The answer obviously is no. Restaraurants such as Pierre Gagnaire, L’Astrance, L’Arpege, Alain Ducasse, Pic,… would all be much more convincing contenders for this title. And yet, the fact that these are all fairly ‘old-fashioned’ grand restaurants is probably the reason why they don’t do very well on the list.
Le Châteaubriand on the other hand is a bistro, and a very quirky one it is too. Full of life and character (were it not for the fact that this place is frequented by more tourists than any other restaurant we visited in Paris), this is a restaurant that appeals. The service is certainly a little on the rough side, but friendly and at least gives you the impression that they care, which is commendable, given how busy this dining room gets.
Food-wise, chef Inaki Aizpitarte cooks fairly radical fare. His flavour combinations push the boundaries of what people could imagine and combine the wildest products. Quite often, we have to admit, his gambles do work out. The case of a few pieces of mackerel served with coffee is a brilliant pairing of two unlikely partners. Such food is undoubtedly very good and difficult to fault.
The same goes for a brill with various preparations of fennel. A puree, some slightly crunchy, some deep-fried bits and a powder. Not only is the fish cooked quite beautifully, the combination with the varied textures of fennel works beautifully well. Certainly, this is the sort of dish, one could easily serve in much grander establishments.
However, at points Aizpitarte gets carried away with ideas rather than flavours. A rice ice cream served with nothing but a single prune is not only badly conceived as a dish, but doesn’t work very well either. The problem is that the ice cream tastes of nothing, but rice, without any sweetness whatsoever. The prune is not pitted and unless one gulps the whole thing down in one go – which is frankly difficult – it is impossible to make this combination work.
The other problem at Châteaubriand, if it is one, are the tiny portions, considering that the menu is in fact no more than 4 courses long. Even if a guinea fowl is beautifully cooked and served with acacia flowers (a brilliant combination), the diner will undoubtedly be disappointed to be served no more than a quarter of a bird; if that. If you pay €60 for a menu of this length, one can’t say it is necessarily bad value for money, but other restaurants in Paris offer cooking of the same quality, if not better, for less. Saturne comes to mind, where the menu costs a few euros more, but is made up of a good 7 courses.
This brings us back to that question of the best restaurant in France. Of course Le Châteaubriand is not France’s best restaurant. Whilst it is better than Joel Robuchon’s Atelier St Germain, the current “best restaurant in France”, it is not much more than a very good and fun bistro. That is its great strength and if one accepts that, a meal here can be delicious and good fun at the same time.