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9 Place Clairefontaine
Wed. 24th April 2002
Another visit to Luxembourg on business.
On other trips, I had walked past the Clairefontaine and walked on to other places on the basis that I didn't think I could justify the expenses claim.
This time, I decided to put it on my own bill and try to claim some of it back! I arrived at around 7:30 pm and was almost the first there. They showed me a table inside. It is very elegant, with lots of wood panelling and silverware. The head waiter approaches and asks whether I wouldn't prefer to take a seat outside on the terrace for aperitifs - it is after all quite balmy?
Of course I would. The terrace is private - cordoned off from the square by a low picket fence. I have a good view of the Place Clairefontaine and the Cathedral. Every few minutes, or so it seems, the Cathedral bells chime. Just across the square, I can make out Place Guillaume II, where there is a fair in full swing.
The waiter explains that there is, of course, the á la carte menu, but that there are several specials: a menu "Temptation", A "Gourmet" menu and a special they are doing in conjunction with Delbeck Champagne - several courses of the chef's specialities punctuated by different champagnes from the Delbeck house. I am tempted, but think that it is probably too much for me, given I have to pay for it both monetarily and constitutionally.
I see that the á la carte has a starter dish of Lobster with Paté de Foie Gras d'Oie, and I can't resist. To follow, the Filet de Sandre (Pike Perch) in a Red Wine (Syrah) sauce.
But first, an aperitif? Yes please: Campari and Orange. This is delivered with a small dish of hors d'oeuvres - unfortunately, the waiter drops one. Two minutes later, I am presented with another full dish as an apology.
By this time, other guest are arriving - all of them bar one couple are there for the Champagne Feast. Many seem to be familiar with the establishment, and there is a general buzz as they are met by the manager, waiters and chef. I am really enjoying this. One of the things that really makes me feel good is the distinctly cosmopolitan feel - the table behind me was speaking English and French and the table next to me swapped effortlessly between French and Italian. The waiters' English was (much) better than my French or Italian. The waiter takes time out to go over the menu - what's best today and what's off. The Sommelier suggests a half bottle of St Joseph would go well with the Sandre.
I linger outside, watching the people go past in the warm evening sun, and decide on another Campari before going in for dinner. Once inside, the waiter brings a tray of three sampler dishes, compliments of the chef. These are: Boiled beef ( a succulent beef casserole), Monkfish risotto and Salmon tartare. They are all excellent.
Next comes my starter, the lobster and pate. It is accompanied by stuffed quails eggs, salad and a stuffed cherry tomato. There is smoked salmon wrapped around shredded (?), potato salad and a smoked scallop. It's a main dish on its own. A large piece of toasted bread is delivered, and, with lashings of butter, the paté is delicious. The bread is made in-house, as, I'm assured, is everything else.
The waiter instinctively notices something about my bearing, and asks if I would like a few minutes before delivering the main course.
I relax for a short while, and sip some mineral water.
The Sandre arrives: it is a substantial fillet, nicely seared and mounted on a bed of caramelised shallots, with little pads of chard topped with a potato lattice surrounding it in the deep-red Syrah sauce. The flavour and texture is gorgeous, but by now, I'm struggling! I have to slow down, but I won't let this beat me!
The waiter commented on the similarities between the Syrah which went into the sauce and the St Joseph - they're both from the same part of France that he comes from, and complement each other. He's right. I ask him where they get their Sandre from: the Loire, and this particular fish was quite large. Their easy confidence, linguistic ability, knowledge of their trade and genuine friendliness made me feel at home and welcome.
At the other tables, each dish was delivered covered by silver domes, the waiters uncovered the dishes in synchrony, and, with a flourish - