Drouant Restaurant Paris: a praise for mediocrity

With good food but below promise and catastrophic service, this long-awaited dinner at Drouant turned out to be a real wreck. I’m not about to return any time soon.

I had eaten at Drouant in the past, in a professional context, when the restaurant was run by chef Antoine Westermann. I was delighted every time. The property changed ownership in 2018.

So it was a real pleasure for me to go back, even if it was a bit by chance. I told you recently about my dinner at Aux Lyonnais that this year I hadn’t yet used my 200 euro credit in the American Express Fine Dining program, so I had to spend it before the end of the year to avoid losing it.

Being away from Paris in December, I made two reservations in eligible restaurants, in a bit of a rush, to use up my credit. The first was at Aux Lyonnais and the second at Drouant. I had a lot of restaurants to choose from, but I wanted to go back to Drouant, and what’s more, I’m always wandering by this restaurant in the 2nd district, which is a bit like my second home.

So much for context.

A bit of history

You may well be familiar with the name Drouant, even if you don’t live in Paris or are not accustomed to gourmet restaurants.

It’s at Drouant that two of the most prestigious literary prizes are awarded every year: the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Renaudot.

A display case at the restaurant entrance bears witness to this…

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The concept

Drouant is a French gourmet restaurant with no other distinguishing marks. There’s nothing to distinguish it from its Parisian rivals, apart from one extra-culinary aspect: the renown conferred by the literary awards.

The setting

I’d say it’s a modernized 1920s restaurant. Sober and warm, with lots of wood and fabric, very tasteful.

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The restaurant is also known for its famous staircase, from which the winners of literary prizes are announced, but I didn’t get a chance to photograph it.

The menu

A menu typical of French gastronomy, with a fairly traditional base revisited with a zest of creativity.

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Classic and tasteful, and in any case very appetizing.

The restaurant also offers a tasting menu.

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If you’re a Travelguys regular, you’ll know that we are very fond of tasting menus, but I’ll skip this one.

The dinner

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I arrive exactly on time for my reservation. A bellman opens the door and I head for the reception. A lady takes care of me, collects my checkroom and accompanies me to my table. A cordial but, shall I say, surprising welcome. Her style is more “private club” than gourmet restaurant.

I’m seated at my table and the menu is brought to me. Before making my choice, I start by ordering an aperitif, my traditional Negroni.

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Not bad, that Negroni.

I find the background music a little loud, but it’s quickly covered by the discussion going on at the table opposite mine. Indeed, a gentleman has arrived and, by the time the other guests at the table arrive, he’s having a lively discussion with some members of the restaurant, obviously managers. I don’t know who he is, maybe an important customer, but everyone is very attentive to him. They talk business, they talk numbers, but most of all, they talk loud. They’re maybe 3 meters away from me, but I have the impression that the discussion is taking place at my table.

In short, it creates a noisy crowd around the table, with little respect for the customers seated around it. In my opinion, it borders on rudeness.

I end up ordering my dishes and a glass of wine. At this point I’m informed that the recipe for the main course I want has recently changed, but that the menu hasn’t been updated. A detail we’ll talk about later.

A few minutes later another waiter comes to ask if I’d like some wine. I tell him I’ve already ordered a glass.

A little later, someone comes up to me and asks if I’d like to order some wine. Same answer.

My starter arrives. Before I start, I wait for my glass to be served. Time passes and I start to look around to catch a glance. De loin j’entends des serveurs parler peu discrètement du “monsieur”. I think it’s me.

One of them finally comes up to me and asks….if I’d like to order some wine.

Enough is enough! I huff and puff to show my exasperation, pointing out that I’ve been asked four times if I’d like some wine, that I’ve already ordered, but now I’d just like my glass to arrive.

Another waiter eventually returns and hands me the menu, asking me to confirm my choice. Problem: the St Estèphe I ordered isn’t on the menu I’m looking at. I point this out and he replies that this wine is no longer available by the glass. Yes…but it was on the menu I was given at the beginning of the meal.

I’ll have a Gigondas, which will arrive shortly afterwards.

At the next table, an elderly couple, obviously regulars at the property, tell me that they often have problems with the service of wines by the glass, and that this is unacceptable given the prices charged. The future will prove them right…

It’s finally time to turn my attention to my starter, but by this stage I’m pretty pissed off.

