In Paris, foie gras has been replaced by spelt

<strong>Coeur de Jardin<br />Plaza Athenee<br />25 Avenue Montaigne<br />75008<br />Tel: (33) 15367 6665<br />FOOD <br />SERVICE<br />ATMOSPHERE</strong><br />Cost per person without wine: &euro;95<br /><br />FRENCH food is all about fat: fatty saucisson, foie gras, Roquefort and creme brulee. At least that&rsquo;s what I thought, until I had lunch at Coeur de Jardin, the outdoor restaurant at the opulent Plaza Athenee hotel, located in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. It was, without doubt, the most wholesome meal I&rsquo;ve had out in a year &ndash; until the cheese, of course. Anyway, it wasn&rsquo;t what I&rsquo;d have expected of a hotel that houses an Alain Ducasse restaurant and it wasn&rsquo;t what I expected to find in Paris. It was more the kind of thing you&rsquo;d eat in California. And it struck me as the future of gastronomy &ndash; signalling a new wave of gourmet without the artery-clogging fat; and, crucially, with an ecological conscience. The French have beat us to it once again.<br /><br />The concept is balance from perfectly sourced French ingredients &ndash; grains, vegetable and meat/fish in perfect harmony. Herbs used in the food grow in the centre of the courtyard in which you eat, and there are tomato vines too. Things like spelt and bulgar wheat make regular appearances. This doesn&rsquo;t mean the food is simple or hippy-ish. It&rsquo;s an expensive restaurant and most of the clientele were businesspeople. None of them were overweight, though &ndash; far from the big bellied red-faced Gallic long-lunchers of lore. Instead, they were slender, chic types who obviously appreciate gourmet food without all the fat.<br /><br /><strong>UNIQUELY DELICIOUS</strong><br />We were attended to with impeccable service (until the end, when they seemed to forget about us completely &ndash; it was 4pm to be fair). The Italian waiter went through the entire menu, dish by dish, explaining all its mysteries, of which there were many, from quinori (a mix of red quinoa, long rice, chickpeas and sesame seeds), to sucrine salad (soft, sweet lettuce), to socca (a chickpea crepe), to &ldquo;paned&rdquo; vegetables (very lightly cooked). There was even biphidus salad dressing that needed to be explained to be believed &ndash; and indeed there it was, a yoghurty, tart liquid that tasted somewhere between good and medicinal.<br /><br />The menu is divided in such a way that would be laughed at in the UK but seemed sweet and oddly chic in Paris. There was &ldquo;the vegetable garden&rdquo;, &ldquo;the sea&rdquo;, &ldquo;the land and the farm&rdquo;, &ldquo;the herbs and the leaves&rdquo; and &ldquo;the pasturages&rdquo; (cheese). From the vegetable garden we went for &ldquo;refreshed&rdquo; Brittany lobster with young leaves, courgette and millet with &ldquo;coral&rdquo; vinaigrette &ndash; thick, chewy discs of meaty blue lobster that was ever so slightly overwhelmed by its citrussy dressing. A caramelised fillet of mackerel with mackerel tartar was orangey and exciting with numerous silky textures and was delicious.<br /><br /><strong>REFINED PAELLA</strong><br />From the sea I was deeply tempted by preserved fennel, Atlantic John Dory and saffron sauce &ndash; I saw others with the big piece of clean white fish made yellow by the fennel and saffron. Instead I went for something called &ldquo;riso&rdquo;: a Milanese dish of crunchy rice served with green peas, lemon and squid. It was like a refined, elegant paella &ndash; each forkfull scraped from the black, oily pan was a rich, savoury bite made interesting and even a little bit cleansing by the strong lemon component.<br /><br />The &ldquo;country&rdquo; lamb came highly recommended by the helpful (and flirtatious) Italian waiter, but my guest opted instead for a grilled piece of beef from the coast of Brittany &ndash; which we were told would taste a bit like the sea itself as well as the excellent grass it was fed on. It came cubed in succulent pieces and though we couldn&rsquo;t detect the sea or grass, we did detect the dark, juicy flavour of high quality meat.<br /><br />There was a single choice of cheese and it came to us as a huge, wet pyramid of creamy, subtle ashed goat&rsquo;s, served with thin fruit-studded toasts. Somehow we made space for dessert, which was worth ordering just for its sculptural appearance and beautiful hues &ndash; we shared a berry-based mixture, topped with an oval glob of vanilla ice cream and doused in currant nectar, of which an extra cupful came in a beaker topped with a cork.<br /><br />It was a decadent lunch without being overtly so. The quality of the ingredients was stupendous and the delicate arrangements in which they were presented made it all like art in the style of which the French are still masters. If you&rsquo;ve got any clients in Paris, hurry to the Coeur de Jardin while the weather&rsquo;s still good and take them for lunch.<br /><br /><strong>In a nutshell:</strong> Parisian gastronomy goes healthy with this outdoor restaurant dedicated to fresh vegetables, all sorts of grains and meticulously sourced meat. It&rsquo;s elegant rather than hippyish, and you should expect the bill to reflect this.<br />