There is a certain type of inverted snobbery among food enthusiasts about posh restaurants that I find really perplexing. It's the, 'I can't be doing with fancy, Michelin-starred places, with all their silverware and linen. Give me an upturned beer keg, a crusty baguette and a slice of ham, and I'm in heaven,' attitude. Perhaps its Elizabeth 'an omelette and a hair shirt' David's fault, the keep-it-simple brigade often cite her as the ultimate culinary authority, but the truth is, the old bird loved nothing more than stuffing her face in a grand dining room.
Are these people then saying they really love and appreciate food, but aren't interested in tasting some that's been made by the greatest cooks in the world from the finest ingredients and served in an ambience of luxury and refinement?
This is the dining room at Les Ambassadeurs in the Hotel de Crillon, Paris. I dug deep behind the sofa cushions to summon the, actually absurdly reasonable, EUR 80 or so for the five course set lunch menu, and popped by with a friend the other day.
Cuh! What a load of fancy-schmantzy rubbish! Wish I'd spent 85% of that and gone to some smokey old bistro with tobacco stained ceilings and had a gristly bouef bourgignon and flaccid créme brulée instead. Keep it real!
Jus! What a load of poncey nonsense.
Well, that's all very nice, but chocolate's chocolate, right?
Essentially, for the price of a tank of petrol, we enjoyed two hours of majestically choreographed, meticulously prepared, culinary excellence.
Sometimes, simple isn't best. Sometimes artful, clever, creative and original food is.
It's a favourite complaint of the inverted food snob to moan about the overbearing service in Michelin starred places but, in my experience, the more stars a place has, the more relaxed and unintimidating the waiters are. I once ate at Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée and the waiter, overhearing me whisper to my companion, 'What's French for doggy bag?", politely interrupted with a big grin and said, 'Eez, Durgee Baag!'
It was the same at Les Ambassadeurs. I made a comment to the waiter at the end of a pre-dessert about the space dust that had been used in it, and five minutes later he returned from the kitchen with a small bag of it as a gift, tied up with gold ribbon.
They had a cool new bar, too:
Obviously I was far too intimidated to go in, but nice to know it's there all the same.