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Entering the 18th-century gardens of the Palais Royal in the heart of Paris is akin to uncovering an heirloom jewel amidst a constantly evolving landscape. Within its arches lies Le Grand Vefour, the oldest and the most historic restaurant in the city dating back to 1784.

Despite being at least two centuries old it has preserved its decor intact throughout all this time. Today this gourmet rendezvous is a classified historical treasure, and not one inch of its interior can be changed. It is still grand, ornate and reflects the tastes of France’s nobility.

An icon of Parisian dining

Paris’ political and artistic legends Napoleon Bonaparte and Joséphine de Beauharnais have dined here and allegedly it was the emperor’s favourite restaurant. Writers from Honoré de Balzac to Jean-Paul Sartre, George Sand and Victor Hugo’s have eaten at Le Grand Vefour, and some of the 18 tables are named after them, identified by golden nameplates.

The restaurant appeared in many films and TV shows including Emily in Paris (the episode where Emily confirmed the wrong date on the reservation), Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and Coco before Chanel with Audrey Tautou playing the legendary couturier.

A moment frozen in time

To enter the exclusive establishment, walk down the red carpet (of course) and through the velvet curtain. Inside awaits a cosy foyer where we were greeted by hospitable manager Julien and celebrity chef Guy (pronounced Gee) Martin himself who has ran the kitchen for over 25 years. It’s not every day you get to meet a three-Michelin-starred chef who cooked for former French President Nicolas Sarkozy among a long list of famous people and politicians.

It has all the hallmarks of a majestic French restaurant – elaborate paintings on silk across the ceilings and walls, beautiful gold framed mirrors, sparkling chandeliers; the very much Napoleonic decor strikes one as refined excess. Wall-to-wall mirrors give the illusion of a much larger restaurant and infinite symmetry, while the windows are frosted half way up to enhance the feeling of exclusivity and stop prying eyes looking in without compromising natural light.

Steeped in history, this neoclassical establishment is filled with a distinctive and unique atmosphere where time and space fade away – if only the walls could talk. It’s a spectacular space to see and to experience a version of Paris that still feels like a fairy tale.

From the moment you’re seated the waiters will establish a personal complicity with every table that conveys the priority, which is that you should enjoy your meal as much as possible. They check on guests frequently and space the courses to allow the diners to anticipate the upcoming course without the time ever being overlong because unlike most Paris restaurants, Le Grand Vefour serves copious portions.

French cuisine at its most elegant

Now let’s talk about the food, we started our feast with sourdough and mocktails followed by smoked salmon starter served with blinis and crême fraiche. The best salmon we’ve ever eaten. We also went for the octopus salad and corn coulis which was delicious and presented beautifully.

For mains, skirt steak in a rich veal jus with artichokes and pork cheeks with potato purée and cranberries. The pork cheeks are marinated for 24 hours before serving, so incredibly tender and loaded with flavour – delicious!

Before long, voila! a surprise is sent from the chef – a cheese plate of the finest French cheeses, with each cheese to be eaten in a certain order. After this we were presented with a very rare type of blue cheese only eaten by small number of connoisseurs. This was Bleu de Termignon, a flavourful cheese from the chef’s home region, the French alps. The taste is unlike any other, with a myriad of complex and subtle flavours.

An authentic gastronomic experience

How could we forget about the desserts, no matter how full you are there’s always room for dessert! In terms of presentation these blew us away, absolutely stunning. The Tonka Mille-feuille with salted butter caramel and pear sorbet was rich and delicious but the Milk chocolate palet with mango and passion fruit was beautiful, meticulously presented and garnished with flowers.

Another surprise from the chef appears on our table – the chocolate profiterole with caramelised almond and hot chocolate sauce poured over, chocolate heaven!

We finish with espresso accompanied by petit sweet treats and realise it won’t be a dining experience we’ll forget in a hurry, absolutely sublime. If you visit Paris, this is the place to eat.

The a la carte prices for lunch are lower than at dinner and it’s easier to get a reservation. At lunch there is also a set menu Tuesday-Saturday at €56 for two courses or €67 for three courses.

Learn more about Le Grand Vefour here.


Image credits: © Jérôme Mondière, Le Grand Vefour & Travel with Style