The restaurant Le Cinq opened in 2001, part of the luxury Georges V palace hotel, an art deco landmark dating back to 1928. This was where General Eisenhower chose to make his headquarters during the Allied liberation of Paris. There is an attractive central courtyard where you can have a drink in good weather, with the dining room on the right of the lobby as you enter. The main room was actually being refurbished on the day of our visit, so we ate in a still very smart and luxurious salon on the other side of the hotel.
In October 2014 Christian Le Squer, who had earned three stars for a dozen consecutive years at Ledoyen, moved to Le Cinq. He has clearly been recruited with the mission of gaining a third star for the restaurant, which last held this accolade when the head chef was Philippe Legendre, who quit in 2008. Prior to the latest change the head chef had been Eric Briffard. Originally from Brittany, Christian Le Squer had trained at restaurants including Taillevent and Lucas Carton in Paris before becoming head chef of the restaurant Opera, gaining one star for it in 1996 and a second in 1998. From there he moved to Ledoyen in 1999, gaining two stars for it in 2000 and a third in 2002. He kept three stars throughout his tenure there. The kitchen at the George V is vast, catering for hotel guests as well as Le Cinq, with 100 chefs working there.
At lunch there was a four course set menu available at €145 (£101) or six courses at €210, in addition to the à la carte. The wine list arrived in an impressive leather folder, all 2,600 separate labels of it (50,000 bottles are stored on the premises). Example wines were Chateau Simone 2005 Palette at €90 for a wine that you can find in the high street for €46, Cuvee Frederic Emile 2005 at €150 compared to a shop price of €60, and Sassacaia 1996 at €450 for a bottle that retails at €225. There were plenty of prestige wines too with varying degrees of mark-up, such as Lafite 1995 at €900 for a label whose current market price is around €845, and Vega Sicilia Unico 1970 at a hefty €2,100 compared to a retail price of about €900.
The meal began with a trio of nibbles. A silver bubble contained ginger campari and orange, a raspberry bauble had a liquid centre and there was also a partly hollowed-out radish with salted butter and little crisps. I cannot say that any of these were particularly dazzling, though they doubtless involved some technical skill. This was followed quickly by a better nibble of peas served on lemon foam, the peas themselves excellent (16/20 average). Bread was made in the kitchen from scratch, and today I sampled chorizo bread, olive bread, baguette and a multi-seed roll. These were very high quality, especially the olive roll and baguette (easily 19/20).
Green asparagus from the Luberon came with black truffle and a wine sabayon made from Chateau Chalon (a Jura vineyard). This is a familiar dish from the chef’s days at Ledoyen, and is superb, showcasing the highest quality asparagus, with the truffle and vin jaune sauce taking the dish to a higher level. The plate here had more elements than the Ledoyen version, such as an extra pea puree and morels, that did not really seem necessary, but this was still lovely (19/20).
Shelled spider crab was served back in its shell with diced vegetables and a creamy coral emulsion. This was very enjoyable, and the emulsion had excellent flavour, but although I am usually a fan of simplicity, this was a rare occasion when I think an extra dish element would have been a good idea, perhaps something with acidity. (17/20).
Spaghetti timbale came with morels, ham hock and black truffle. This is a signature dish that the chef developed at Ledoyen and is visually impressive. The vertical pasta strands form a casing holding in the creamy sauce, the morels and ham hock combining really well, the truffles adding their luxurious scent. It tastes as good as it looks (20/20).
Fillet of wild turbot was served with truffled fingerling potatoes. This dish was served on a striking display plate, the fish beautifully cooked and having glorious flavour, the humble potatoes and luxurious truffle a fine combination (20/20).
Cheese came from three different top Paris suppliers, and was in impeccable condition, a Camembert particularly impressive. A pre-dessert was a wild strawberry scented with coriander leaf sorbet. The fruit was lovely, and though I really like coriander I am not sure this is the perfect accompaniment. Even if I ignore that, which is pretty much an issue of taste, it just did not seem to have much wow factor (16/20).
Grapefruit millefeuille was served in both preserved and natural form. This is another Ledoyen classic and was beautifully executed here, the interplay of textures and the balance between the sugar and the fruit acidity makes this dish a thing to behold. There was a layer of confit grapefruit, a layer of grapefruit infused with vanilla and lime, then grapefruit sorbet with a layer of sugar crisp with a touch of basil (20/20).
Strawberry cake came with strawberries cooked in their own juices and strawberry foam. The fruit was of very high quality and the different textures worked very well together, the overall effect refreshing and enjoyable (19/20). Alongside excellent coffee came delicate little sugar pastries that were simply superb, as well as a choice of different chocolate petit fours from an impressive selection presented on a trolley.
Service was impeccable, every little detail attended to, topping up flawless, the staff friendly. The bill came to €870 for two (£314 per person), including pre-dinner drinks, a bottle of Cuvee Frederich Emile Riesling and a glass of Vin de Constance dessert wine apiece. If you went à la carte and ordered (or could actually find) a modest bottle of wine then a realistic cost per person would be about £230. Of course this is hardly cheap, but this is a palace hotel in Paris with some top-notch ingredients and cooking. After just a few months with the new team it felt to me as though the kitchen was not yet completely hitting its stride, with some absolutely stunning dishes but also some that were merely very good indeed. With more time I would hope that these minor kinks will be ironed out, but this meal was already of a standard that would knock any multi-starred UK restaurant into a cocked hat.