Gastronomic Flights

A Paris sojourn combines the city’s buzziest eateries with the quirky new World Restaurant Awards

WORDS Terry Zarikian
May / June 2019
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Illustrator: Isabelle Cardinal

For years The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list has been a barometer of the globe’s finest dining establishments, but in February a new contest arrived on the scene: The World Restaurant Awards, which launched in Paris with unconventional categories ranging from No Reservations Required to Tattoo-Free Chef. The event is the brainchild of food journalist and 50 Best co-founder Joe Warwick, who felt that the time had come for a culinary celebration based on specific qualities, with preannounced nominations and inspections. “We wanted to create a program of restaurant awards that could reflect the changes of a fast-moving industry,” he says. “Consumers are increasingly well educated about food ethics, culinary trends and exotic ingredients.”

To get the event off the ground, Warwick enlisted the assistance of IMG managing director Justin Clarke and arbiter-critic Andrea Petrini (dubbed “Paris’ culinary starmaker” by Time magazine). They asked 100 judges—comprised of food writers, chefs and industry figures—to nominate eateries in 18 categories, which were then winnowed down by a dozen experts who visited each restaurant. This year’s judges included illustrious names ranging from Elena Arzak and Massimo Bottura to Hélène Darroze and René Redzepi. “We’re going to continue to work with our judging panel to make the awards even more collaborative,” Warwick says. “We’ll be also reviewing the categories, which we plan to change each year.”

I arrived early in Paris to sample some of the city’s nominated eateries, and scored a reservation at Le Clarence, which won in the Original Thinking category. Chef Christophe Pelé transforms the principles of French cuisine, lifting it to a new level. Lunch began with barely seared sweet scallops, topped by emerald spinach and a dollop of raw cream. The second course was a full-flavored John Dory with caramelized salsify and fish-stock foam that had nothing to do with the folly some chefs produce, followed by deer with black truffle and celeriac puree.


The World Restaurant Awards gala at the Palais Brongniart in Paris

Another standout was Clamato, a nominee for No Reservations Required, where shellfish lovers devour clams, oysters, mussels and cuttlefish from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Concarneau and Île d’Yeu. Diners wait in a fast-moving line at the door to sample diver-caught raw scallops in root-vegetable broth, hearty mussel fritters with classic gribiche sauce, and a semi-cooked red mullet stuffed with cabbage and wrapped in translucent pork belly. 

The day of the awards, I visited La Poule au Pot to feast on French classics such as escargots in their shells, galantine de canard, quenelles de brochet (pike quenelles bathed in Nantua sauce with crawfish), and an amazing roasted leg of lamb and sweetbreads with morels and cream. Another unforgettable dish is served at the Philippe Starck-designed restaurant at the Brach hotel, a place that redefines Parisian life inside a glasshouse inspired by modernist architecture. There, chef Adam Bentalha prepares a shoulder of suckling lamb slow-cooked confit-style until the juices become a natural gelée that envelops the fork-tender meat.

That evening, I entered the Palais Brongniart alongside Emmanuelle Perrier, the longtime publicist for Alain Ducasse, who had been nominated in the Tattoo-Free Chef category. “If he wins, do you think he needs to make a speech?” she asked. (He actually did win and kept his comments short—after all, there was not much to say.) The ceremonies began with the classic song “Wand’rin’ Star,” which set the mood for the entrance of emcee Antoine de Caunes, best known for co-hosting the cult 1990s television show Eurotrash with Jean Paul Gaultier. He appeared onstage through a big puff of white smoke and announced: “Yes, I am French! I am perhaps the Frenchiest Frenchman in all of France!” During my 72 hours in Paris, the entire city seemed to sparkle, and everywhere you look, the shops, cafés, bars and restaurants are thriving. 

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