The last time I dined in Le Voltaire I’d left myself an hour for lunch before getting the train back to London.
Being Henry de Montherlant’s local I should have known that Le V is not the kind of place to give you a Nando’s paced turnaround on the munching front. I’ll never forget the waiter’s shocked/ puzzled (shuzzled?) expression as he mouthed back at me ‘No coffee, Monsieur?!?!’ as he handed me the (heart-stoppingly big for a solo lunch) bill.
So I returned with nothing else scheduled for the day except a Eurostar from Gare du Nord at 6 o’clock, leaving me ample time to wallow in the the Voltaire experience.
Because it is an experience. If you plan to visit do read the comments on Google for a cross section of the most wrong-headed nutjobs to ever attempt to visit a high class Parisian restaurant.* To get the most out of Le V you have to treat it with respect. Don’t disrespect the V, as Tony Soprano might have said.
As well as being a haunt of Henry de M (before his death by his own hand) and various writers, actors and upper crust, it is the place where Voltaire himself lived way back in the eighteenth century. A statue of the old rascal looks down on present day company in a room that feels as if from another era once the door closes behind you and the twenty first century is lost from view. Objets d’art and paintings decorate the walls and a good run of lived in pannelling gives a masculine feel while not being overly intimidating.
Time slows. A good thing.
The waiters are seasoned pros, discreet and scrupulous about service. They’ll greet Savile Row suited regulars like old friends yet make shabby, stressed newcomers like myself feel relaxed – expertise in hospitality that is rarely encountered in these start-up, make-a-buck times. I especially like the palaver that comes from everyone being fitted in behind tightly aligned (but generously sized) tables.
The menu seems more of a historical document than anything I’ve ransacked in the Bibliotèque Nationale, hand-written with specials overlaid in cute little notes. The prices are not for the faint-hearted, €50 plus for a fillet steak is, like an evening at Covent Garden, a self-indulgence for the likes of me; although the full room showed that there’s plenty of people around who would see that as a quotidian expense.
But you do get value for money. Not for Le Voltaire the sly tricks to squeeze the customer’s wallet. You want bread? Have as much as you like. Crudités? Side dishes of spuds, fries, veg? All in the deal. Petit fours with your coffee? With our compliments. And everything prepped/cooked to perfection.
The filet was a mouthwatering slab of pinky earthy paradise on a plate. I savoured every mouthful. Sorbet to clear up after was like nectar. Oh! And the wine …. Well, they’ve got some kind of a bible for the connoisseur but I was happy to pop down a €29 Côtes du Rhone with an Armagnac chaser.
Frankly, if I died there (as I believe Voltaire himself did) I would be dying a contented man.
*I especially liked the guy who was outraged that they wouldn’t let his wife use the toilet.
To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).