It would be shortsighted for any British restaurateur to envelop their latest project in the blessing of the country’s top politician. At the time of writing Boris Johnson may still be waving outside No 10, but to many he’s drowning in a bacchanalian scandal emanating from inside the Prime Ministerial residence. He’s off the guest list.
In France, of course, they do things differently.
Golly. Chefs collaborating to celebrate European camaraderie. Trés Bon
Emmanuel Macron has officially bestowed presidential High Patronage upon ADMO, to full nodding agreement. It’s the latest project of Alain Ducasse, culinary royalty in France, in conjunction with Albert Adria, brother of Ferran, famous for their gastronomic fireworks at El Bulli in Spain.
Golly. Chefs collaborating to celebrate European camaraderie. Trés Bon.
It squats on a rooftop overlooking the Eiffel Tower, with a view that appears almost unreal. Being midwinter, we were inside, protected by plate glass windows which I’m sure had magnification qualities as La Dame de Fer appeared improbably close. In summer, when the terrace opens up, she’ll surely require her own table.
But first, a reality check. This would all have been quite normal two years ago before LAWKIS (life as we know it stopped). Now, we’re all returning to normality at our own speeds. I may have been slow at first but caught up quickly over breakfast when I noticed we were racing through the Kent countryside at 225 kmh. Eurostar became the near quotidian everyday mode of transport to France and beyond since its inception in 1994 and I have been a frequent traveller. City centre to city centre, it’s greener and faster. After a two year absence, I entered St Pancras International like a kid in a toyshop, en route to a bright, sunny Paris for an Actual Meeting, delayed for months. Au revoir, for the moment, Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp. It’s been real. On arrival, it turned out to be grey, rainy and cold, with clogged traffic outside Gare du Nord. Ten minutes on the RER to Port de l’Alma at least kept me dry. That’s enough reality.
ADMO is modern. A long, low, Jean Nouvel structure curves languidly along the Seine, propping up a series of elevated boxes that house the Musee du Quai Branly Jacques Chirac. Inside, it’s a collection of ethnic art and global colonial artefacts. Outside, the use of iron creates a dialogue with the neighbouring tower, shouting rather than speaking when it first appeared, now calmed and partially hidden by mature trees and greenery to mollify the neighbours, residents of opulent Haussmann mansions in the surrounding 7th.
Although we haven’t been isolated continuously for the past two years, it has seemed like it. Everyone missed human contact. I missed travel. And restaurants, especially those occasions involving etiquette, crockery with cutlery rather than fingers, linen, and delicious food cooked by someone else.
We have our own lift – whoosh – and suddenly there is champagne (Dom Perignon Rosé, 2008, a treat at any time) and Amuse-Bouche. Menus are multi-course, with little sips of curated wines to match. The opening dish, a black and white liquid of pressed caviar and almond celeriac milk is served in and supped from a narrow metal flute. It’s too narrow to lick the dregs, dammit. A disc of meringue and truffle sandwiching metton (dried curd) is spiked by a hidden champagne reduction. Poached and barbecued octopus sits on a small pancake beneath an elegant fankle which includes crunchy, piquant pickled radish and onions. This gets a mental 10 for pickling and colour. There is cutlery, lots of it, and soft napery and sparkling glassware. Oh, and I suppose, tables and chairs, as opposed to sofas and tellies.
The peak – we are skipping over warm puffed lobster spatzles (which I want for breakfast now) with burrata and lobster cream topped by roasted lobster coral boudin – is one of those perfect pieces of turbot cooked over fire, with parsnips done in the ashes, in a sauce of green olive juice, lemon and “parsnip extraction vinaigrette”. Turbot head is chopped and cubed, served cold on the side. Those embers are put to further use, charring Savoy cabbage which comes with “mountain citron, young ginger” in a green mole sauce sprinkled with shaved black truffle.
There are apparently seven courses but some are split further into two or three tiny dishes, each a combination of textures, flavours and colours designed to arouse the senses. There does not appear to be a problem with supply chains here, although the arrival of the bread from boulangerie Chambelland is treated with what can only be described as reverence. Two types, made from rice flour, beeswax and black olives, to be smeared with astoundingly rich Finistere butter. The cheese from Zaragosa is matched with a Manzanilla, a slight shock. And sea cucumber with chickpeas and caviar heralds a return of the Dom Perignon Rosé (just a sip!)
The wow factor is high. Instagram pictures from dinner – with that tower sparkling in the background – are sophisticated. Weights and measures are reined in to keep customers trim. An artichoke salad with a vibrant lettuce sauce was as light as air but full on flavour. Despite the cold greyness of February, this was light and bright, a perfect moment of European Unity. Which of course is something I began to miss even before the pandemic. C
ADMO (until 5th March, 2022), 27 Quai Branly, 75007, Paris