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Le Pré Catelan review

Mark Garner reviews a three star Michelin restaurant in extreme south Manchester (er...Paris) and simultaneously begins his autobiography

Written by . Published on February 11th 2009.


Le Pré Catelan review

August 1990 was an interesting month for me. I had most of my family, and a few good friends staying with me in St. Tropez, where I had a land banking business that had started out as a hobby. Six years later I’d finished up owning fourteen million quids worth of land ready to be developed in the autumn. I regularly took house guests to Club 55, a great beach restaurant, which was and still is in my mind the best if you have family with you. During the last two weeks of August on two separate occasions Clint Eastwood had his family on the next table. Both times I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with the legend in the loo. It was a bit unnerving.

At the end of the month, I was called into the local town hall where a shifty eighty year old mayor informed me that the council were revoking all my planning permissions. This had the irritating effect of turning all my land back to agricultural and seeing me bankrupt to the tune of five million very painful quid. I thought it would be a good idea to drive back to England with everybody to lick my wounds whilst the credit cards were still functioning, giving the Banque Nationale de Paris Mastercard a particularly brutal battering with stops at a number of three star Michelin restaurants and Relais & Chateau hotels on the way up.

In Paris we had lunch at Le Pré Catalin. It held two Michelin Stars in those days. Just about to tuck into a big slab of foie gras with sauternes jelly, my partner Carole started laughing. “I don’t believe it, look who is on the table behind us”. Clint Eastwood. I kid you not. An hour later finds me standing at the urinal getting rid of a bottle Haut Brion ’59. The great man walks in, stands one bowl away from me and gets his not-so-dinky out. Looking over at me, he winks.

“Gotta stop meeting like this kid”.

That was eighteen years ago. This last summer I decided that a trip to Paris was in order to see how the French Michelin starred restaurants compared with ours. A visit to a one star (Benoit, click here) and a two star (Robuchon, click here) had been done on the Friday and Saturday; the coup de grace, a three star, was the target for Sunday lunch. Le Pré Catelin had earned another star since the Clint’s visit, won by a new hero in French Cuisine, Frédéric Anton. This was the target.

Freddy’s restaurant is in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne, a small forest just outside the ring road that encircles Paris ‘proper’. An elegant Napoleon III lodge with a listed interior, it houses the historic function rooms now used by France’s premiere catering company Lenotre, arguably the finest anywhere. Steeped in history, they are the ultimate wedding breakfast destination for old money as only the French understand old money. The restaurant is ‘round the back’. Don’t take this like ‘round the back of 51, Agecroft Drive, Salford.’ Look at it as ‘round the back of Buckingham Palace’. It is gobsmacking.

Walking through the entrance into the hall, there are four people fussing around the reception desk. One of them I mistook for a better dressed Carla Bruni. She was the receptionist. I introduced myself. You couldn’t have seen a more welcoming smile.

“But of course Mr Garner, our Maitre d’ will take you through to your table. I have chosen one in the garden room for you”. Well, you could have knocked me down with a tocque. We floated through the main salon, at least two inches taller, with French government dining on one side and the world of theatre and film on the other, into the garden rooms, bright with sunlight. The day was made up of that blue sky you only get in Paris, you know, the one with the fluffy white clouds that do a lot of aimless floating about.

We took ‘Le Menu’, normally a good way of keeping the bill down. It went like this.

La Sardine:
A l’huile, Capeaux de Beurre et Pain aux Olives
Sardine et persil plat frits
Gelée de Bouillabaisse, Sauce Rouille.

La Sardine

Three different methods of dealing with sardines, each on its own plate, all served at the same time. The Maitre d’ of the room, Jean Claude Pautellini, recommended we started with the gelée first. This was a boullabaise without the bouillabaise, everything having been reduced down over an age to form a clear stock that had been poured a quarter inch deep into a soup bowl. Then, left to turn into jelly in the fridge, it gets rouille, the spicy, garlicky mayonnaise dabbed onto the surface. They were saffron yellow, followed by dull grey dabs and light beige dabs. It all looked pretty but insubstantial. Until, that is, a spoon is slid across the plate scooping up the jelly like ice cream, then into your mouth.

That mouthful took me back twenty years to a table bathed in sunlight at Les Roches, in Le Lavandou on the Riviera, demolishing an authentic bouillabaisse for the very first time. The other dabs were sardines and shellfish, a mouthful so exquisite that I now understand what keeps Heston Blumenthal going. He wants to achieve what Freddy has here, in this little tickle of a dish. The entire reason for visiting the French Riviera was in that spoonful.

The rest? Three perfectly prepared saddles of sardines, with olive oil, a curl of butter to be used with the thinly sliced and toasted olive bread. Oh, and tiny, tiny flowers of thyme sprinkled over. Then a dish of the little fellas deep fried with parsley. Amongst all the gorgeous little tricks the kitchen scattered across these three plates like a handful of small diamonds, was a simple quarter of lime. There was a lesson here.

