Taillevent was set up in 1946 by André Vrinat, gaining its first Michelin star in 1948, its second in 1954 and its third in 1973 under chef Claude Deligne. Philippe Legendre cooked here from 1991 to 1999 before the kitchen reins were taken over in 2002 by its current incumbent Alain Solivérès. Mr Solivérès trained at Louis XV and Lucas Carton amongst others before moving to Taillevent. The restaurant controversially lost its third Michelin star in 2007. The name Taillevent is a reference to the first French cookbook, which was written by Guillame Tirel and whose nickname was Taillevent.
The restaurant is split into several sections on the ground floor, with two additional private dining rooms upstairs. The dining room can seat around 65 customers downstairs, with the two private rooms able to accommodate up to 12 and 30 guests respectively. The room has wooden panelling on the walls, brown upholstery, striped carpet in neutral shades, and no music to distract from the food. Much of the seating is on banquettes, with pairs of diners placed next to rather than opposite each other. The overall effect is quite cosy, though tables are reasonably well-spaced.
The tasting menu was €198, or €340 for a truffle tasting menu, in addition to an à la carte selection. Taillevent offers a vast wine list with over 3,000 different selections, starting at just €28. The wine list arrives in a vast black tome, the selection mostly French but with a smattering of foreign wines too. Paris wines in smart restaurants can have breathtaking markups, but this list was a pleasant surprise, with plenty of relative bargains tucked away on the list. Trimbach Clos St Hune Riesling 2001 was priced on the list at €200, yet in a shop it will set you back around €247. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, this is what we drank. Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne Montrachet 2002 was €80 for a wine that you can find in the shops for around €56, and Chateau Musar 1995 was €110 for a wine that retails at around €85. Domaine Armand Rousseau 2001 Charmes Chambertin was priced at €280 for a wine that you can find in a shop for around €195.
The meal began with gougeres made from one year old aged Comte from Bernard Antony. These gougeres were terrific, evenly piped out, with very light choux pastry and above all with plenty of Comte flavour. Gougeres are a popular nibble in French restaurants, but even in Michelin-starred places it is surprising how many arrive with little flavour. These were top of the range gougeres (19/20). Bread was a choice of country bread or white, with good texture, in particular for the country bread (18/20). The bread was bought-in from a bakery called Lalos in the 15th arrondissement. Its owner Frederick Lalos won the prestigious title of Mellieur Ouvrier de France in the bakery section at the age of 26, so is a serious baker.
Amuse-bouche was a smoked salmon and horseradish mousse with extremely fine julienne of radish as a garnish. This was a lovely example of classical cookery, the mousse having lovely light texture with deep flavour of smoked salmon and just enough horseradish to lift the dish but not so much as to overwhelm the salmon (19/20).
My starter of scallops came with chervil root puree, slivers of fried potato and parsley sauce. The five scallops were plump and carefully cooked, sweet though not the very finest that I have eaten. However the chervil root puree, which was reminiscent of a cross between parsnip and celeriac, was glorious (18/20 overall). Even better was ratte potato mashed and served with black truffle and egg yolk. This was a lovely rich concoction, the texture of the potatoes superb, the truffle flavor lifting the dish (19/20).
Sea bass with leeks and a cream sauce featured wild sea bass, perfectly cooked and with great flavour, the leeks every bit as impressive in their own way, tasting superb (9/10). However the dish of the night was lobster, which arrived in a transparent bowl sealed with pastry that was then cut open at the table before serving, releasing a wonderful aroma into the dining room. The lobster was perfectly tender, served with a rich seafood bisque, potatoes and chestnuts. The little potatoes had magnificent flavour, and in their own way were as good as the lobster. This was a faultless dish (20/20).
The cheese board, mainly supplied by Bernard Antony of Alsace, was in excellent condition, served with lovely fruit bread. For dessert, chocolate soufflé was as airy as you could wish, cooked evenly through and with plenty of rich chocolate flavour coming through (19/20). I couldn't resist a little theatre in the form of crepe Suzettes, a dish that according to legend was created by accident in 1895 at the Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo by a young waiter when preparing a dessert for The Prince of Wales; the dish came too close to a flame and the brandy caught light, but the end result tasted good and so it was served up; the prince asked that the dish be named after his dining companion. Whatever the truth of the story, the ultra-thin crepes served with orange and Grand Marnier sauce certainly tasted lovely, and it was fun to watch the crepes being flambéed at the table (8/10). Coffee was excellent, served with a few petit fours that I struggled to appreciate because by this stage of the meal I was replete.
Service was as silky smooth as only top French restaurants seem to be able to deliver, topping up perfect, the waiters friendly. The bill came to a little matter of €409 (£347) per person, but that included some serious wine. If you opted for a modest wine then a realistic expectation of spend would be around €260 (£220) a head. Still hardly cheap, but you are getting for that a glorious exhibition of classical French cooking. Michelin thinks this worthy of only two stars now, but there are plenty of worse three star restaurants in the world (and in France) than this. Taillevent is exactly how I remember it from a visit fifteen years ago, and I hope it will be just the same in fifteen years’ time.
Further reviews: 01st Jul 1998