Le Cinq is the flagship restaurant of the venerable Georges Cinq hotel, which opened in 1928, and has been awarded “best hotel in the world” by more than one magazine. Le Cinq opened in 2001 and gained three Michelin stars under Philip Legendre before Michelin dropped its third star. In 2008 the kitchen was led by Eric Briffard, and in October 2014 the leadership of the kitchen shifted to Christian Le Squer, who had held three Michelin stars for many years at Ledoyen. He duly regained the third star for Le Cinq in 2016. The menu is a la carte, with starters mostly around €85, meat dishes around €125 and desserts €45. The tasting menu weighs in at €360. The dining room here looks out to the hotel courtyard and is gloriously opulent, with extravagant and striking flower displays and well-spaced tables. Sixty guests can be seated at any one time, and I did observe at least one table being turned. Two dozen chefs work in the kitchen.
The wine cellar here is vast and holds over 50,000 bottles, the oldest being a 1792 Madeira. Regrettably you cannot browse it online and they will not send it to you (or at least to me) electronically, so you are left to frantically leaf through the vast list when it arrives at the table. Sample labels were Darnaud Crozes Hermitage Les Trois Chenes 2014 at €70 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €23, Domaine Raveneau Chablis Butteaux 2012 at €150 compared to its retail price of €189, and the excellent Cuvee Frederich Emile 2008 at €190 for a bottle that will set you back €72 in a wine shop. For those with the means there were some relative bargains amongst the top wines. For example, Domaine Marc Colin Batard Montrachet 2016 was at €890 compared to its retail price of €1,086, and Coche Dury Meursault Les Perrieres 2014 was “just” €1,200 for a bottle whose current market value is €2,955.
The meal began with some very delicate Parmesan flavoured waffles, which had deep cheese flavour and gorgeous texture. A tray of canapes comprised a buckwheat cracker with cuttlefish, croque lobster and a tartlet Comte cheese and artichoke. These were very good though not quite in the league of the waffles. A final initial dish was a salad of cep mushrooms, which were at the peak of their season when we visited (18/20 canapes on average, the waffles being the best).
A trio of large langoustines were served in their shell along with a warm mayonnaise, tomato tapenade and soft buckwheat pancakes. The shellfish were impeccable, lightly cooked and having lovely natural sweetness. Such an ingredient needs little adornment, and the simple tomato tapenade and the pancakes nicely supported the star attraction of the shellfish without distracting from it (19/20).
A calf sweetbread was poached in buttermilk and then fried until it had a crisp outer coating and rested in a pool of fresh herb jus. The sweetbread itself was of high quality and was carefully cooked, and the herb sauce was a good foil for the richness of the sweetbread. However, this dish seemed to me very good rather than dazzling (17/20).
The signature dish of the chef has long been the spaghetti timbale (now called a ham and truffle spaghetti gratin), which he invented when at Ledoyen. This remarkable dish has vertical strands of spaghetti forming a rectangular case containing ham hock and ceps, the little box of pasta topped with truffle. To construct the dish the spaghetti is first boiled and then mixed with butter and Parmesan before being set aside to cool and then being used to line a rectangular pastry cutter, strand by strand. The ham and mushrooms are sauteed and then used to infuse some reduced cream. This is used to fill the spaghetti case, which is then sealed with a further top layer of spaghetti and garnished with ham sticks and truffle. The overall effect is a wonderfully rich, aromatic dish where the spaghetti offsets the richness of the filling, the mix of textures working beautifully together. It is one of the great dishes of the world (20/20).
A pre-dessert was Kiwi fruit and cucumber tartare with sorbet of daiginjo sake, the most refined grade of sake, made with rice milled to just half its original size. This was refreshing, and the sake sorbet worked well, but was not particularly exciting (17/20). For my main dessert I opted for another Le Squer classic, the grapefruit millefeuille. This striking dish is made of successive layers of confit grapefruit, grapefruit infused with vanilla and lime, then a grapefruit sorbet, with a layer of sugar and just a little basil. The balance of sugar and tartness is finely judged to provide a glorious flavour balance, with the various grapefruit elements providing a pleasing set of contrasting textures. This is as spectacular to bite into as it is to look at (20/20).
Coffee was from a company called Kawa, run by Alexis Gagnaire, Pierre Gagnaire's nephew, and was pleasant enough. This came with very good petit fours that included a Florentine with pecan nuts, Yuzu gavotte, a vanilla dome with cassis and buckwheat cracker and a grapefruit bite made from the grapefruit skin preserved with honey and fresh herbs, along with fresh grapefruit. Best of all was a lovely sugary tart called kouign amann from Brittany, a yeast leavened dough enriched with butter and sugar. The overall effect is rather like puff pastry but with fewer layers, and was a lovely way to finish the meal.
Service seemed a touch stretched at the busy service this evening, but our charming young Indonesian waiter guided us very smoothly through the meal. I was being taken here by a client so did not see the bill, but if you ordered three courses a la carte and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might be €300 (£257) or so. However, it would be very easy to spend multiples of this if you indulged on the wine list. Le Cinq is one of the grandest dining rooms in Paris, and if you order the classic dishes here then you will eat very well indeed. This is not cutting-edge cuisine, and it is not trying to be. I do rather miss the glory days of Ledoyen many years ago under the same chef, where he seemed to be pushing himself and his cooking harder than now. Nonetheless, Le Cinq is a top-notch restaurant and represents an excellent example of grand Parisian fine dining.