Michelin downgrades France's oldest restaurant

22nd February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 22, 2006 (AFP) - France's famed Michelin food bible dished out its coveted stars Wednesday and caused a stir by downgrading La Tour d'Argent, the country's oldest restaurant and one of the top landmarks in international gastronomy.

PARIS, Feb 22, 2006 (AFP) - France's famed Michelin food bible dished out its coveted stars Wednesday and caused a stir by downgrading La Tour d'Argent, the country's oldest restaurant and one of the top landmarks in international gastronomy.

Founded in the 16th century, and famed for its number-tagged "bloody duck" and its magnificent views over Notre-Dame cathedral, the central Paris restaurant had been among France's handful of elite three-star establishments until losing a first star in 1996.

But according to Michelin, the quality of its kitchen has been patchy and it is now down to just one star in the 2006 edition of the Red Guide which goes on sale next week.

"La Tour d'Argent has a beautiful dining-room and is known for its refinement. But it has found it hard to sustain a level of performance over the year and there have been increasing comments from customers," the guide's editor Jean-Luc Naret told AFP.

In a bitter counter-attack, La Tour d'Argent -- which styles itself "the most famous restaurant in the world" -- expressed surprise at the listing but said that "the decision curiously coincides with our desire no longer to appear in the Michelin Guide given the difficulties it is going through."

The Red Guide has recently suffered a series of bad publicity coups -- including the publication of memoirs by a former inspector and the withdrawal of last year's Benelux edition which included a review of a restaurant that had not yet opened.

But Naret said La Tour d'Argent had never given any sign that it wanted to leave the guide. "This is getting ridiculous ... They know very well the problems they are having in their kitchen," he said.

With dinners that cost an average 300 euros (356 dollars) -- without wine -- La Tour d'Argent has played host to countless statesmen and celebrities over the centuries.

Its speciality since the late 19th century has been "canard au sang" (bloody duck), made from birds reared at a farm in western France and bearing an individual number when brought to table. In 2003 the restaurant celebrated the cooking of its millionth numbered duck at a special dinner.

Still hugely influential despite growing criticism of its methodology, the new Michelin Guide contains otherwise few changes at the top compared to 2005, with just one restaurant -- Les Maisons de Bricourt in the Brittany port of Cancale -- being promoted to three-star status.

Chef Olivier Roellinger, who specialises in local sea-food enlivened by spices from around the world, paid tribute to "my wife, my team, my gardeners, my fishermen and the sea."

"We are a restaurant of the seas open to the world," he told AFP. "Never before has a restaurant of the seas been given such an accolade."

In all 26 restaurants have a three-star rating for 2006, the same figure for last year because of the absence of Lucas Carton, the luxury Paris eatery which was shut down by chef Alain Senderens in a much-publicised campaign for simpler and more affordable cuisine.

After renovating his premises beside the Madeleine church, Senderens opened a new restaurant in September -- named after himself -- in which he said "all over-complicated recipes have been scrubbed from the menu." The restaurant was awarded two stars in the 2006 guide.

Three other Paris restaurants which claim inspiration from the same vogue for simplicity were rewarded by Michelin. Chef Joel Robuchon won a second star for La Table and a first star for L'Atelier, while Pierre Gagnaire won a star for the fish restaurant Gaya.

Altogether 70 restaurants received two stars -- one more than last year -- and 425 a single star.

The best-known names in French gastronomy such as Marc Veyrat, Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Georges Blanc -- many of whom have become international businessmen -- remained at the top of the Michelin table, with Veyrat and Ducasse double three-star winners.

Set up in the 1920s as a handbook for the emerging class of European motor-tourists, the Michelin Red Guide became the reference work for haute cuisine, with the ability to make or break careers and reputations.

However it has come under criticism for focussing on the rarefied world of ultra-expensive dining and ignoring new trends in cooking.

Michelin was also embarrassed in 2004 by a kiss-and-tell book by one of its anonymous inspectors, who said there was collusion to protect certain "untouchables" at the top of French cuisine from the downgrading they deserved.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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