This Parisian take on a British tradition delivers in both style and substance, served up in grand surrounds at Le Meurice
What’s the background?
To say that I approached Tea Time at Le Meurice with a healthy dose of scepticism is an understatement. The headline attraction is its award-winning, Insta-famous pastry chef Cédric Grolet – he of almost a million followers, impossibly intricate tarts and mind-bogglingly lifelike fruit-shaped cakes. Such is his acclaim that the hotel has recently opened an adjoining boutique selling his creations for up to €17 per individual portion, far beyond the price bracket of even the most prestigious patisseries in Paris. As with many things in the world of social media, it poses the question of whether the reality live up to the hype and, most importantly, does it really taste as good as it looks?
Tea Time is hosted in Alain Ducasse’s two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Dalí, located just past the foyer of the Le Meurice. While it has all the grandeur one would expect of one of the French capital’s foremost five-star hotels, the Dalí-inspired interior, reimagined through the contemporary eye of famed French designer Philippe Starck, makes for a slightly more interesting atmosphere than your typical afternoon tea. Despite being a large square room, there’s plenty of banquette seating to create a cosier feel, and the lovely waiters are adept at not making you feel rushed, allowing you to comfortably nestle in for a couple of hours.
What’s on offer?
While I have an appreciation for all the theatrics that surround the afternoon tea tradition, it was almost reassuring that here that they let the food speak for itself. After making your pick of tea (I’d strongly urge you to choose the thé blanc Alain Ducasse), the sandwiches, scones and cakes are presently simply on a chic chrome stand. On my visit we had four different sandwiches, two scones and three sweets each.
It would have been easy for savouries to be an afterthought here, but the sandwiches almost stole the show, with an impossibly light spinach bread with radish filling being the real winner (we almost considered asking how much it would be to buy a box of just these for the Eurostar home). And kudos to the bakery team, as another highlight that I’m desperate to work out how to recreate at home was a slice of buttery, fluffy tarte au sucre, delivered to the table by one of the chefs.
We moved onto the huge scones, which while delicious I’m not sure would pass muster in a traditional English hotel. Probably triple the size and slightly denser and more cake-like than you’d expect over here, they came in plain (perfect paired with the jam and curd) or filled with a surprise blueberry compote, creating a similar feel to a breakfast muffin. I think I would have preferred these to be slightly smaller, if not just to save room for the main attraction.
I’ll admit that when it came to the trio of pastries, I was slightly surprised to be served a cookie at this level of tea, alongside two tarts more in the style that Grolet is associated with. And at this price (€60 each), it would need to be the best cookie I’d ever had. As we tasted it the layers of complexity – salty peanut and bitter caramel against the sweet dough – revealed themselves, and we agreed it more than deserved its place at the table. A red lemon tart, one of Grolet’s signature lifelike treats, opened to reveal a tangy compote inside, and while it was gladly polished off by all, despite the initial wow factor the general consensus was that it was the least popular of the three. We saved the best until last, a coconut tart topped with tricky tourbillon piping, which impressed with the subtlety and balance of flavours. For me it epitomises what Grolet does best, honing in on one ingredient and drawing the most out of it, whether or not wrapped up in eye-catching trompe-l’œil packaging.
Tea Time at Restaurant Le Dalí costs €60 per person. Le Meurice, 228 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris; dorchestercollection.com