What do you do when you wake up and your wife looks at you, and you both say almost at the same time, “that was really horrible last night”….
I had the pleasure to experience Akrame a two star in Paris. Sadly the chef was away in Hong Kong where he has a new food project but the restaurant seemed in good form and was bustling with clients.
Restaurant Akrame is centrally located in Paris on 19 rue Lauriston in the 16th arrondissement. Not far from our hotel, we arrived to a small restaurant with attentive staff, and not to mention a very small kitchen crammed with staff that are moving with a perfect kitchen silence.
The chef’s wife is nearby watching with a careful eye, she seems so perfect for the restaurant, as if the restaurant was built around her. Aside from her elegance, I thought it seemed too dark and the design (greys and black) seemed a little night clubbish.
The restaurant was busy and clients were coming and going. We sat at a table for 4, a table where my chair was being bumped the entire night by staff passing by. I didn’t mind given these new generation Michelin restaurants are designed without huge budgets and the spaces are small.
The wine list had good international variety but what I found odd was the sommelier tried to sell me a wine that was not the same as the bottle I selected and insisted it was. I believe it was innocent as he wasn’t well versed in German wines.
The menu was unforgettable, the amuse-bouche, a waiter or waitress extended small foods with metal tweezers. We used our hands for the first fifteen minutes and we had no choice but to reach across the table almost like fetching bones. The amuse-bouche didn’t impress us, numerous kinds, hot and cold they kept coming like canape bullets. I thought the tempo was too fast and didn’t give us sufficient time to think.
While the service was good, the waiter grazed my nose from time to time reaching in front and across the table to serve wine – this shouldn’t happen in any two star restaurant or for that matter anywhere. The table isn’t easy to serve due to the corner banquet.
Dishes kept flowing one after the other, it was a long menu named in sections; vegetables, sea foods, innovation, shell, sailor, refreshing meat and creamy. I thought I was on a food odyssey, and we were, so I’ll raise in more detail some of the pertinent issues to highlight our experience there.
While I am not a food critic or a professional cook, I am feeling the urge to be critical and intend for this article to be constructive, a clients viewpoint, a series of mishaps perhaps.
I strongly believe that the chef Akrame needs to go back to the basics, forget powders for the time being, or dishes that are intended to be overly inventive. His cuisine seems to be more about how he stages his dishes. If you set them up in a way that tells too much of a story, you’ll find yourself in a food trap.
When a chef notes innovation, I expect some innovation, something new, or at least something that I hadn’t seen before, or a good twist. But innovation isn’t about combinations alone, it is more about the introduction of a new concept.
When a chef is sophisticated he/she must practice it, and be in a position to understand the fine lines. It isn’t enough to powder foods or layer foods and expect a client to eat layers of hard cheese with a spoon after a chicken broth has been poured over it. I am not sure what he was trying to say or do.
After all tasting is a “relative experience” and if you are used to eating sophisticated, you expect sophisticated, or farmer fresh then you expect farm fresh, and if you’re impressed to eat in a Michelin because of the hype, then its all about the hype.
I am not sure about blueberries and octopus, I cannot say that it makes good taste, or whether or not blueberry enhances the overall experience, or whether this is considered innovation.
This dish was textural and I liked that, but the combinations weren’t innovative. When a chef speaks about innovative he/she should bring something new to a dish – this doesn’t.
Next was the chicken and I am still trying to understand this plate. The chicken was over cooked and the exterior scorched by high heat leaving it blackened and bitter.
The rouget, a glorious Mediterranean fish, very delicate in taste, found its pink skin and white meat covered by a thin slice of Italian Colonatta lard. The fish wasn’t handled delicately enough, it had a slightly fishy odor, over cooked, and this preparation did not accelerate the dish to the forefront of the evening.
The Tête de Moine and beetroot was strange; I cannot grasp what the chef was thinking when he added hot chicken stock to the dish at the table. This dish made no sense whatsoever, none!
The raw blue lobster accompanied by hot liquid is again a faux pas. The finely sliced Japanese nori inside the dish gets soaked and loses its crispness once the liquid is added. This dish had good intentions but failed at the finish. The broth added was muted, a preference of the chef, it’s clear that while the chef enjoys texture, he also respects gentle tastes. I just had a difficult time finding it this night and the balance was awful.
I firmly believe that the Akrame has ability, his raw materials are excellent despite a very unripe white truffle over the vermicelli. That dish (not pictured) was peculiar to say the least. It was an egg vermicelli broken sand mothered in a creamy fondue. White truffles shaved over top, and you are obliged to consume it by using a spoon.
The one intermezzo served was a “palate cleanser” and it stunned us; it was a frozen whiskey disc and it encompassed passion fruits in the interior. This tasted bitter/sour and had the oddest leathery after taste – it was one of the most bizarre and unexpected tastes I have ever had.
The blackberry sorbet with apple vinegar was kind of cool although I wasn’t sure why it was served.
And finally I ask myself how did Michelin adorn Akrame with two stars and not one. If you go to a restaurant and the food is fusion that’s okay as long as the fusion isn’t confusion.