Ever since it opened last June, the magnificent 14-room Airelles Château de Versailles Le Grand Contrôle hotel has been lauded as one of the most exclusive and refined new hotels in France. Not surprising, given that it was created from several handsome 17th-century brick-and-stone buildings that formerly served as the offices of successive French finance ministers at the court of Versailles.
Rooms at the hotel are very expensive and often booked up far in advance, but you can discover the beauty of this place over a meal in Les Cent Marches, the hotel’s restaurant, where the menus are written by Alain Ducasse. If excellent prix-fixe lunch menus are available for €90 and €140, it’s the candle-lit dinner service here that’s really worth the €280 splurge.
This is because Ducasse and his team deeply researched the food and service at Versailles at the time of King Louis XIV to recreate an exquisitely refined approximation of a festive royal meal. Served in intimate dining rooms with beautifully dressed tables set with Puiforcat cutlery, Baccarat crystal and Bernardaud porcelain, the six-course menu evolves regularly but always begins with an oeuf parfait, or a coddled egg, in a mantle of meringue and topped with caviar.
The night I met friends from Boston, who were staying at the hotel, to dine with them there, the luxurious egg was followed by two other small but sublime starters – a salad of girolles, almonds and haricots verts, and poached lobster tail in tomato aspic. Mains included a simple and succulent dish of sauteed turbot with sauteed cèpes, and a sumptuous roasted poularde (a poularde is a chicken that’s fattened with a rich diet to delay egg production and is at least four months old when it is slaughtered) which was served with autumn truffles.
This regal feast was served by waitresses and waiters in period costume, including silk brocade waistcoats for the men and powdered wigs for everyone. It concluded with a sorbet made from lemons harvested in the orangerie of Versailles and a rich daisy of chocolate ganache made with chocolate produced in Ducasse’s own atelier in Paris.
Les Cent Marches, Versailles
12 rue de l’Indépendance Américaine, Versailles.
Tel: (33) 01 85 36 05 50
Prix-fixe dinner menu €280, prix-fixe lunch menu €90.
From France Today magazine