French Restaurant Review: Restaurant Espadon, Paris

French Restaurant Review: Restaurant Espadon, Paris

The Ritz hotel in Paris reopened its signature restaurant with, for the first time in its history, a female chef at the helm of the cuisines, Eugénie Béziat who embraces her heritage from Gabon in her cooking.

Since César Ritz, the Swiss hotelier who in 1898 founded the sumptuous lodgings on the Place Vendôme in Paris that became an international benchmark of luxury and excellence, was an avid gambler, he’d doubtless have been thrilled by the recent high-stakes gastronomic wager of his successors. In September, the Hôtel Ritz, where the estimable Auguste Escoffier was the original chef, reopened its headliner restaurant Espadon with a new chef, Eugénie Béziat. The 40-year-old is the first ever woman to run the kitchen of the hotel’s signature restaurant. Par hasard, Béziat had previously won a Michelin star in 2020 at La Flibuste in Villeneuve-Loubet, Escoffier’s hometown on the Côte d’Azur.

Now she has stepped into his shoes with an audacious and very personal menu that references her gustatory memories of growing up in Gabon (where she was born), Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Rather than continuing to peddle traditional French gastronomic luxury like langoustines and foie gras, the Ritz has boldly bet on the idea of creating a new restaurant for the 21st century that showcases the edible beauty that’s created when French technical prowess and produce are married to the cooking of other countries.

“There is a vivacity and directness to many African kitchens that differentiates them from the subtlety prized in French cooking,” Béziat observed during a chat over a coffee at the Hôtel Ritz recently. “What I’ve aspired to do at Espadon is keep the energy of the African palate at the same time that I sublimate it with French technique.” This only sounds complicated until you’ve begun one of the tasting menus she serves in the intimate dining room of Espadon, the restaurant having been returned to its original space overlooking a courtyard garden in the back of the Ritz but just inside its Rue Cambon entrance.

Arriving, the restaurant discreetly signals that it represents an elegant and carefully studied break with other versions of L’Espadon (The Swordfish) as it was long known. The entrance to this softly lit dining room with just 30 covers is a short hallway lined with porcelain bisque plaques with a leaf motif, and then the room itself has white-linen-dressed tables set with Astier de Villatte faience, a deliberate break from the formality of Limoges porcelain. The main decorative element of the intimate space is the kitchen, visible through thick glass picture windows with handsome copper borders.


Though Béziat had a distinguished career before arriving at the Ritz, le tout Paris was wondering if she’d be up to the job. After graduating from hotel school in Toulouse, she worked as an assistant chef in the kitchens of Michelin three-star chef Michel Guérard’s Les Prés d’Eugénie, in Eugénie-les-Bains, and subsequently joined Michelin two-star chef Michel Sarran in Toulouse. Next she became head chef at La Flibuste before being recruited by the Ritz. Suffice it to say that I went to dinner at Espadon with great anticipation.

Béziat intrepidly revealed her gastronomic personality with the very first dish that came to our table, a deeply braised tomato that had an almost shocking concentration of umami created by long hours spent in a slow oven. Following this audacious expression of the potent flavours of her childhood in Africa as the daughter of French expats, the rest of the meal was more restrained but no less provocative.

A plump, iodine-rich Giol oyster from the Mediterranean port of La-Seyne-sur-Mer was perfectly grilled to infuse it with smoke without losing its fleshy succulence and served with brede mafane, a spinach-like plant from Madagascar that produces a delicate sensation of pins and needles in the mouth, and Brousse, the fresh ewe’s milk cheese mostly made in villages around Marseille.

Next, a complex dish of artichokes, cocoa and capers that had the moody percussion of Miles Davis’ jazz, and then a delicious and profoundly poignant dish of heirloom breed Houdan chicken with onions and lemon that was Béziat’s interpretation of Chicken Yassa, one of the most popular dishes in West Africa. In Béziat’s version, the onions were baked in clay and presented tableside before being cracked from their shells to garnish the roasted fowl, which was served with a sublime jus of the bird’s cooking juices spiked with lemon.

The final dish before dessert reprised Béziat’s initial audacity, since a grilled rock lobster tail came in a puckery, deep red pool of bissap, the hibiscus-flower juice popular in West Africa, with a manioc-flour dumpling on the side. “The flavours of this dish express my memories of the African beach barbecues we had when I was a child,” the chef explained, before we sampled this intriguing, vibrant and succulent dish.

Béziat is an immensely talented chef with a great future before her, and Restaurant Espadon is an address I’d highly recommend for an elegant and very original special night out in Paris.

Restaurant Espadon, Hôtel Ritz, 15 Place Vendôme, Ist arrondissement, Paris,

Tel. +33 01 43 16 33 74

Prix-fixe menus: five courses €280; eight courses €380

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Lead photo credit : © M PHOUNGRY, JOANN PAI, STUDIO PAM

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Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine from 1999 until its closing, and has written about food and travel for Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Travel & Leisure, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications in the United States and the United Kingdom. He is the author of HUNGRY FOR PARIS, 2nd Edition (Random House, 4/2014), HUNGRY FOR FRANCE (Rizzoli, 4/2014), and MY PLACE AT THE TABLE, newly published in June 2021.

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