I'm excited to hand over to Oja Pathak today for a guest post. She's a consultant at Leicester General Hospital by day, foodie by night and this review of Michelin starred 'Kei' in Paris from a recent holiday her with friend is making me seriously hungry! If you'd like to guest post on Gingey Bites, drop me an email!A summer evening stroll in Paris after a day of spectacularly touristy affairs: the Eiffel tower, crêpes, macarons and trying to get that perfect picture of picking up the pyramide du Louvre by its apex. Heading further up the Rue du Louvre takes you to Kei. This fusion restaurant in the heart of Paris is the work of Kei Kobayashi; who has melded the art of Japanese and essence of French cuisine with training from Alain Ducasse: we were hoping for something special as we were in the city for a summer treat!
From the outside, its steel grey frontage is easy to miss especially as the evening draws in but once found, inside is a wonderfully traditional dining room with dulcet grey tones and chandeliers. At our table, the sommelier offered an apt aperitif and suggestions for our drinks through the evening.
If you are someone who gets overwhelmed by choice, this is the place for you. We booked for dinner; but chef Kei likes to surprise his guests and does not reveal the full menu to the diner. Obviously all allergies and intolerances are requested upon reservation and the main courses of each available menu are explained. There is a choice of 3 menus ranging from 4 to 7 courses, we opted for the 4 course 'Discovery' menu (which was filling enough!).
Our palettes were primed with an ice cubed miso taster: served on a chilled black spoon. This was accompanied with amuse-bouches of sardines and goats cheese whipped into a light foam over a crunchy pastry base and a tapenade of ricotta cheese, green beans and sweet carrots, remarkably refreshing on a warm evening. The bread was cold (though warmed up would have been nice) and the butter was infused with olive oil, chestnut and holly flavours. I wouldn’t know what holly tastes like: but it was good and we were offered extra bread throughout!
My favourite dish was described as a “garden”; salmon with an anchovy and tomato salsa, hidden in a “cloud” of lemon foam and served at the table with a “rain” of olive and bread crumbs. I was completely taken in by the romance (my friend is not as fanciful, but also thought this dish was one of the best) and loved the refreshingly light texture of the foam with the chunks of tomato and cucumber in the salsa. Our server encouraged us to mix the ingredients together and not to just eat the dish as served so we wouldn't miss out on the flavour combinations. A Michelin starred restaurant that encourages you to mix and ruin the artistic presentation of your food!
The next taster was a meaty but bony swordfish steak topped with lemon confit and a hibiscus flower jus. There was a small pomegranate and tomato salsa accompanying the dish. 3 mouthfuls of fresh, simple flavours.
After salmon and swordfish: the langoustine was up. This dish was assembled at the table. A black dish with a pea puree and a fricasse of shitake mushroom and onion – looking a bit lonely until a third dish arrived. This was a smoke pot with langoustines and a lobster bisque. It was delicious but gone within 2 mouthfuls so hard to tell. Other tables seemed to get more langoustines – but they had ordered the larger menus: so worth a consideration. As my friend stated, “I guess they could give one more langoustine: I know it is coming from Scotland but still next time I’ll bring it!”
Up until this point the dishes seemed more Japanese than French but the palette cleanser should have tipped us off that the chef's cordon bleu dish was about to come: an ibérico ham sandwich with Parisien cheese and truffle sauce. Served with corgette flowers and salad: the extra bread came in handy to mop up that truffle sauce. As a truffle aficionado, I loved this dish, it was gone is a few mouthfuls and left me wanting more.
Crossover into dessert was marked with iced goats cheese with an olive oil and cherry confiture, topped with a sweet onion slither. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of goats cheese and was unable to enjoy any part of this dish. Kudos to our servers who did ask why our plates were untouched after a few minutes and asked if we wanted an alternative dish.
I am not going to lie: dessert is my favourite part of any menu – the first dessert was a refreshing sweet and savoury mix of peaches, raspberry and basil. Tingly, peachy and tart with the raspberries – like a posh raspberry sour sweet. The second dessert reminded us that we were in a French establishment: a classic Baba au Rum with sweet Chantilly cream. The chef was generous with the rum and the cream was rich and sweet and was delightful.
Our petits fours were nougat and honeycomb along with grape jelly crêpes. A fitting French ending to a journey that takes your palette from Tokyo to Paris.
All in all I enjoyed the evening and the different flavours. I think that having a secret menu may not be to everyones liking but I liked the idea of working out the flavours and textures as they came. The flip side being that if you don’t like a certain flavour (like goats cheese) it is hard to avoid disappointment. Each dish was a delight but only lasted a few mouthfuls leaving you wanting more. This may be genius on the chef's part, or possibly the larger menus may be manageable for all appetites. The service was polite and attentive and the end of the evening was completed with chef Kei himself wishing you a goodnight—which I thought was a wonderfully personal touch—reminiscent of Eastern hospitality.
I enjoyed my dinner at Kei and would recommend it. I love Japanese food and enjoyed the combination. However, if you are looking for pure, traditional French cuisine, sticking to the pillars of Alain Ducasse or Guy Savoy would be more appropriate.