I first read about Le Grand Vefour last spring in Lucinda Holdforth’s True Pleasures, one of my favorite books about Paris (I think the occasion for her lunch at this historic restaurant had something to do with celebrating some new Robert Clergeries, which made me love the book and her even more).
Then I walked by it a couple times during the summer, eagerly (and, oui, tackily) peeking through the etched glass windows to steal a glimpse inside. But it was always abandoned. I had my sad-panicky moments of thinking the restaurant was closed forever but, come to find out, it’s just one of those truly French places that is closed weekends, holidays, and at least several weeks each season.
So I had shelved my obsession until recently when Michael and I made plans to start indulging in some really decadent lunches around town. We considered launching with Pierre Gagnaire, or at Georges, but we finally settled on Vefour. And now, I am in love.
The experience started before I even entered the restaurant. When they called to confirm my reservation, they somehow knew I was an Anglophone and very warmly and sincerely confirmed my reservation—courtesy and class, already evident.
Then, arriving from the backside of Palais Royal, the doorman still sensed me and rushed to open the door.
Then inside, a woman was waiting to take my coat. Then, the maitre d’ knew exactly who I was and knew Michael was already waiting at the table. And so then they lead me into the dining room and the experience really began.
Mon dieu. It is a masterpiece of an 18th Century interior. Plush red velvet banquets, gold gilt trim, full-wall mirrors, frescoes, silver vases of flowers, white linen tablecloths and napkins, skyrocketing fresh lilies. We were seated at a table that allowed us to peek at the decanting and the breathing of wine and the painstaking presentation and delivery of the plates. There was a team of at least eight waiters, ranging in age from 15 to 80, each of whom had his role in this very carefully greased wheel. When one would catch me lustfully eyeing someone else’s dessert he’d joke, “Not yet,” making me laugh. The sommelier was delightful. Our waiter was warm. The food and the wine, exquisite.
At a total of 125 euros, it’s obviously not an everyday event. It’s tres cher. But you have to think beyond just the total on the tab. You’re getting a classic experience. Neigh, an historic experience. It’s as indulgent and transporting as going to a spa. Sitting there in that sumptuous environment, knowing Napoleon wooed Josephine there, that Victor Hugo and Colette dined there, that it’s been in one of the most beautiful settings of Paris for over 200 years—and with the cast of waiters approaching your table, to bring you another treat, to pour a little more wine, to smile and make an aside—it makes you feel so special.
And you don’t have to eat for the rest of the day. We had the three-course menu, which is really four courses with the cheese...
...which is really six courses with the two amuses-bouches...
...which is really eight courses with the two side dishes that come with the entrée...
which is really 14 courses with the gelees, caramels, chocolates, lemon cake and selection of six petit-fours that come in addition to dessert.
It was absolute madness. Absolute decadence. Absolute bliss. I mean, how many places do you know serve salty and sweet butter?
Michael was horrified that I was taking pictures, which explains the quasi-covert feeling of them, but I couldn’t not document an experience like this.