Having had one of the best meals ever at Guy Savoy several years ago, and having sent two friends recently for what they thought was the best meal of their lives, I thought I would try the summer lunch special, 150 euros for 5 courses and 5 wines. It was not a *** meal, maybe not even **. Although a couple of dishes rose to ***, several were not even *. Two words I will use frequently are "shockingly" and "really?". Shockingly, some of the raw ingredients left something to be desired. At times the meal reminded me of a meal I had in Tournus once, where the kitchen was trying hard but not making it. Service was good to exceptional, depending on the person. Shockingly, I was brought the bill without asking for it, by the only person whose service left something to be desired. I think they were eager to turn my table; they had asked me when I booked to come at 12:30 rather than 13:00, and when I arrived they told me they expected the meal to take 2 hours. Before 2 hours was up, the bill was delivered.
Amuse-bouches (sic). The first was tiny toast sandwich of foie gras. Really, foie gras? With one's eyes closed one would not have guessed. The toast was too aggressive for the foie and was so chewy it verged on stale. It couldn't've been stale, but it had that feeling. The second was a cold soup/puree of zucchini and alongside, hidden cleverly under the handle of the cup, was a cherry tomato stuffed with something. The soup was tasty; the cherry tomato did taste of tomato. But more of the dish was presentation than taste.
First course: Autour des tomates, granite des algues. At the end of August, tomatoes and watermelon should be beautiful and exceptional. These tomatoes were, shockingly, not. The watermelon was so pale I wondered at first if it could really be watermelon, and it was cut too close to the rind. Conceptually, the dish was a mistake as well: a lot of little bits of tomato, maybe a couple of cubes of tomato gelee. The tininess of the the bits made it difficult to taste the difference between the various tomatoes. Having 7-8 of them wasn't as good a move as having 2-3 really fantastic ones would've been. I was reminded of a column Courtine supposedly once wrote in which he compared the tomato salads he'd gotten at different ***s. His point was that even a tomato salad should be something to make you swoon. I can only imagine what he would have said about this little doodads of tomato. But: the dish had something extraordinary - that granite of lemon juice and algae. That granite was fantastic, one of the best things I've ever tasted. It was almost silvery in hue with little bits of green algae. Unbelievably good. When you finish the top half of the dish they take away that dish and underneath is a first-rate gazpacho, which they put more algae on. This was absolutely delicious. Despite how strong the granite was, it did not overwhelm the gazpacho but complemented it. A triumph. There was a roasted tomato tartelette on the side, which was good. What they should have done was just had that gazpacho, with examples of some of the heirloom tomatoes ringing the dish, in big enough pieces to be able to taste. They're trying to hard to have spectacular presentations and not thinking hard enough about how the dishes are going to taste.
Second course: Du saumon "fige" sur la glace, consomme brulant, "perles" de citron. (We have almost as many quotation marks here as Keller uses.) This was another example of trying too hard to have a spectacular presentation. The (sous)chef comes out with two nice strips of salmon per person, on top of a block of ice. The ice "cooks" the salmon. The chef separately gives you a small fork with a bite-size piece of raw salmon that has been marinated in olive oil and salt, for you to contrast with the salmon he is cooking. That little bite was delicious, if somewhat over-salted. The salmon, after being seized by the block of ice, is put in a bowl and boiling consomme is put on top, further cooking the salmon. There are some little bits of greenery added and bits of a kind of lime I'd never had before, from Australia, half-way between a lime and a grapefruit. In English it may be called a finger lime. It was longer than most limes. The problem with this dish, once you tasted it, was that it lacked taste. Really? All of that effort for a fish with almost no taste?
Between the second and main course, the kitchen sent out a small portion of Savoy's signature artichoke soup with truffles, with a piece of truffled brioche alongside. That soup was spectacular, full of both artichoke and truffle flavor. The brioche was less spectacular and not necessary. This was not quite worth the price of admission, but close.
The main course: Volaille de Bresse en deux services, cassis, navets et un agrume. The first service was a disaster. This was where I remembered the meal in Tournus. It even looked bad. There were three-four strips of overcooked tasteless chicken, in layers. I'm not sure what they cut through to get those layers. There were two squares of turnips, the tops of which had been hollowed out and black currants had been placed inside. There was a black currant light sauce. It had such an amateurish look and taste that it was embarrassing. The second service, brought before I had finished the first, was the legs with a sauce of minced liver. The legs and the liver had taste.
Desserts: a selection including more things to say "really?" about. A little selection including a raspberry with no taste and half a mushy strawberry? Really? We're in France. You can do better than that. There's no excuse for raw ingredients that lack savor. There was a clafoutis of mirabelles that was again a disgrace. I've made considerably better clafoutis myself. Alongside there was an almond sorbet that was very good, if somewhat too sweet. There were a couple of other assorted things that I've already forgotten. Again a case of an unnecessary number of items, too many of which could not stand up to inspection. Do fewer things and do them right. When you have tiny little bites, each one has to leave you breathless for more, not glad that that bite is out of the way.
The wines were acceptable. The dining room is somewhat grim.
Can one do better? I certainly hope so.