Tour d’Argent is one of the most famous restaurants in the world, the setting for some scenes in the movie Ratatouille. Its origins are not well documented, though a restaurant of that name was on this site in 1780; the Terrail family bought the restaurant in 1912. The Michelin Guide, though it began in 1900, only introduced its now famous star system in 1926, allocating a single star to restaurants of special note in France. In 1931 they extended the system to three stars (as today) in the provinces of France, and to Paris in 1933. In that 1933 guide Tour d’Argent was awarded three stars, which it held until 1996, a little matter of 63 years; its second star was lost in 2006. The head chef since 2010 has been Laurent Delarbre, who worked previously at The Ritz and at Relais Louis XIII, and was head chef at Café de la Paix.
La Tour d'Argent is on the fifth floor of a fine corner building just where the Seine twists direction. The ground floor waiting room is lovely in itself, filled with antiques, but the dining room is glorious. It looks out over the Seine and the skyline of Paris, with the cathedral of Notre Dame nearby. The view is one of the finest of any restaurant in the world. Tables are a little small, with chairs to match, but the view is terrific. The table ornament was a little Lalique glass duck.
The wine list here is legendary, offering over 15,000 wines selections from a cellar of 450,000 bottles. Interestingly for such a quintessentially French establishment, the head sommelier is English: David Ridgeway, an author and also a Master Sommelier of France. The huge wine list arrived in a weighty tome, with markup levels much kinder as you climb the list. Clos Davioud les Cimes 2006 was €69 for a wine that retails at around €26, Etienne Sauzet Les Perrieres Puligny Montrachet 1992 was €155 for a wine that actually costs around €195 in a shop, and Romanee Conti La Tache 1990 at €4,150 for a wine than actually costs around €6,103 to buy retail.
The meal began with little nibbles of duck foie gras, with a few vegetable crudités, the foie gras having very good flavour (16/20), the vegetables rather less so (15/20). An amuse-bouche of carrot velouté raised the game, the soup having excellent flavour, creamy with a few herbs as garnish (17/20).
I began with morels with asparagus (€81), the morels of high quality and carefully cooked, paired well with the excellent new season asparagus and a little chicken mousse (easily 17/20). Also nice was a pretty selection of mixed spring vegetables (€76), with carrots, puy lentils, baby courgette with its flower, toasted hazelnuts, lettuce, artichoke and carrot puree with a nice mustard dressing (16/20).
The restaurant gets its duck from House Burgaud in Challans. When sold in the restaurant the ducks are numbered (a tradition started in 1890), the millionth duck being sold in 2003. The pressed duck is roasted, then after the legs and breast are set aside the rest of the duck is put into a steel duck press, utilising the blood and juices of the duck in a sauce. My duck (€70) was served in two stages, the breast with a very good crust of hazelnuts and more asparagus, then leg of duck with duck jus, a little vinegar and salad (18/20). Even better were langoustines (€92) with a pretty casing of potato tuile dusted with paprika, with excellent peas, pea purée, basil leaves and a little more asparagus. The langoustines were superb, carefully cooked, the vegetables had lovely flavour and the potato crisps were excellent (19/20).
Caramel soufflé (€29) had good flavour and had risen well, but if I am picky then the very centre was just a little runny (17/20). Lemon meringue (€26) with a biscuit crumb was better, prettily presented with the meringue light, the lemon flavour in careful balance (18/20). Pleasant coffee was served with an excellent hazelnut and orange financier, a delicate wild strawberry tartlet and chocolates (17/20). Service was very good, topping up careful and the staff friendly. The bill came to €259 (£221) a head with an excellent bottle of Weinbach Riesling 1988 at €90. Extras add up quickly, with half a litre of Evian at €7, coffee and mignardise €10. There were cheaper set lunch menus at €75 and €90 available but we went a la carte. Although this only has one Michelin star these days there are plenty of worse two stars out there, and none has the magnificent setting of Tour d'Argent. It is a little piece of restaurant history.