Comme Chez Soi

Last night my wife took me out for a birthday dinner. I didn’t know where we were headed, but I had a hunch, and as we got closer to the undisclosed location my suspicions were confirmed: Comme Chez Soi.

We’d been there once before, back in the olden pre-kids days. This was also back when it had three Michelin-stars and was at the height of its fame and prestige, although some were already of the opinion that it was resting a little on its laurels. Then in 2006 the chef Pierre Wynants, who had held onto his 3 stars for nearly 30 years, retired and passed the baton to his son-in-law Lionel Rigolet. Michelin immediately down-graded them to two stars, arguing that three stars have to be earned and can’t simply be inherited by a new chef.

We made ourselves comfortable in the swish Art Nouveau surroundings:

Occasionally peeking through the nearby window to the kitchen. Whenever I looked I didn’t see any actual cooking going on, just the chef’s wife on the phone:

The sommelier presented us with the wine list on an iPad, but assured us that we could have a paper version if we encountered any problems with the shiny, swipey one.

We chose a tasting menu, settling for six courses rather than the full seven, although we added a cheese course. We also ordered a half bottle of chablis as my wife was driving back. Amuse-bouches arrived. The round pastries filled with anchovy cream were nice.

More starters: a  crustacean jelly, mackerel carpaccio and veal with picalilli. The mackerel was gorgeous.

The first full dish: scallops, salmon cubes, oyster tartare, cucumber ice with chardonnay vinegar. Stunning. The tiny green spheres on the scallop popped very pleasantly in the mouth, and when we asked the waiter what they were he replied, with an admirably straight face “Flying fish eggs marinated in wasabi”.

Frogs’ legs (on either side of the plate) and sweetbreads in a consommé with garlic butter. Deliciously crusty and slightly fatty but the consommé was very light. Almost all the dishes featured this kind of successful contrast of textures.

This course was so tempting that I forgot to take a photo until I’d already desecrated with with my fork. Steamed plaice on a bed of lentils with a lard and chorizo sauce. For both this and the following dish the waiters were happy to offer you more of the wonderfully creamy sauce to soak up with your bread.

This was even better: line-caught sea bass with a parsnip and tarragon sauce and bulgur wheat. But the masterstroke was the orange powder at right: candied macadamia nut with spices. The fish itself was perfectly seasoned as it was, but a sprinkling of this sweet spiciness took it to another level.

And here was our optional cheese course. Far from a simple selection of lumps of cheese, we were treated to rolls of comté in Granny Smith apple skin with Liège syrup. The daisy chain is made of flowers and some kind of sharp coleslaw. Amazingly complex flavours. I’m tempted to name it the best dish of the evening.

And here began dessert. I was a little concerned that this was going to be too acidic for my taste, but in fact it was perfectly balanced. Poached pear, citrus fruit, almond biscuit, pear and basil ice cream (gorgeous) and a “Calcutta tea” sauce.

And then the obligatory chocolate.

And just a few more mignardises to round off the evening.

Best birthday meal ever.