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Gordo's recession review: Le Pré Catelan

Mark Garner looks recession, and Clint Eastwood, in the, er, eye and reviews a three star Michelin restaurant in extreme south Liverpool (actually Paris)

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.

Gordo's recession review: Le Pré Catelan

AUGUST 1990 was an interesting month for me. I had most of my family, and a few good friends staying with me in St. Tropez where I had a land banking business that had started out as a hobby. Six years later I’d finished up owning fourteen million quids worth of land ready to be developed in the autumn.

I regularly took house guests to Club 55, a great beach restaurant, which was and still is in my mind the best if you have family with you. During the last two weeks of August, on two separate occasions, Clint Eastwood had his family on the next table. Both times I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with the legend in the loo. It was a bit unnerving.

At the end of the month, I was called into the local town hall where a shifty 80-year old mayor informed me that the council were revoking all my planning permissions. This had the irritating effect of turning all my land back to agricultural and seeing me bankrupt to the tune of five million very painful quid.

I thought it would be a good idea to drive back to England with everybody, to lick my wounds, while the credit cards were still functioning, giving the Banque Nationale de Paris Mastercard a particularly brutal battering with stops at a number of three star Michelin restaurants and Relais & Chateau hotels on the way up.

In Paris we had lunch at Le Pré Catalin. It held two Michelin stars in those days. Just about to tuck into a big slab of foie gras with sauternes jelly, my partner Carole started laughing. “I don’t believe it, look who is on the table behind us.” Clint Eastwood. I kid you not. An hour later finds me standing at the urinal getting rid of a bottle Haut Brion ’59. The great man walks in, stands one bowl away from me and gets his not-so-dinky out. Looking over at me, he winks.

“Gotta stop meeting like this kid”.

That was 18 years ago. This last summer I decided that a trip to Paris was in order to see how the French Michelin starred restaurants compared with ours. A visit to a one star (Benoit click here) and a two star (Robuchon, click here) had been done on the Friday and Saturday; the coup de grace, a three star, was the target for Sunday lunch. Le Pré Catelin had earned another star since the Clint’s visit, won by a new hero in French cuisine, Frédéric Anton. This was the target.

Freddy’s restaurant is in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne, a small forest just outside the ring road that encircles Paris ‘proper’. An elegant Napoleon III lodge with a listed interior, it houses the historic function rooms now used by France’s premiere catering company Lenotre, arguably the finest anywhere. Steeped in history, they are the ultimate wedding breakfast destination for old money as only the French understand old money. The restaurant is ‘round the back’. Don’t take this like ‘round the back of 51 Agecroft Drive, Salford.’ Look at it as ‘round the back of Buckingham Palace’. It is gobsmacking.

Walking through the entrance into the hall, there are four people fussing around the reception desk. One of them I mistook for a better dressed Carla Bruni. She was the receptionist. I introduced myself. You couldn’t have seen a more welcoming smile.

“But of course Mr Garner, our Maitre d’ will take you through to your table. I have chosen one in the garden room for you”. Well, you could have knocked me down with a tocque. We floated through the main salon, at least two inches taller, with French government dining on one side and the world of theatre and film on the other, into the garden rooms, bright with sunlight. The day was made up of that blue sky you only get in Paris, you know, the one with the fluffy white clouds that do a lot of aimless floating about.

We took ‘Le Menu’, normally a good way of keeping the bill down. It went like this.

La Sardine:
A l’huile, Capeaux de Beurre et Pain aux Olives
Sardine et persil plat frits
Gelée de Bouillabaisse, Sauce Rouille.

Three different methods of dealing with sardines, each on its own plate, all served at the same time. The Maitre d’ of the room, Jean Claude Pautellini, recommended we started with the gelée first. This was a boullabaise without the bouillabaise, everything having been reduced down over an age to form a clear stock that had been poured a quarter inch deep into a soup bowl. Then, left to turn into jelly in the fridge, it gets rouille, the spicy, garlicky mayonnaise dabbed onto the surface. They were saffron yellow, followed by dull grey dabs and light beige dabs. It all looked pretty but insubstantial. Until, that is, a spoon is slid across the plate scooping up the jelly like ice cream, then into your mouth.

