Every year, the journalist visits Guy Martin, head of the Grand Véfour in Paris, with his family. He tells us about this delicious pilgrimage in one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world.
There’s no way to deny my love for Le Grand Véfour. I’ve written about dining and travel for years, and love dive bars and grand restaurants from Kyoto to Florence to Bozeman, Montana. But I don’t know a better feeling than walking across the Palais Royal for my family’s annual lunch at the jewel box of a restaurant on the north side of the great square.
We go in early January for a meal we remember the rest of the year. We’ve done this for fifteen years and still look forward to it with childlike anticipation. The appeal of Le Grand Véfour is self evident, and chef Guy Martin has been justly starred, lauded and awarded. The room is exquisite, the service warm, the food extraordinary. But somehow a meal here is more than each of these things—taken together they provide reassurance of what civilized pleasure can be.
"The ravioles de foie gras is a rightful classic, silky, light and etched in my memory"
You arrive at your table and feel a sense of history. You might be sitting where Colette dined, (she lived in the building and was a devoted client). Perhaps you’re installed in the banquette preferred by the brilliant painter Fragonard, (also a neighbor). This restaurant has attracted artists and writers for over two centuries. The sun comes through the windows and flatters one of the world’s great rooms. It’s ornate, even grand, but not stuffy, an ambiance of unhurried refinement. Despite its rarefied setting, Le Grand Véfour specializes in hospitality that’s polished and generous. Christian David is the consummate host, who describes each dish in accessible French in a way that’s both seductive and precise. My mother writes him a thank you note every year, by hand.
Guy Martin’s majestic cooking lives up to the surroundings. A starter of ravioles de foie gras is a rightful classic, silky, light and etched in my memory months after the fact. You could also open with raw sea urchin covered with caviar, or a dish of small sliced potatoes, sitting beneath a generous layer of shaved back truffles, definitive in simplicity and elegance, the dining equivalent of the perfect little black dress.
Your meal could focus on the Parmentier de queue de boeuf aux truffes, if you’re of classic mind and a lover of intense flavors. Or something less commanding but just as direct, filets de soles or homard bleu. It doesn’t stop there. Dining here is an occasion to say yes to a proper cheese course (say an Époisses or a goat’s cheese covered in ashes). You’ll enjoy the parade of petit fours, house-made chocolates, a thin slice of Gateau de Savoie, refreshingly dry and just sweet enough. I’m devoted to the crème brûlée aux artichauts, a remarkable, savory desert, one of Guy Martin’s outstanding creations.
Lunch extends into the afternoon—there’s only one seating, and the table is yours for the duration. So linger over an Armagnac or a parting glass of champagne. Three hours here feels very natural, we’ve pushed four. Somehow our family always seems to be the last groups to leave, probably because we don’t want it to end. Because ultimately, of course, the best meals are eaten with people you love.
Le Grand Véfour thrives because it celebrates traditions that have meaning. If those ideals are universal they remain specifically French, and this restaurant could not be in any city but Paris. Those values still matter, regardless of where you’re from, which is why people make the pilgrimage across the Palais Royal to a restaurant unlike any other. Le Grand Véfour connects all who dine there with a sense of pleasure and culture that continues to matter. That spirit intensifies every time we sit down at the table with the people closest to us. Salut!