney’s Strand Arcade. It is very light and clean looking with ivory leather chairs, honeycomb walls and white tablecloths. The waiters were relaxed yet professional. You couldn’t see them staring at you yet somehow they managed to time the courses and wines perfectly, they anticipated your need before you even felt a need.
Here is what we ate…
#1 : Pea soup with a drop of pea sorbet, served with sourdough and spiced butters on the side (which I didn’t eat). This dish may have been simple but was probably one of my favourite due to the sweet yet intense flavour of the peas.
#2 : Oysters covered in mousse with a drop of beluga caviar and salted tuile. I was reluctant as thought this was a creamy dish but it wasn’t, it tasted entirely of the ocean (note: oysters buried within the mousse).
#3 : Crab bisque with fresh crab, tomato sorbet and a cacao wafer on top. This was another favourite – the textures had a party inside your mouth and the crab had a beautiful lingering taste.
#4 : A pure white course – it had melt in your mouth calamari, raw cauliflower, a touch of cream and a sprinkle of parmesan. The flavour that came out most was the cauliflower – how anyone could cut that vegetable up so thinly and yet still keep the delicate floret design is beyond me.
#6 : Fish, morels (mushrooms), broad beans with white & green asparagus. This was probably my least favourite – not because it was bad but simply because there has to be a scale and this one didn’t have quite as much kick and wow-factor as the others. Although was still damn good.
#7 : Sweet onion, caramelised on one side, with wafer thin slices of Spanish chorizo inserted between each layer of the onion. And a sprinkle of knock-me-dead sea salt. This dish was another stand-out. Who would have thought an onion would be one of my favourite dishes? It was sweet yet salty, delicate yet meaty…and I have no idea how the chef managed to assemble it and yet still keep the onion in tact. Yay chef!
(This was technically one course in the sense they came out together but make no mistake…there were five substantial dishes).
#10a – Spiced rhubarb served with rhubarb sorbet and rhubarb jelly.
#10b – Grapefruit sorbet served with grapefruit jelly and pieces in a toffee cup.
#10c – Strawberry trifle – biscuit on bottom, vanilla custard, strawberries in jelly
#10d – biscuit bottom with salted caramel, banana, passionfruit pulp and a chocolate lid.
#10e – chocolate tart with dot of orange marmelade
The best dessert was the passionfruit/banana/chocolate combo. Once you broke that chocolate lid it was a world of wonders….
Pretty much though, every dish was testament to the Michelin system which many (including myself) are quick to scoff at. With every bite you could taste the hours of work and thought that had gone into the dish and each deserved to be in an art gallery. It wasn’t just that the taste left you speechless, it was that each dish also displayed an impossible level of craftsmanship that no other restaurant I have ever eaten ate has compared with.
We left the restaurant feeling full, elated and awed. Also quite drunk to be perfectly honest. It was only when the bill came and they itemised each glass that I realised the list was really quite long. Really, they should just list the line item as “alcohol” and put one lump sum – no one wants to know exactly how much they’ve drunken.
Although in fairness at one point I was singing “Downtown” so that might have been a sign of how much I’d drunken.
Passage 53 is a must when visiting Paris. There are many other restaurants that serve sensational meals but this is one of the only ones that serves Michelin standards at affordal prices. Our bill was about €430 for two but that included a couple glasses of Bolinger plus several (and I do mean several) other matched glasses of wine. And as mentioned there was the option of the cheaper four-course lunch special. Overall much cheaper than any Sydney fine dining restaurant and ten times the quality.
The only downside of the restaurant was when I fell down the stairs on my way from the bathroom. In fairness to me the stairs were very small and narrow and I was wearing slippery shoes. In fairness to the stairs…see above re lots of wine. Amazingly though the second I started falling all wait staff magically appeared at my rescue and had me reseated in seconds. I notice they didn’t offer me dessert wine though…
After our 3.5 hour lunch we had a nap (or possibly I passed out…not sure) and then made our to the Theatre de la Ville to see Dave St-Pierre’s, A Little Tenderness For Crying Out Loud!
OK I’ve been at a loss on how much of this to write about and how to put in words whatever I do decide to write about. The link above will give you a short and sweet summary of what this piece was about, I’ll just stick to describing my experience of the opening.
(Don’t worry I doubt this will be a spoiler because Australia would never support such an act)
As you enter the theatre to take your seat there is a nude man on stage with a blonde wig heckling you. If you are lucky enough to not find someone already in your seat you soon begin to notice about 20 or so people who are causing chaos. They are randomly taking peoples’ seats, blocking the aisles, climbing over people, sitting on you, basically doing their best to make you confused and uncomfortable. That’s right, the performance has already started and we were happy to sit back and laugh at what was happening and the reactions that followed.
Eventually the on-stage performance starts. There’s an intro and some movement pieces but about 10 minutes into in the lights come back on and absolute anarchy ensues. 20 nude men (with blonde wigs) suddenly charge for the audience followed by screaming and raging women. For the next 20 minutes they are doing everything they possibly can to push the boundaries, involve you, shock you, offend you and cause sheer terror among the audience – all happening while the first few seconds of Harry Connick Jnr’s It Had to Be You is playing loudly on loop. It was the funniest thing I have ever experienced but it was also horrifying. Words just can’t describe it.
The rest of the performance? Well it was intense, poignant, beautiful at times, affronting at other times. I won’t admit to always understanding each dance piece but I can say that it certainly made you feel. Sometimes the feeling was so strong as you watched something so offensive/crass/full-frontal that you didn’t know how to react because there is no standard reaction to something like that…so you just laughed.
But the piece was overall about tenderness and as the piece progressed they touched on this quite beautifully. You felt something because you were part of the performance and dicks and breasts aside, they were quite talented performers.
It wouldn’t be everyone’s thing at all, but if you have an open mind (very open mind), a sense of adventure and a willingness to go with the emotions, then you will appreciate this performance. I will never forget the degree of nakedness and some of the shocking scenes I saw (and felt) but I also wont forget how they were able to turn that around and leave you with something so much softer.
I started the day with Michelin stars and I’ve ended it with a crowd full of nude people.
Oh how I’ll miss Paris…