That mouthful took me back 20 years to a table bathed in sunlight at Les Roches, in Le Lavandou on the Riviera, demolishing an authentic bouillabaisse for the very first time. The other dabs were sardines and shellfish, a mouthful so exquisite that I now understand what keeps Heston Blummenthal going. He wants to achieve what Freddy has here, in this little tickle of a dish. The entire reason for visiting the French Riviera was in that spoonful.

The rest? Three perfectly prepared saddles of sardines, with olive oil, a curl of butter to be used with the thinly sliced and toasted olive bread. Oh, and tiny, tiny flowers of thyme sprinkled over. Then a dish of the little fellas deep fried with parsley. Amongst all the gorgeous little tricks the kitchen scattered across these three plates like a handful of small diamonds, was a simple quarter of lime. There was a lesson here.

Poelée aux Amandes, Poudre de Curry, Courgette en salade
Mimosa d’oeuf et filet d’Achois
Petit Farci de Courgette cuisine au Plat, Fondant d’Agneau épicé

Once again, we had three dishes, each showing a different manner of dealing with the headline ingredient, courgettes. One was sliced lengthways in half, stuffed with egg and anchovies, next a bowl of sautéed almonds, tiny cubes of bacon and courgettes with a beautiful jus. Finally, a stuffed courgette topped off with finely ground and spiced lamb. The world champion lamb kofta, in fact. This last dish was one that would be a superstar on its own, with spices balancing the warm sticky of minced lamb that had the correct fat to lean ratio, it felt so right on the palate, silky in its effect. Editing this piece six months later, your writer can still taste it.

La Langoustine
Préparée en Ravioli, Servie dans un Bouillon á l’Huile d’Olive vierge Au parfum poivre et Menthe
La Coque, Beurrede Corail
Nem de Langoustine frit, jus de Romaine et Cacahuetes torréfiées

The ravioli was stuffed with roughly chopped langoustines that had been cooked in a broth, just so. If it is true that Marco Polo brought back pasta from China, he probably did so with dim sum in mind. Freddy has taken the Chinese Sunday specials and with his deft, light touch transformed the idea into Heaven. Froth is not on my list of things to order at lunch, but here we have one simply described as ‘a perfume of mint and pepper’. It delivered with the supremely matched flavours bringing the ravioli to life.

The split, grilled langoustine again was done to the point where others would have left it another 20 seconds making it tough. I didn’t ask, but suspect now that it was achieved by the ‘sous vide’ style of cooking.


The deep fried langoustine parcel was what I want to find on my plate next time I visit the Yang Sing in Manchester. I half expected it to float off with one of those clouds.

Le Ris de Veau
Cuit en Casserole, Champignons des Bois
Soubise au parmesan
Fine purée de Céleri á la Cannelle, Petites Fleurs en Tempura

These veal sweetbreads were creamily divine, cooked gently in a casserole then cut into two slices the size of a split crumpet, one having Parmesan grated on top and browned under the grill, the second with a pile of pan-fried woodland mushrooms with a sticky jus shared between them, over to the right, garlic flower tempuras nestling up to celeriac puree. How very, very cute.

Les Fromages Fermiers, Frais et Affinés

The second best cheese trolley in my whole career. Stunning.

Le Café ‘Expresso’
En Saboyon, Ganache fouettée
Créme glacée ‘ Brulée’
Amandes ecrasées

This pudding came in what looked like a glass tumbler, which turned out to be spun sugar and part of the dish. The contents were divine. As in the next pudding dish, a picture tells a thousand words, so look and drool.

La Pomme
Soufflée croustillante
Créme glacée ‘Carmbar’
Cidre et Sucre petillant

This arrived as a green croquet ball that appeared to have no entrance. Give it a crack with one of the silver spoons and hey presto, you get the world’s finest cream egg. That ‘Cidre et Sucre petillant’ was one of the most interesting bits, it fizzed in your mouth. The two puddings were in the top 25 pudds in the world. Jean Claude by this time had become my best pal, and generously dropped a bottle of Sauternes on the table, and no cheap stuff either, it was a Chateau Rieussec ’89.

Café et Mignardises

Great coffee, blinding choccies

The service is sublime. Jean Claude and his right hand man, Philippe Rousel, made us feel like royalty, they relaxed us, they made us laugh. They made us feel like we were the most important people in Paris.

I ate here back in the summer of last year, as part of a weekend of Michelin starred eating. It was to refresh my memory of dining at this level. Do we have chefs here in the North West capable of cooking at this level? We do for one stars. But no-one is anywhere near the Le Pré Catelan and Frédéric Anton. Indeed, I think this meal could give Gordon Ramsay a second prize.

What makes this man so special? That he is probably in the top 20 in the world? Certainly this meal was better than anything the UK can produce. Was it the three days preparing his stocks? Was it the painstaking methods used to ensure the langoustines were cooked to the very point of perfection? The astonishing creation that is ‘Pomme’?

Nope, it was a quarter of lime, sat next to the deep fried sardine. Freddy knew when he was beaten, and that’s only by nature. He is supremely comfortable in his, and his brigade’s, abilities. I can guarantee that every chef in England would not have been able to resist squeezing that lime into a mayonnaise…

Should this man feel ashamed?

The meal cost, including a couple of bottles of mid range wine, £501. Yes, for two. Anyone truly interested in their food should aspire to eat at this level once every couple of years. Was it worth £501? All day long, yes. Save up, or blow the redundancy, and go.

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52 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Al LegroFebruary 13th 2009.

Ah, but Dig, did he woo her from scratch or was she really an Escort?

Christ on a bikeFebruary 13th 2009.

I fundamentally disagree with the guv'nor over this motoring lark.

London RoadFebruary 13th 2009.

Don't you mean the Roquefort files? And enlarge the bloody pictures if you want to see the captions.

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

I wasn't going for Jeep laughs. It was Superb and lit up the Roomster now Skoda way. Of Corsa I've always been very Cavalier with my jokes. They amuse everybody, jokes Vauxhall you could say.

ProfFebruary 13th 2009.

I really should apologise to Engie Benji Sammons this should have all been in Larry's Column.

Maître DFebruary 13th 2009.

Oh dear. it looks like someone has been sick in the baked beans (right hand column, fourth from bottom)

GODFebruary 13th 2009.

It looks like the Devil had deleted a line form the Lord's Car...He drives in mysterious ways. The missing line was...And lead us not into the petrol station but deliver us all E-types

anonnymouseFebruary 13th 2009.

anyone for golf?, or would you like a polo? its mint!

Robin Hood CampFebruary 13th 2009.

by Rhyl. On the quiet he’s quite thrilled about it.

The Lambo of GodFebruary 13th 2009.

Liverpool Confidential doesn't have brilliant columns like this one any more. Like old cars it's true what they say - they don't build 'em like they used to.

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

I forgot to mention she was a Fox called Clio, it was a lovely Sunny day and very Scenic. Suddenly a Jaguar ran out of the Forester and scratched her eyes so she couldn't Focus on him. They thought about phoning 911 but didn't bother because he didn't Impreza with his out of Note Saxo playing and she wasn't his X-Type. I could keep going and going like this Audi long. I could fill a few pages of A4. I'm not going to tho. I'm off to a Clubman on Laguna Beach. That's my lot. It's all Rover. TAXI!

Rev. J. C. FlannelFebruary 13th 2009.

It's Sundy morning; why aren't you in church, Dig?

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

REV, I've been to church this morning. Neither God nor Jesus showed up again. I'm there every Sunday and I don't even live there like those 2. WAG, You CAN take me anywhere, whether I behave or not is another matter. DOUCHE, I'll piss on Hugh Grant for free. Give the £500 to Mark Garner for another jolly up around France.

Al LegroFebruary 13th 2009.

Ah, but is it a Reliant Robin Hood Camp?

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

Sorry isn't good enough Prof, sorry I mean GOD. Now I know why I've been so wayward and feral all these years. Your dirty car and footballing lad are more important than filling my heart with peace and love. You say your lad is a goalie? Is your lad Jesus by any chance? I've heard that Jesus saves but I thought it meant something else.

