This collaboration with the Peninsula Paris is a big double first for me. First of all, this is the first time I’ve been invited to eat in a Palace haute-cuisine restaurant. It is also the first time that I have had lunch in a Chinese restaurant serving Cantonese cuisine. Until that day in May, I only had basic knowledge of Chinese cuisine. Thanks to this lunch, my tastebuds were exposed to an entire universe, made up of a blend of flavors, composed of ingredient and a mingling of tastes. This exotic discovery was one of the most enriching to date.
Lili was a Chinese opera singer in the 1920s. She is the main theme of this impressively decorated restaurant and her portrait, made up of a modulated assembly of thousands of threads, freely inspired by the film « In the Mood for Love », will hit you as soon as you enter the restaurant. Her gaze catches you from the other end of the corridor through which you access the premises.
Silky red draperies theatrically greet each guest when they meet the hostess. In the former dining room of the original building, the new decoration combines the styles of Chinese opera and French fashion: marble columns, benevolent cherubs glued to the mouldings, night blue walls, imposing chandeliers in Murano glass, a dome made of wood reminiscent of Chinese opera scenes, precious veils, sculpted woodwork. A visual ravishment.
Accompanied by my hostess, elegantly dressed in a traditional silk Qipao, my eyes rest for a few moments on the tables for two in alcoves with refined decoration, slightly hidden behind screens which are covered with cut paper reproducing scenes from life in china. Papers cut out of pages of French-Chinese dictionaries. A captivating effect.
I chose my table near the large windows overlooking Avenue Kléber in order to enjoy the full light of the sun which shone generously that day. Like a child discovering the treasures of a shop of his dreams, I can’t help a gasp escaping in front of so much beauty. This restaurant is pure, unadulterated luxury. The service of the Lili Paris team is quite up to the task, while being attentive, friendly, quick and efficient. Soon, I’m welcomed by François, the Maître d’hôtel,smiling and as professional as I have rarely seen. At Lili Paris, we don’t skimp on the beautiful.
Benjamin, the Sommelier introduces himself. According to his advice, I choose a non-alcoholic cocktail as an aperitif. The « Pageboy » is a blend of red fruits and a reference to the all-white « Groom », the emblem and mascot of Peninsula Hotels around the world. Then I go for a Madeira wine from the Oliveira vineyard, a 1994 Verdelho grape variety with a « rancio » character and surprisingly sweet freshness. My aperitif is served with delicious caramelized nuts with sesame seeds. I have trouble concentrating, I am very touched by all these attentions, amazed and impressed by the place. However, I just have to get out my notebook so as not to forget anything, take pictures without disturbing or scaring the guests of the day.
As an introduction to Cantonese cuisine, François, the Maître D., dressed in a custom-made Changshan(traditional Chinese costume top worn by men), with a flamboyant dragon painted on the fabric by Olga Boyarinova, recommends a complete menu for a culinary journey that promises to be exciting. I would be happy to trust him for this discovery menu, consisting of the house’s specialities, orchestrated by the Hong Kong chef Dicky To, who joined the establishment’s kitchens early in 2019. I feel in good hands. I am delighted.
François is a passionate person, smiling, friendly and in total control of his universe. Lena at his side is training up to become a Chef de rang. A Perfect and complementary duo. You can ask Lena anything. Her knowledge embraces Chinese cuisine, History in general and the History of the Peninsula Paris in particular. It’s very exciting. I take advantage of thisbecause I do have a lot of questions to ask. To accompany my meal and to keep the common thread of this culinary journey, on the excellent advice of my two guides I choose an Oolong tea, Qin tea, sweet tea, ideal for the enlightened tea expert that I am.
The tableware is made of white and gold porcelain. Elegant lines, refined touches. The tea is served in small teapots that are regularly refilled under Lena’s watchful eye. The meal proposed can be served with traditional Chinese chopsticks or western-style cutlery. Just before the performance begins, let’s not forget that we are in a Chinese Opera setting, François is presenting and cutting out the Beijing style lacquered duck cooked on a spit, which will be divided into two courses. To add spice to this lunch, sauces are placed on the table: spicy chilli oiseaux and garlic sauce, dried Iberico pork sauce and shrimps.
