French food is the cuisine of the new year. On a recent trip to Paris, I discovered that Parisian restaurants are producing exceptional dishes making brilliant use of technology while still keeping to the tenets of French cooking. With flavour bursting out all over, there is a freedom and playfulness in the dishes. We ate mostly at stylish bistros – gone are tablecloths, arrogant service and attitude in celebration of this neo-bistro movement.
Voted by Restaurant Magazine as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world, Le Chateaubriand took my breath away. The movie star-handsome chef from Basque Country, Inaki Aizpitarte, allows his imagination to create lusty, no-holds-barred dishes – all without any formal training. There was not a single similar taste throughout the five-course tasting menu and five amuse-bouche. His flavour pairings are inventive, exciting and sometimes just plain weird: raspberry juice to accompany seviche, shredded raw scallops with pomelo, and Jerusalem artichokes in a dessert. There is no end to his fevered imagination.
The incredible Agape Substance has Canadian connections. Part-owner Jean-Michel Centeno is the former owner of one of the first fine French restaurants in Toronto, Auberge Gavroche. Agape is small, with one table running down the centre and a few tables for two at the edges. They offer a tasting menu that varies depending on how much you want to spend, serving innovative, contemporary food that far exceeds your palate’s expectations.