La Courgette
Poelée aux Amandes, Poudre de Curry, Courgette en salade
Mimosa d’oeuf et filet d’Achois
Petit Farci de Courgette cuisine au Plat, Fondant d’Agneau épicé

La Courgette

Once again we had three dishes, each showing a different manner of dealing with the headline ingredient, courgettes. One was sliced lengthways in half, stuffed with egg and anchovies, next a bowl of sautéed almonds, tiny cubes of bacon and courgettes with a beautiful jus. Finally, a stuffed courgette topped off with finely ground and spiced lamb. The world champion Lamb Kofta in fact. This last dish was one that would be a superstar on its own, with spices balancing the warm sticky iof minced lamb that had the correct of fat to lean ratio, it felt so right on the palette, silky in its effect. Editing this piece six months later, your writer can still taste it.

La Langoustine
Préparée en Ravioli, Servie dans un Bouillon á l’Huile d’Olive vierge Au parfum poivre et Menthe
La Coque, Beurrede Corail
Nem de Langoustine frit, jus de Romaine et Cacahuetes torréfiées

La Langoustine

The ravioli was stuffed with roughly chopped langoustines that had been cooked in a broth just so. If it is true that Marco Polo brought back pasta from China, he probably did so with dim sum in mind. Freddy has taken the Chinese Sunday specials and with his deft, light touch transformed the idea into heaven. Froth is not on my list of things to order at lunch, but here, we have one simply described as ‘a perfume of mint and pepper’. It delivered with the supremely matched flavours bringing the ravioli to life.

The split, grilled langoustine again was done to the point where others would have left it another twenty seconds making it tough. I didn’t ask, but suspect now that it was achieved by the ‘sous vide’ style of cooking.

Blimey!

The deep fried langoustine parcel was what I want to find on my plate next time I visit the Yang Sing. I half expected it to float off with one of those clouds.

Le Ris de Veau
Cuit en Casserole, Champignons des Bois
Soubise au parmesan
Fine purée de Céleri á la Cannelle, Petites Fleurs en Tempura

Le Ris de Veau

These veal sweetbreads were creamily divine, cooked gently in a casserole then cut into two slices the size of a split crumpet, one having parmesan grated on top and browned under the grill, the second with a pile of pan fried woodland mushrooms with a sticky jus shared between them, over to the right, garlic flower tempuras nestling up to celeriac puree. How very, very cute.

Les Fromages Fermiers, Frais et Affinés

The second best cheese trolley in my whole career. Stunning.

La Fromages

Le Café ‘Expresso’
En Saboyon, Ganache fouettée
Créme glacée ‘ Brulée’
Amandes ecrasées

Le Café 'Expresso'

This pudding came in what looked like a glass tumbler which turned out to be spun sugar and part of the dish. The contents were divine. As in the next pudding dish, a picture tells a thousand words, so look and drool.

La Pomme
Soufflée croustillante
Créme glacée ‘Carmbar’
Cidre et Sucre petillant

La Pomme

This arrived as a green croquet ball that appeared to have no entrance. Give it a crack with one of the silver spoons and hey presto, you get the world’s finest cream egg. That ‘Cidre et Sucre petillant’ was one of the most interesting bits, it fizzed in your mouth. The two puddings were in the top 25 pudds in the world. Jean Claude by this time had become my best pal, and generously dropped a bottle of Sauternes on the table, and no cheap stuff either, it was a Chateau Rieussec ’89.

Café et Mignardises

Great coffee, blinding choccies

Choccies

The service is sublime. Jean Claude and his right hand man, Philippe Rousel, made us feel like royalty, they relaxed us, they made us laugh. They made us feel like we were the most important people in Paris.

Jean and Phil

I ate here back in the summer of last year, as part of a weekend of Michelin starred eating. It was to refresh my memory of dining at this level. Do we have chefs here in the North West capable of cooking at this level? We do for one stars. But no-one is anywhere near the Pre Catelin and Anton Frederic. Indeed, I think this meal could give Gordon Ramsay a second prize.

A couple of months later, Michael Caines at Abode asked me where I had been for the three star meal. “Blimey, Freddy and I used to work together for Joel Robuchon!”

It’s a small world.

What makes this man so special, that he is probably in the top twenty in the world? Certainly this meal was better than anything the UK can produce. Was it the three days preparing his stocks? Was it the painstaking methods used to ensure the langoustines were cooked to the very point of perfection? The astonishing creation that is ‘Pomme’?

Nope, it was a quarter of lime, sat next to the deep fried sardine. Freddy knew when he was beaten, and that’s only by nature. He is supremely comfortable in his, and his brigade’s, abilities. I can guarantee that every chef in England would not have been able to resist squeezing that lime into a mayonnaise…

Should this man feel ashamed (Ed) ?

The meal cost, including a couple of bottles of mid range wine, £501. Yes, for two. Anyone truly interested in their food should aspire to eat at this level once every couple of years. Was it worth £501? All day long, yes. Save up and go.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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24 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

fed upFebruary 11th 2009.

OK, can Confidential get us a good deal? I am up for it, sick and tired of nowt but bad news. As long as that Avo doesn't come.

Tina RoddFebruary 11th 2009.

I love champagne and I'm a socialist. Wonder what that makes me?

