It was at the Pavillon Henri IV in St-Germain-en-Laye where the Sun King, Louis XIV, was born and lived, and was originally the residence of other French kings, including Louis XIII and Henri IV (hence the name). It was at the Pavillon Henri IV where Alexandre Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, and where luminaries such as Sarah Bernhardt and Louis Pasteur have dined and stayed. And it was also at the Pavillon Henri IV where my recent wedding reception was held (not only a personal historic moment, but also held on a historic day, with my wedding day coinciding with the royal wedding).
For any special occasion, the venue does not disappoint: it is classy and elegant while still retaining the wow-factor, and has chandeliers, period furniture, and shiny parquet flooring in spades. Equally, the service that we received during our reception (and our stay as a whole), by any standard (let alone French standards – although these are not difficult to exceed), was excellent. Staff were discreet, well-dressed, compliant, and catered to every whim, and the private room that we had hired was light, airy, tastefully decorated in neutral colours, and spacious.
But what about the food, I hear you cry? Although I was too excited to finish a single course (today of all days!), what I did eat was of the highest calibre. Our starter was a plate of tiny mushroom ravioli, which already looked appetising on a pale cream foamy ‘soup’ with herbs mixed through, but which delivered what I remember as providing an amazingly intense hit of flavour and a pleasing variety of texture.
The main course was a fairly standard French classic: duck with roasted seasonal fruits and spices. This again delivered on variety and quality in terms of both flavour and texture, with the duck being perfectly cooked (medium, but taken up a notch for my grandmother), and the vegetables being soft while still holding their shape. The accompanying sauce complemented the ensemble perfectly, and ensured that the overall result was not too dry.
The weakest course was the entirely forgettable cheese course, which consisted of a standard selection of three different slabs of cheese (one was almost certainly Comté, but I cannot remember what the others were; in any case, we were never told) and a small green salad. Since it lacked imagination, I did not feel too guilty about not finishing this one.
Dessert, however, returned to form with a lemon and red fruit ‘tiramisu’, served with a limoncello sorbet, which served as the perfect cleanser after the rich flavours of the ravioli, duck and (to a lesser extent) cheese. We chased all of this down with espressos at the end, but throughout the meal we had also consumed some Laroche Chablis and a Chateau Marjosse. The wine list had proved conventional with large markups (apart from the Yquem, which was more fairly priced), and so we had chosen modestly, and found these choices to be perfectly acceptable, fulfilling expectations.
The meal as a whole was really excellent, contributing to the special atmosphere and meaning of our day. Breakfast the following morning was a more standard French affair, consisting of an underwhelming selection of cereals, juices, patisserie and cooked food, and a slightly more imaginative selection of teas (including gunpowder, which I was most disappointed to find tasted more like seawater – still, at least I’ve tried it now). At €16 a head for all-you-can-eat, the price seemed a bit steep for the quality of the food on offer.
The price of our reception menu itself (the Menu Collinet, for the interested), was still expensive at €68 each. The pain of this is perhaps reduced by a) the beauty of the setting, b) the quality of the food, c) the quality of the service, and d) the fact that you expect, being so near Paris, to have to add a premium to the price. It is certainly also good value for money; the type of restaurants we like to go to in this area of France charge a similar amount for this quality of food and service and this number of courses (the Bistro du 17ème, in Paris, and Les Canotiers, in Chatou, charge, I’d say, €60-€80 per person for this kind of meal, including drinks – whereas the Menu Collinet price I’ve just quoted does not include beverages).
The entire experience was really almost flawless, and certainly shows (perhaps depressingly) what level of service you can get in France if you are prepared to throw enough money at the thing – which for the magnitude of an occasion like a wedding, is, I’d say, 100% worth it. And, perhaps best of all, it’s just round the corner from where we live. We’re already looking forward to returning there for drinks every year to commemorate our successive wedding anniversaries and remember the delights of our time there.
19-21 rue Thiers, 78100 St Germain en Laye
0033 1 39 10 15 15