Monday, 1 May 2017

Food adventures in Paris - Part 1: Dessance

This is our first blog in a while, mainly due to the general busyness of life getting us out of the routine of blogging about our love of food.  However, a recent trip to Paris has given us the impetus to resume so here is Part 1 of our food adventures in Paris, bringing you a review of the incredible Dessance restaurant.

First a few words about dining in Paris in general as a vegetarian/vegan.  Mr Vegan Man has been to Paris twice before, both times more than a decade ago, and whilst it was not hugely difficult to eat well as a vegetarian nor was it particularly easy.  Happily, it is getting easier to be a vegetarian or vegan in Paris.  Many higher end restaurants offer vegetarian menus - particularly those restaurants that offer a tasting menu - and most places will offer at least one vegetarian option.  You will still find more traditional brasseries offering an assiette of vegetables - basically a plate of cooked and/or raw veg - as there only option for non-meat eaters, however many places now offer something more creative and enjoyable.  There are also many vegetarian and vegan only restaurants scattered around the city.

On to Dessance, a restaurant we located whilst browsing TripAdvisor which immediately piqued our interest.  Dessance's concept is that it is a dessert bar, however that is somewhat misleading as although the dishes are presented as desserts and will generally contain sweet components, the balance of flavours includes savoury and salty notes.  They also serve some dishes that are primarily savoury, though even these will often contain one sweeter ingredient.

We opted for their carte blanche menu, which - as it sounds - means there is no menu.  You simply select how many courses you want and of which type and the chefs will cook you whatever they have decided to make that day.  There are three options - the 'audacious', consisting of four fruit/veg based dishes and one more traditional dessert, the 'irresistible' consisting of the above plus one savoury dish (this is usually meat or fish based but they offer a vegetarian alternative), or the 'hedonist' consisting of two savoury dishes, four fruit/veg dishes and a dessert.  We went for the 'irresistible' option, along with a drinks pairing which included alcoholic and non-alcoholic offerings (there is an alcohol only and no alcohol option too).

An appetiser was served consisting of cucumber and edible flower leaves served on a sweet and slightly salty crumb.  It was a tasty forerunner of what was to follow.

The savoury course was the next to be served.  For WOTVM this consisted of a fillet of medium rare veal served with squash and a crumb of digestive biscuit and pine nut.  For Mr Vegan Man the veal was substituted for asparagus.  The dish was beautifully balanced, each ingredient cooked perfectly and with the utmost respect to enhance the flavour of each component.  The mild sweetness of the biscuit and pine nut complemented the savoury elements beautifully.

On to the next course - a dish of mango, parsnip and salsify.  These are not flavours that you would normally put together, however the dish was simply stunning.  The mango had been lightly compressed to give it the most beautiful texture and the flavour of it was so intense.  The burnt parsnip crumb gave a bitter counter-point to the sweet mango, the salsify added a savoury touch and a perfectly smooth parsnip puree helped to bring the plate together into a harmonious whole.

What followed was another unusual combination of pear, butternut squash, almond financier, and a warm yoghurt dressing, garnished with edible flowers.  Once again, the fruit was the star of the dish - the fresh pear had a lovely texture and such an intense pear flavour, whilst another slice had been cooked with cardamom and the spicing worked perfectly with the sweet fruit flavour.  The pieces of financier were not overly sweet and added a nice texture and nutty tones to the dish.  WOTVM is not a huge fan of pear, but even she enjoyed the dish.

Next up was perhaps the most unusual combination of flavours on a menu already pretty daring in that respect.  Mushroom and chocolate are not usually considered natural bed-fellows, but in the hand of the skilled chefs working at Dessance it was somehow made to work.  The earthy, slightly salty mushrooms balanced well with the bittersweet chocolate via the medium of a wonderful chestnut ice cream; the chestnut flavour helping to bridge the gap between the earthiness of the mushroom and the sweetness of the chocolate.  It was everything a good dish should be - surprising, innovative and, most importantly, delightful to eat.  The presentation was beautiful, reminiscent of a woodland floor.

The main meal concluded with us being served a different, more traditional dessert each with instructions from the waiting staff that we were to share.  WOTVM was presented with a celebration of caramel served with a lime sorbet, once again balancing sweet flavours with some sharpness so that the dish was not sickly.  It was very tasty indeed.  Mr Vegan Man was served a baked Alaska with coffee and whiskey, the alcohol adding a smoky, peaty flavour to the dish.  It was a lovely way to end the meal.

To our surprise, we were bought an amuse bouche to conclude proceedings, a pina colada sphere which burst in our mouths and filled it with wonderful tropical flavours.  It was a lovely touch at the end of a great dining experience.

The service was thoughtful and attentive and, thankfully for us, the waiters all spoke excellent English.  Table booking was easy, we did this online via The Fork and would recommend booking as it's a small dining room that fills up quickly.  We were seated at the 'bar', running along the open kitchen where you can watch the dishes being prepared and plated with amazing precision and care.  You can see from the pictures that every dish is like a work of art, the colours vibrant and the composition well-thought-out.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about Dessance is the way that simple ingredients are elevated to rock star status, a simple piece of pear or mango becomes something so much more simply by the skilled chefs really bringing out the naturally wonderful flavour of the ingredients at their disposal.

If you visit Paris or already live there then we cannot recommend Dessance highly enough.  It was great to find such a high quality restaurant where the focus is not on meat or fish but on fresh fruits and vegetables and where, should you so wish, the dishes could be easily adapted to cater for a vegan diet.  The overall experience was amazing from start to finish.  The bill, around 150 euros with drinks and tip, felt like good value for the quality of food on offer and well worth it as a treat.

Dessance, we salute you.  For more info visit their website where you can also view the menus on offer and reserve a table.

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