Yannick Alleno is one of France’s most ambitious chefs. Apart from running the three-star restaurant at the Meurice in Paris, his little empire has grown considerably recently. Since last year, he is present in Asia, and was one of the first internationally famous chefs to come to Beijing with STAY.
Alléno’s food is as ambitious as anyone’s in Paris. From the fairly classical cuisine he served about 6 years ago, up to his present style, a lot of things have changed. His dishes have become lighter, to feature an increasingly Japanese influence. At times however, they are too subtle to be appreciated. That being said, he is one of the chefs who really do something quite unique in Paris.
STAY is an acronym that stands for Simple Table Yannick Alléno. This means that it’s not just another Meurice, but a slightly more casual restaurant. The first impression one gets however is that the restaurant isn’t really all that simple at all. The room is no less glitzy than the rest of the hotel, and the dishes read more or less like they could come from the menu of the Meurice.
The first nibbles make clear that this is definitely no casual restaurant. Radish coated in a richly flavoured cream, eel and beetroot terrine and a salt-cod fritter are technically impeccable and show that this brigade knows what it’s doing. As far as the food is concerned, the kitchen at STAY serves hearty, but elegant plates. His style is characterised by clean dishes, precise seasoning and at times unusual combinations.
A surprising dish is a plate of steamed scallops that are coated with a tomato paste, and served with parmesan shavings and white truffle. What sounds bizarre (white truffle and tomato), actually works remarkably well. The tomato paste is light and yet full of flavour. Thus, it doesn’t overpower the truffle, but brings out a very specific flavour, which we haven’t tasted anywhere else before. The dish as a whole is technically impeccable and even the scallops are firm and sweet, which is a rarity in Beijing.
That Gilbert can do even better, and in this case at a level that deserves a solid triple-starred rating is shown by his version of the hare à la royale. Interpretations of this most glorious of traditional French dishes are served in various guises at STAY. Last year, he served it with duck, and this year with beef. Remarkably, even the beef version doesn’t lack punch or concentration. It is so addictive in some ways that the relatively small portion really doesn’t suffice. Topped with the rich, complex sauce, a thick slice of perfectly cooked foie gras and black truffles, this is one of those dishes that make the journey out to Beijing’s west more than worthwhile.
As the Meurice’s desserts are amongst the very best in Paris, it is not surprising that STAY too, is strong as far as sweets go. The pastry library is not only one of the central elements in the restaurant’s design, but also serves as the assembly station of the very best pastry we have eaten in Mainland China. A perfect Paris-Brest, beautiful choux or twists on one of the Meurice’s classic desserts – a roast pineapple with salt caramel ice cream – show that this is serious stuff.
We have travelled to China several times in the past few years. Whilst it is one of the most fascinating places on earth, the development of good Western restaurants has taken a long time. Given the availability of money and the willingness to spend it, it seemed odd that the big international chefs didn’t roll in earlier. Even when the first one did (Daniel Boulud), it took a place like STAY to serve seriously impressive French food in China. Currently, three restaurants push the boundaries of what is possible in the country: Mio, which serves Italian inspired food, The Georg with it’s Nordic cuisine and STAY.
Eating at STAY is a fairly bizarre experience. Whilst you might at first expect another decent, mediocre French restaurant, it turns out to be at the level of a very good two-star. Certain dishes served at STAY even verge on the sublime. One year after its opening, it can easily call itself the best French restaurant in the country.