I chose the pan-fried porcini mushrooms, crispy soft-boiled egg, espuma and 24-month Comté cheese.

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The egg and cheese are in the ball on top of the mushroom.

The sauce is light and fine, and the mushrooms good. I break the ball to free the egg… but it doesn’t add much to the dish, and for good reason: by the time the wine sketch plays out, my starter has cooled. While the sauce is only vaguely lukewarm, the egg is almost cold, and what should have been melting is now solid.

There’s also a piece of mushroom that proves impossible to chew, making me feel like I was eating a piece of cardboard that had fallen onto my plate. I’ll check: it was a mushroom. Inexplicable.

In the end, a fine, tasty dish, spoiled by the fact that it had cooled down and that one mushroom was inedible. As far as the temperature is concerned, the fault is totally attributable to the service, and as far as the mushrooms are concerned, I’d say that accidents can happen…but not in a dish costing 31 euros.

I would add that the quantities are really more than light. I didn’t count the porcini, but there weren’t many.

At that moment, the table next to me orders their wine. They’ll ask for the Gigondas I’ve just been served, and will be told it’s no longer available by the glass. On the other hand, the St Estèphe I had originally ordered is on the menu they were given.

We prefer to laugh about it, but it really doesn’t look serious.

At this point a table of 8 arrives, they’d obviously made a reservation. Bad luck: there’s only one table of 6 available. So they’ll be split into 2 groups on 2 different tables, and the table of 2 will wait about 10 minutes for a table to become available opposite the table of 6.

Then comes the main course. Initially, I’d chosen the property’s signature dish: vol au vent ” Frères Goncourt style “, land and sea, veal beatillo, langoustines.

But the waiter informed me that the recipe had recently been changed but that the menu had not been updated. From now on, the vol au vent is with chicken, sweetbreads, foie gras, black trumpets, carrots, albufera sauce (Madeira cognac cream).

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On a plate nearby, I’m presented with a tartlet that is none other than the cover of vol au vent.

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A waiter adds the sauce to the vol au vent and leaves. At the same time, the same dish is served at the next table, but the waiter then installs the tartlet at the top of the vol au vent.

So I’ll do it myself. And that’s it.

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The service really lacks coherence, but it will be a topic of discussion with my table neighbors.

The chicken will be delicious, melting. I’ll have a hard time finding the sweetbreads, I’ll be able to identify a few black trumpets, but mostly I’ll see that the puff pastry is full of button mushrooms. The sauce is quite good, but in small quantities, making the dish a little dry.

All in all, a pretty good dish, but nothing outstanding either. Especially at this price. For a signature dish I expected a lot more.

At this point I think it’s time to put an end to this joke.

I’ll skip dessert and order a coffee.

A few minutes later, the waiter from whom I had ordered the coffee returned and asked me: “You did order a coffee, right?

I thought at least they weren’t going to screw up the coffee service, but still….

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The coffee will be good and served with two mignardises, not bad.

All I need now is the bill, which, for once, will arrive quickly, just like the payment.

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131 euros….Would you be surprised if I told you it wasn’t worth it at all? I had 98 euros of Amex credit left, so this meal will only cost me 33 euros… and that’s about what it’s worth. I didn’t think I’d mention the credit thing in this article, but I have to, because it’s the one thing that keeps me from getting angrier.

The service

You’ve clearly understood that it wasn’t up to the task. I found it messy and disorganized, with lots of people running in all directions, crossing each other, getting in each other’s way, bumping into each other…

It has the appearance of luxury, but only the appearance. It lacks style, it’s very showy, it reminds me of those properties that try to look better than they really are and hide their mediocrity behind a form of hipness.

The atmosphere

More show-off and hip than gastronomic, it doesn’t go at all with the setting.

The anecdote

After dinner I’ll go for a drink in a nearby bar. I’ll have a quick chat with the customer sitting next to me. He’ll tell me “Ah Drouant ! I used to go there a lot in the Westermann days, since then I’ve been there once and that was enough for me. I’ll never set foot there again“.

Bottom line

One of my former bosses used to say that “it’s not enough to put a feather in your a… to look like a rooster”. This perfectly sums up my opinion of what Drouant has become.

A slightly disappointing plate, but it would be fine if the service wasn’t so bad.

For 130 euros, for example, you have Lucas Carton‘s 4-course menu, and for 150 euros the Violon d’Ingres tasting menu. Both starred.

In short, a totally overrated property.

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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