Le Jules Verne, the Eiffel Tower’s gourmet restaurant 410 feet above the sea, reopened on July 20, 2019, after the operational concession changed hands. Frédéric Anton takes over from Alain Ducasse, coming in with mighty ambitions, but without haste.
A meal at Le Jules Verne includes the scenery, and Frédéric Anton lives up to both his reputation and the setting. Sauces, seasonings, cooking times, and techniques are meticulously mastered in dishes whisked out to you with flawless service, accompanied by a sommelier of note, Benjamin Roffet, one of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. Menu highlights include langoustine served ravioli-style with truffle, parmesan cream, and fine beetroot jelly. The just-seared shellfish meat releases its marine-drenched flavor from beneath an earthy veil of beet in a land-and-sea symphony. The shimmering cod is rendered vivacious by bottarga, lobster coral, and a spicy jus, while the farmhouse chicken is reassuringly homey with its yellow wine sauce and essential mashed potatoes, the pomme purée that is a nod to the late Joël Robuchon, the chef’s mentor. A star-spangled meal high in the heavens. Lofty encounter with Frédéric Anton:
Do you remember the opening day at the restaurant ?
Vividly. I’d been haranguing everyone for weeks to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the fifth floor, where there’s only a little platform with a railing. Someone came with me, because that’s mandatory, but I stood on the platform alone for 10 minutes, gazing at Paris, soaking in all the power and energy of the place.
Do you feel you’re taking on a personal challenge?
Someone commented that, to this point, I’d been hidden away in the Bois de Boulogne, at Le Pré Catelan (Relais & Châteaux member, three Michelin stars), and that now I’d be very exposed, in the middle of Paris on the Eiffel Tower. But this isn’t actually a challenge: It’s an opportunity that was presented to me and that I accepted with relish. I’ve spent two and a half years giving my all; I’ve reflected on everything, taken the time, gotten everything in order to be ready on the big day.
What limitations do you contend with at a place like Le Jules Verne?
It’s not unlike a restaurant on the 30th floor of a Hong Kong skyscraper. The foods arrive in a laboratory beneath the Eiffel Tower and some initial preparation happens down there, since no trash or waste can go up the tower per the operating company, the SETE. We can’t cook with gas at the restaurant for safety reasons. But everything’s prepared on site and the kitchen was designed especially for that. It spans nearly 1300 square feet, bigger than the one at Le Pré Catelan!
The three chefs that have successively headed Le Jules Verne since it opened in 1983 always earned one Michelin star, but never more. What are your expectations?
I want more than one star, of course. I want people to come for the food as much as for the view, to make this restaurant a gourmet destination. But we can’t be pretentious – we have to be cognizant of the place, the monument. Can we be on a par with the Eiffel Tower? I don’t know. I plan to build slowly, as I did in my 23 years at Le Pré Catelan. I’m here every day; I’m conscientious, methodical, putting one foot in front of the other. When one project’s done, I move on to the next. We have to tame the place, break it in, understand it, to make change possible.
What cuisine are you serving your guests?
Whatever I do, I’m not going to serve Le Pré Catelan cuisine. You don’t come to a place like this with some kind of personal culinary notion to showcase your style. My job is to satisfy as many people as possible – a restaurant is a business. I’ve always said that I’d prefer to buy a high-quality veal chop, season it well, cook it well, and serve it with a good sauce, the right vegetable. I’m not the kind of chef who’s going to whip up some razzle-dazzle recipe that half my guests might not like. When you have seating for 90, the most important thing isn’t being creative – it’s knowing how to cook cod or chicken or langoustine ravioli. But I did bring over Kevin Garcia, who was my chef at Le Pré Catelan for six years, so I didn’t come here to fool around.