I was at "Paul Bocuse" about 20 years ago. It was the first time I was so lucky to have dinner in a restaurant of this superquality. And it would take many years before I would set foot in a 3*-restaurant again. So there I was, in the most famous -and best?- restaurant in the world at that moment. I was very much impressed. Or was it intimidated?
Because I remember : already then the little black man at the entrance felt anachronistic. We were seated in a draughty corner at an unstable table. We were served on-year sour wine, and in some of the glases we found a considerable amount of dregs. But I was a humble guest in the palace of the Emperor of French cuisine. My more experienced messmates were less respectful though, demanded a better table and sent back the wine. But "la soupe aux truffes" and the fresh foie tasted, well eh, pretty good... And unlike anything we had ever tasted before. So still this was a very memorable, if somewhat nervebreaking, experience. And since, as guests, we had no such thing as Tripadvisor yet, nobody, except for some friends, ever heard about our experience...
But times have changed. Or have they? Not at Paul Bocuse I'm afraid... .
I was in Lyon for 2 days last summer, and I took the oportunituy to repeat my visit to this iconic place. And to try to relive the good part of this experience. And more than I had ever expected, everything came back immediately. Because actually, after 20 years, nothing much had changed. It was a real time wharp! The little black man (well probably another one) was still at the entrance. And the rooms, the service, even the menu : time had had no effect on them.
The problem was : the world had changed. Coocking had changed.Chefs had changed. Chefs had changed the world. And I had changed... The final result of this "evolution at different speed" was me having a thoroughly upsetting lunchexperience. Actually, it was so extreme it would have been funny. If the price for this vaudeville hadn't been dead serious...
In a way I can understand why Michelin is still granting Bocuse 3*. Out of respect for the pioneer probably. For the institution he is. But the problem with this showing of the highest culinary respect is : his restaurant has actually become sheer heritage. And nothing more than that.
Seriously, the whole setting and what is served there is probably not worth even one star anymore. So isn't there a way to take away his stars and with his stars the unfulfilled great expectations of many customers? Thus leaving him in his dignity? The dignity he loses still staging this farce? Therefore, maybe for him Michelin should create a special rating, like giving him some kind of "life achievement award"-status.
But in the mean time, it is a crying shame that respected restaurantguides still send people to Bocuse with the expectation of modern 3* cuisine, and giving him the chance to charge 3*-prices for completely outdated and inferior dishes.
What once had been called "nouvelle cuisine" made me walk out with a very unpleasant bloated feeling in my stomach. The heavy, creamy sauces, the anachronistic desert cart filled with preposterous "Babars au Rhum, mousses au chocolat etc... I couldn't believe my eyes and other senses... And the whole performance was of a stuffyness you can't believe. But the knockout-blow came with the bill. One evolution Bocuse surely hasn't missed : 3* prices.
So go there if you're into heritage and history. Look at it as visiting a (very expensive) museum. If you want to experience fine food : stay in Lyon. There are many, many far better choices, for less than half of the money wasted at Bocuse.
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