Dim Sum are brought as appetisers, which was a great discovery for me. They are presented in steam baskets made of bamboo, each containing three to four bites in a triple stack. On request, everything is perfectly described and commented on:
*Ha Kao: Obsiblue shrimp, steamed titbits and bamboo shoots
*Cèpe de Bordeaux: steamed titbits, small vegetables
*Breton langoustines: steamed titbits, herring caviar
My palate glows and discovers all these new flavours, accompanied by this delicate Oolong tea. The restaurant blows an air of soothing tranquillity. While discovering these Chinese « entries », François, standing right in front of me, cuts the duck. In a ritual that he masters to perfection, he slices and divides up the meat whilst taking care not to lose the lacquered skin. He assembles the portions intended for tastingin a fan shape surrounding the sauce.
The tasting ritual of this poultry is all new to me: you grab a hot Chinese pancake, made of rice and wheat in general, you spread a hot or sweet sauce on top of it, add a few raw vegetables, bamboo shoots, yellow and red peppers finely chopped, then you put your slice of poultry on the whole, roll it all up: it’s ready, enjoy, Bon appetit ! I like these dishes that you can freely create yourself and decorate according to your taste, do a little cooking, under the wise and educated guidance of my two guides. I taste and discover another facet of Chinese cuisine, which is so poorly treated in Paris.
It makes me smile, I feel like a food journalist with my notebook in my hand. But I want to write everything down, learn everything, remember all details. I like to talk with the staff members who are so kind to me. This is all very exciting.
To tell you the truth, I thought that after these two dishes, the meal was over and that there was only a little sweetness left to finish it, but François had warned me. As the duck hadn’t been entirely eaten, the famous « second service » was about to appear. Three dishes were then brought. The mere presentation of the dishes makes me hungry, although I thought I couldn’t eat another morcel. The three dishes are composed as follows:
*minced duck with soya sprouts and bell peppers.
*French Obsiblues breaded shrimps with garlic, chili and seven spices
*Organic white and green asparagus from the Sarthe region
*Yangzhou sautéed rice with jasmine, Obsiblueshrimp, Kintoa lacquered pork loin
What a treat! The preparations, seasonings, cooking… everything is perfect and delicious. I take the time to enjoy everything. To finish my meal, Lena asks me do I want to taste another tea. Indeed, Lili also offers to a discovery of a variety of Chinese tea and to test more than twenty different types of tea leaves.François has really planned everything. After such a long, hearty and refined meal, his dessert suggestion is welcome. A refreshing and light mango cream, Sago pearls and pink grapefruit. Simply beautiful.
Finally, always under the skilful guidance of François and Lena. I opted for an infusion with the delicate scent of Chrysanthemum, served in a glass teapot to see the infused flower bloom. Refinement down to the very last detail. Everything I love.
I am not ashamed to write this, I arrived at 1:00 pm for this lunch and left my table at 4:00 pm. I justcouldn’t help it. The last endearing and courteous touch from my two one-day guides, I was offered a small bag containing caramelized nuts with sesame seeds, the same ones that I’d been served with the aperitif. My greediness had made them smile.
A meal like this is quite a story. There is a beginning and an end, a starter, a main course, a dessert. Quite a journey. And as in every story, the chapters and lines tell moments of sharing, because our stories are rarely lived alone. There are encounters, people, flavours. So for this meal, for this story that is coming to an end, I would like to thank all the characters, each one of the actors or speakers. Thank you all for allowing this moment to take place under the best possible auspices. Thank you.
And a special thank you to Manon Voituret for making this experience possible.
Restaurant Lili Paris – 19 avenue Kleber, 75116 Paris, France – Tel: 01.58.12.67.50
For more details and information visit the website: https://www.liliparis.fr/fr/default