Monday, 24 August 2009

Dining up the Eiffel Tower

My father, who at 75 is ageing disgracefully, recently had dinner at the Jules Verne restaurant which is on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. It’s a Michelin-rated restaurant with a very long waiting list, and you have to book months in advance to get in. You also have to be pretty heavy in the wallet to afford it – according to one of the websites I consulted, one of the set-menu dinners (without wine) is priced at about 160 Euros – that’s about R1 750!

Here’s what my dad had to say about his experience.

We arrive in a taxi and move through the hoi polloi of sweaty tourists like royalty, to be greeted at the special entrance to the Jules Verne by an immaculately suited maitre, reservation list in hand, who directs us into the tiny cage elevator that grinds up to the restaurant floor.

A table at the window and you have half of Paris below you. Waiters dressed up like pox-doctor’s clerks hover around speaking English, Spanish, Lebanese, Hindustani – any language that happens to be eating there at the time.

The food is, according to my gourmet girlfriend, good but she’s had better. Foie gras for me to start. A sole meuniere which doesn’t come laid out on the plate like at the Ocean Basket but stripped from the bone and, I think, overcooked, on a bed of truffelled spinach or buffalo’s nostrils or something. Dessert is cheesecake which Catherine said wasn’t as good as the previous one we had off the Champs Elysee. Who am I to judge, having gone from mousetrap cheese and biscuits to desserts that look like Picasso doodles on my plate (and a late-night snack of Rennies to ease it all through my groaning alimentary canals)?

At the next table, a banker from Luxembourg is speaking Luxembourgese which, Catherine detects, is a mixture of French, Dutch and German. With his son. Obviously on a trip paid for by little old ladies who have invested their life savings with him. And he phones his wife halfway through his foie gras to tell her where he is and what he’s eating. I thought Catherine was going to clock him with her baguette.

Behind us is a large family group of a handsome brown-skinned young man with a blonde, obviously very English, wife and some cafe au lait kids. Filthy rich. Probably in oil or weapons of mass destruction.

Also at a window table is a young, very British, man who vaguely resembles a pop star - Bono? Dino? Dunno? - who drinks his champagne like quaffing draught Bass and stares into his blonde girlfriend’s cavernous cleavage.

The serving staff is a disciplined bunch of young men - we saw only one girl waitron - who, according to their dress, have specific roles to play. Some could only come out of the kitchen with food and then had to wait for other waiters to take it from them to the table. An apprentice waiter scurries about looking like Gerard Depardieu in shirt sleeves – he’s not entitled to war a jacket yet. Overseeing all is a suave, multilingual maitre who moves silkily about, charming the ladies, joking with the men. He immediately makes a lifelong enemy of Catherine by insisting on speaking Dutch to her when she speaks French like a native. He is arrogant, she says, Eiffel Tower or not.

Paying the bill must be painful if you’re not the Sultan of Oman. Three glasses of wine cost enough to keep the muesli bunch [that’s us in Riebeek Kasteel] in local plonk for a week.

But, for a first and last, an eyeful of the Eiffel, from a table at the Jules Verne, is certainly one to remember.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I simply loved this....I was in the same restaurant a few weeks back and found it arrogant and pretentious. Most Fine Dining establishments in Paris have noses so far up themselves that they find it difficult to smell anything! I love your blog... living here in the uk it makes me terribly homesick. Keep us smiling.