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

Holden a minute. Let's all take a Seat, say a hail Mini and say Tata to this car nonsense. I'd rather Dodge talking about cars thank you. Now where's my car Kia? I'd better get back to work and sell some Honda's!

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

Wouldn't the Fords Prayer have been a better title? I think so. Anyway that's enough car nonsense. i'm not getting involvoed in any more of that. Anyway come on GOD my hair is clean and I'm up for a girls night out!

Gordon RamasesIIFebruary 13th 2009.

What are they doing serving up a big squashed bee? (2nd and 3rd pic) At £501.00 you don't want to get stung twice! And it looks like the moths have been at its wings. Or do they always serve that in a French Beestro?

Nissan Pantry BoyFebruary 13th 2009.

Dig's borrowing my high heels...

Angie - EdFebruary 13th 2009.

Gordo, you're fired. Kevin, thank you. It has been changed.

Jesus Chrysler Super CarFebruary 13th 2009.

Just be thankful for small Mercedes

GODFebruary 13th 2009.

Sadly Dig is washing his hair that night and I have a burly chap with a big steamer coming round to decorate my back passage.

Right hand of the father driveFebruary 13th 2009.

My coupe runneth over.....

Le Professor ChucklebuttyFebruary 13th 2009.

Oh really is he the bloke who opened the first off license during the occupation? It was very close by and called Handy Hoch. So if Hans did the dishes, what did they clean the ovens with, Mr Mussolini? They are also famous for one of the biggest desserts you can get, the Trifle Tower. Although I wouldn't recommend it, all the next day I was in and out of the louvre. Yes never off the can can (which is French for Toulous)

Salad DazeFebruary 13th 2009.

£501? I give that as a tip at Fraiche. PS "But no-one is anywhere near the Pre Catelin and Anton Frederic." Is that anywhere near the Pré Catelan and its chef Frederic Anton?

Liverpool WagFebruary 13th 2009.

That's extremely funny. Is God the same person who wrote the poem about the Superlamborghini the other week? I think we should be towed.

Mary Mazda lineFebruary 13th 2009.

Dig going for the jeep laughs. Anyway how are you and the prof doing in the competition to win a girls night out? (Have your say rants)

Douche d'orFebruary 13th 2009.

Si vous appréciez l'urination, je te payerai £500 pour pisser sur Hugh Grant.Mais ce doit être une surprise, alors qu'il mange.

Sue BarooFebruary 13th 2009.

Is the cabaret up to much?

Rev. J. C. FlannelFebruary 13th 2009.

Garnish? Surely you are mistaken ,Mr. Knees – it is Varnish, Reg Varnish, recently promoted to a job upstairs...

Avon heeds his CallingFebruary 13th 2009.

O almighty God, from whom no secrets are hid. What kind of car do you drive and would you recommend it to your friends? Amen

Salad DazeFebruary 13th 2009.

Just a minute. How come my proof-reading corrections get attributed to some Kevin? I've been eating in Madrid so haven't had time to check the Young Editor's subbing before now. Just off to change my name.

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

I've seen 'La Pomme' somewhere before. Wasn't it one of the controls from the spaceship on Blakes 7? I don't like the look of 'La Longoustine' either. What is it? Is it a melted 99 ice cream with a weird cone? Why is the flake on a hollow green pepper and sprinkled with cheese? Garlic bread, veg soup, sweetcorn soup, bowl of nuts, soap suds, fish, choccies and bread for £501? Forget the food, I'd pay £501 to have a piss with Clint Eastwood anyday.

Xavier St JohnFebruary 13th 2009.

Dig tried to sell me some Jazz mags the other week. I told him I was looking for a Vauxhall Zafira. However be grateful for small mercies. I was in the local Newz n Booze tonight when a lady with a drooling hairy dog told me she'd always been after a big cocker. Funny the people that talk to you when they want something

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

Nope she was a stripper at a Stag do which was a Triumph. They found her contact details in Fiesta. She even got a £100 tip from each Punto she lapdanced for.

