L’Astrance was a revolutionary restaurant when it first opened. The idea of having a three-starred restaurants that has no menu, but rather serves an almost daily changing progression of dishes in a fairly relaxed setting made Pascal Barbot and Christophe Rohat’s small restaurant a legend among gourmets.
Barbot’s cuisine delicately combined classical French cooking with an Asian influence that had not been seen before in such a prominent fashion in France’s top restaurants. We have been fortunate to have had meals that will never be forgotten in the small dining room in the rue Beethoven, but a recent visit did not leave us as ecstatic as previous ones had.
First of all, however, it has to be said that the service here is very good. Wines are kept at perfect temperature throughout the duration of the meal, the team is friendly and efficient, even if the restaurant might lack a bit of warmth to really make the experience a complete one.
The desserts and meat courses are still exceptional: Barbot has a talent for combining flavours with an effortlessness that is not often seen. Roasted yellow chicken from the Landes comes with apricots, girolles, fresh almonds and curry. Whilst the combination of apricot and girolles is by no means new, this dish shows just how well these two components work together if treated carefully. That the chicken is cooked utterly perfectly goes without saying.
The attention to product quality continues to impress with John Dory of stunning quality or spiny lobster that could easily be the finest piece we have eaten thus far.
The issue that somewhat puts a shadow on an otherwise remarkable dining experience is irregular seasoning on the one side, and dishes that seem too obvious in their incorporation of Asian elements. The aforementioned spiny lobster for instance comes with satay sauce and cabbage. Whilst cooked perfectly, the lobster itself is not seasoned at all, and the punchy (extremely acidic) Satay sauce completely overwhelms the subtle crustacean, which merely ends up being a textural contrast for the generously dispensed sauce.
In the case of the John Dory, which comes with tamarind and raisin sauce and cauliflower, a complete lack of salt in the dish makes it feel like a poorly conceived composition of sweet/sour flavours that mask the otherwise sublime piece of fish.
This latest meal at l’Astrance unfortunately doesn’t seem to be an isolated case of a bad day in the kitchen. Contrasting it with meals we have had here in the past we can only hope that Barbot and his brigade manage to balance some of their dishes in the way they have done before, as the approach at l’Astrance remains one of the most exciting in Paris, years after having first opened.