RayFebruary 11th 2009.

A well written article, which along with the photography brings the experience to life. I would have liked to have seen more information on the wine list as well as the wines you had; these, to me, are a vital component of the whole experience. BTW, I bet that HB59 was good; I had the 1961 not long ago, and the 59 is to me an underrated year. The 89 Rieussec is gorgeous stuff, and still relatively good value.

scoteeeFebruary 11th 2009.

I was lucky enough to sample a wonderful cheese trolly in new york at Terry Brenan's Picholine,very similar in presentation,the guy maintains the cheese's condition in house and has separate room for all his 80 examples,wonderful.

rosieFebruary 11th 2009.

@ John;you go off and wear your sackcloth,be a "freegan" and drink muddy puddle water or whatever floats your boat.leave our Gordo alone to nibble champagne infused caviar from the navels of Parisian gayboys.not all of us are skint.and of those of us that are,i'd rather read about a fabulous restaurant than another dreary article telling me how to make a value tin of beans feed a family of 4 for a week

Property editorFebruary 11th 2009.

Gordo's close encounter with Clint reminded me of my own encounter with Lee van Cleef in a lift in the Hyatt Regency on Sunset Boulevard in the mid 80s, all we need now is a story about Schofield and Gian Maria Volante and we've got the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Gordo knows whoFebruary 11th 2009.

Gordo, this place looks fantastic, get them to open a branch in Manchester. Best cheese selection I've ever had was at L'Assiette Champenoise 5 miles outside of Reims (only 1 M Star) they had no less than 2 trollies and I stopped counting at 42 differentvarieties, then took a double dose of statins !!!!

Thoroughbred MancFebruary 11th 2009.

I don't think they offer cocktails. Cracking wine list though.

Gordo knows whoFebruary 11th 2009.

I have to correct Avo's comment, in 1876 Tsar Alexandra 11 wanted a special bottle as not to be the same as everyone else and as such he sent his cellar master to Roederer who commissiond a Flemish master glass maker who produced an untinted flat bottomed bottle with the Imperial coat of arms and thus the prestige cuvee was born "Cristal". I learnt this from a privileged one to one tour of their chateau and ending in a tasting of the '96 Cristal in the presentation room.

Sir AlexFebruary 11th 2009.

Thats not biggins,that's me fetching the lid of my FA cup!

Ali McGowanFebruary 11th 2009.

This grub [or is it art?] looks absolutely amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As my mate's mantra, 'F*ck the Recession', is slowly growing on me, perhaps I'll take a little trip to France :)

GordoFebruary 11th 2009.

The best cheese trolley I had was at Les Pres d'Eugenie, a 3*m in Soth West France, pretty awesome. The chef is my Hero, Michel Guerard, i re-published his book Cuisine Gourmand donkeys years ago. How are you Stephen? I still haven't taken advantage of your offer of dinner. How's the Midland?

Tricky WooFebruary 11th 2009.

I like the novel way of putting captions above a picture. I have never seen that before.

Gordo knows whoFebruary 11th 2009.

Gordo, this place looks fantastic, get them to open a branch in Manchester. Best cheese selection I've ever had was at L'Assiette Champenoise 5 miles outside of Reims (only 1 M Star) they had no less than 2 trollies and I stopped counting at 42 differentvarieties, then took a double dose of statins !!!!

mark mFebruary 11th 2009.

Do you think Gordo will give you the expenses to try the cocktails at el Bulli T Manc?

Thoroughbred MancFebruary 11th 2009.

El Bulli next then?

AnonymousFebruary 11th 2009.

why is Christopher Biggins masquerading as Jean Claude?

JohnFebruary 11th 2009.

Rosie, I've no intention of doing any of that. And you've missed my point, I think.

Baffled as usualFebruary 11th 2009.

Is Mark Garner Gordo? Whatever. Can we arrange a trip? Yes! Bollox to the blasted recession, I fancy blowing my mortgage savings on a great blowout. Manchester Confidential let's do it.

AvoFebruary 11th 2009.

I wouldn't be able to get in anyway. I hear they have a very strict dress code.

AvoFebruary 11th 2009.

Talking of champagne socialists, did you know that Cristal champagne was loved by a Russian Tsar in the early part of the 20th Century. Normal bottles of champagne have an indent in the base of the bottle but Cristal ones don't as the paranoid Russian wanted to avoid the bottle having a cavity which could have been used to hide explosives in assassination attempts.

JohnFebruary 11th 2009.

The heads of our banks are being publicly derided for reckless self-indulgence wholly out of touch with those who ultimately pay their salaries - at a time when unemployment is rising and the general outlook is bleak. Look to yourselves and tell us: Does this extravagant display, by the head of Manchester Confidential, reflect a sincere confidence in the outlook for his current business interests, employees and creditors? Because unless all jobs are safe, all freelancers are being paid in full and on time, and so on... this piece is absolute bull****.

AvoFebruary 11th 2009.

Just out of interest, which place had the best cheese trolley?

AvoFebruary 11th 2009.

Think I got the information for my comment from the grapevine so you're probably right Gordo knows who!

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