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

When is he going to the Robin Hood camp? I'm going there with my friends Rob, Rhonda, Rich and Gavin, Trudy, Paul.

LeviticarsFebruary 13th 2009.

And lo an Anglia appeared before them.They followed a KaAnd a child was born in Bedford Van.As Moses had been given the sign of a burning Bus and parted the red sierra to lead his people to the promised Land Rover. Chapter 3 Mathew Mark Luke Engine. And with all this traffic about, here is Ken Dodd to sing Carbon Footpints in the sand.

Austin WestminsterFebruary 13th 2009.

O Lord, thy prayer so tickled me on my springs I now need to have my nipples greased. (K)Amen (Ghia)

B. ElzebubFebruary 13th 2009.

Robin Hood camp, eh...

TampaFebruary 13th 2009.

A friend who died last week was evicted for owing £500 odd.The world is a worse place.Please get some sense of proportion - give some change to the buskers and beggars not to loathsome french fools.

Liverpool WagFebruary 13th 2009.

The Lord's Car wins. GOD, you win a girls' night out with Dig and Hylda Baker at the Mal (whether you like it or not)

Liverpool WagFebruary 13th 2009.

Dig. There are some people you can't take anywhere, aren't there?

GODFebruary 13th 2009.

Sorry Dig, I always wash the car on a Sunday morning and the lad was playing footy with his mates on the astral turf. The Goalie Of Galilea. It's a good team. Although Judas is the star player, and highest scorer. You should see the trophy cabinet thanks to Judas, there must be nearly thirty pieces in there. But as for the big one, Thomas has his doubts about the upcoming match with Islam United. Anyway don't worry if you don't see me there. I am omnipotent you know but at my age that's bound to happen.

DigFebruary 13th 2009.

That made me laugh Al Legro. Bravo! According to my Concerto Jazz musician friend who works in the Civic building it is reliant. He went there around S2000 to get away from the City. He met a Fit bird there took her down by the Stream and was in his Element when he got Honda job wob with her. The rest, as they say is Legend.

GODFebruary 13th 2009.

If Jesus saved a few more we could have been top of the league, but as you may have noticed looking aorund, Hell Kingston Ravers are stillon top. I know that I know everything but are you admitting now that you are actually Ken The Feral Moggie from Woolton Woods? I knew it was a mistake getting you that lap top. What have you done with the real Dig? I hope he's not tied up with those balls of wool and covered in chip wrappers and chicken bones like you did with the man from the newsagents. by the way don't get me confused with the Professor, he is just my representative on Earth.

Professor ChucklebuttyFebruary 13th 2009.

No I don't mean the Rhubarb Files, what you are thinking of Maverick. And for your information of, I can't see very well through Nana Mouskouri's glasses and if you enlarge the photo it just reads 28 of 29 which doesn't do much to tell you what it is. You would expect an expensive French Restaurant to have the menus printed in the language, achtundzwanzig von neuneund zwanzig, like it was when I went there in 1943. It was a damned site cheaper then too! Although they did complain about customers tripping over my parachute.

Maurice MinorFebruary 13th 2009.

O Lord. Thou art indeed the Alfa and the (Vauxhall) Omega...

Sapphire Armstrong-SiddeleyFebruary 13th 2009.

Oh, Larry needed a column change - arthritis in the elbow, donchaknow. (Or an automatic, obviously.)

Christ on a BikeFebruary 13th 2009.

He's even bought himself a sun-hat.

Larry KneesFebruary 13th 2009.

Oh yes Reverend, I remember, he was in "On the Blakes 7" I hate you Avon c'mon get that Battlecruiser out" Are you sure he was promoted upstairs I would have thought he and his friend Jack would have prefered the much hotter cracking bits of crumpet, downstairs. I wondered why dig mentione Blakes green nob.

Carl De SacFebruary 13th 2009.

Burly Chap, if you can read this you are steaming too close.

Larry KneesFebruary 13th 2009.

This is turning into one of my columns. Obviously Mr Garnish also knows the secret of how to provoke lively debate.

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