On the face of things, getting the booking wrong is not a very good sign. However, in fairness, the waiter responsible gave us a glass of Champagne on the house by way of apology. A table was hastily set in the anteroom. While this gave us more space than the rest of the diners, it also kept us away from any buzz of the place might have had.
The key avantages of La Diligence are its location right in the centre of town (the vastly superior but vastly more expensive Le Jardin des Sens is on the outskirts), its magnificent building, and the relative vegetarian-friendliness of its menu (but if you are that way inclined be absolutely sure to check an up-to-date menu on their website and ring ahead).
We had their €36 'menu découverte', which gives you a starter, a main dish and a dessert, plus a couple of 'amuse-bouches' in between courses. It is good value in two ways: there are five choices for each dish, and you do not come out feeling hungry!
The trouble with this place is in the small details. The food is relatively ambitious, but I got the feeling that in order to reconcile this ambition with the price they charge, they have taken shortcuts with some of the ingredients. Just one small example: I swear no-one in the kitchen has ever tasted the orange juice they serve. It's got the unpleasant ly bitter taste of the old fashion kind, out of a cheap carton or a glass bottle.
The amuse-bouche - small shrimps with curry sauce or goat's cheese with a pesto marinade, were pleasant. The starters were a mixed bag. A pumpkin 'velouté' with almond froth and sautéed girolles (French mushrooms - yummy) offered a nice contrast of flavours and textures. The king prawn ravioli was disappointing: the squidgy texture not helped by the fairly bland stock it came in, and it was served lukewarm. One of our party did not think the thin sticks of vegetables that set off the texture were tender enough. OK, but nothing special.
Turning to the mains, my lamb was tender and flavoursome, but quite fatty. The speculoos crust that it came in was not strongly enough flavoured. It was like a good idea that was not taken to its full conclusion. The coucous with pecans that completed the dish was a nice addition. The wing of ray (large flat fish) was utterly delicious: soft, flavoursome, cooked to perfection. The layer of thin potato slices it was on offered a nice contrast in terms of texture and flavour. Underneath that, another layer of contrast: mushrooms and green beans. I'll eat my hat if the beans were not out of a tin though - another example on my list of suspected skimping... The veggie had a puff pastry concoction, which hosted some melted Reblochon cheese, and apples caramelised in Calvados which proved totally unnoticeable. It was slightly overcooked at one end.
Before the desserts, we were served with a small scoop of lemon sorbet, set in a small glass bowl that looked like a tealight holder, with a glug of vodka at the bottom. I am not qualified to comment on the vodka, but the first note of the lemon sorbet was a bitter one, reminiscent of lemon-scented detergent; a defect encountered all too often in commercial sorbets.
The 'nougat glacé' was not dissimilar to rhum and raisin ice cream. The chestnut flavour in the chestnut purée and whisky charlotte was noticeable by its absence (and it was not cold enough). The 'moelleux au chocolat' was OK, but its very perfection screamed "not homemade" to me. The coconut crème brûlée was fairly tasteless. Now for the good bits. The carrot and honey cake soufflé was a very nice idea, but too sweet. I'm minded to experiment with this concept back home... Ditto the cardamom caramel - mmmm! In the trio of chocolates in crunchy pastry, the white chocolate and spice pouch could have been less sweet and more spicy (and the pastry was underfilled, and thus too dry). Milk chocolate samosa: great idea, pity the chocolate was a bland and sweet Swiss affair. How different it would have tasted with some Vahlrona, or even some good old-fashioned and more democratically-priced Côte d'Or! Let me finish on a high note: the dark chocolate and blackcurrant spring rolls were fabulous.
Except for the initial hiccup, the service was good.
Would I recommend this? Very hard to say. Personally, I think I'll start saving for a return visit to the Jardin des Sens. I'm off to La Réserve Rimbaud next...
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