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Real-life 'ratatouille' restaurant reopens in Paris

The Tour d'Argent was built about 400 years ago and claims to be the oldest restaurant in the French capital

A dish at a fine dining restaurant.
A dish at a fine dining restaurant. (Carla Martinesi, Unsplash)

The Tour d’Argent already boasts a 320,000-bottle wine cellar, a world-famous duck recipe and a storied 441-year history. Now, the legendary Paris restaurant is about to serve up its "plat de résistance": a front-row view of two of the biggest events of 2024 — the renaissance of Notre Dame Cathedral and the 2024 Summer Olympics.

A city landmark unto itself — and an inspiration for the restaurant in the movie “Ratatouille’’ — the Tour d’Argent recently reopened after its own renovation, which preserved revered traditions while adapting to the 21st century.

Also read | 48 hours on a food trail in Paris

‘’It’s very reassuring for many customers to see that such establishments are still present in our history, and in French gastronomic history,’’ owner and CEO André Terrail told the Associated Press.

The restaurant claims to be the oldest in Paris, its 1582 opening date embossed on the doors. It says King Henri IV ate heron pâté here; ‘’Sun King’’ Louis XIV hosted a meal here involving an entire cow; and presidents, artists like Salvador Dalí, and celebrities including Marilyn Monroe have graced its tables in the generations since.

Today the Michelin-starred restaurant remains one of the most exclusive places to dine in the French capital, out of reach for most. The simplest fixed-price lunch menu runs to 150 euros ($167), and the most affordable fixed-price dinner is 360 euros – and that’s without even peeking at the 8-kilo (17-pound) book dubbed the ‘’bible’’ of its wine cellar.

But the reborn Tour d’Argent offers options for those who want to breathe in its rarefied atmosphere without investing in a full meal: A ground-floor lounge serving croissants in the morning, an adjacent bar serving fireside cocktails in the evening, and a rooftop bar open in the warmer months, where the restaurant’s breathtaking views are on full display.

Notre Dame Cathedral takes center stage in this Paris panorama, a construction site like no other. Artisans are mounting a new spire and roof on the monument, replacing those that collapsed in a 2019 fire that threatened to destroy the entire medieval cathedral.

Piece by piece, the scaffolding that enshrouds the site will come down over the course of 2024, in time for its planned Dec. 8 reopening to the public.

For its neighbours at the Tour d’Argent, the restoration of Notre Dame is welcome news.


A waiter prepares tables at La Tour d'Argent restaurant in Paris, with Notre Dame cathedral in the background.
A waiter prepares tables at La Tour d'Argent restaurant in Paris, with Notre Dame cathedral in the background. (Photo by Christophe Ena, AP)

“Notre Dame is a landmark and probably had lost a little bit of attention to the Eiffel Tower,” Terrail said. After the fire, Notre Dame enjoyed an injection of funding, notably from the U.S. ’’Lots of love coming from abroad, making sure that the cathedral was renovated,'' he said.

Terrail had been mulling a makeover for the Tour d’Argent too, and finally made it happen after an 18-month closure prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID in a sense accelerated things, and also the Olympic Games, which are kind of an accelerator for everything in Paris,” he says.

“We have a front-row seat on the opening ceremony of the Olympics. It’s a great privilege. It starts just there,” he says, pointing at the spot where the unprecedented opening-day extravaganza will unfold along the River Seine on July 26.

The restaurant reopened to generally positive reviews, after years in which it had been seen as resting on its laurels. Michelin says the cuisine and service were rejuvenated ‘’without taking away from its nature.’’

The Tour d’Argent – which translates as ‘’Silver Tower’’ -- has a redesigned dining room with an open kitchen, and a top-floor one-bedroom apartment that rents for nearly 9,000 euros a night.

Its signature dish remains pressed duck, cooked in its own blood and specially carved by servers in the air instead of on a board. Since 1890, the restaurant has been giving customers certificates with the number of each duck served. They’re now well past the one-million mark.

The bustling kitchen staff use locally grown products and closely held recipes, like a seductive “mystery egg” starter in truffle sauce.

“You have to cook the egg white, but not the yolk,'' explains executive chef Yannick Franques.

“People, when they come to eat, are quite surprised when they don’t know the mystery and often come to me asking how I manage to keep the yolk raw inside and the white part cooked. Unfortunately, I can’t say, I just can’t say,'' he says, smiling.

‘’The secret’s the secret. Voilà.''

Also read | Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral to reopen in December 2024


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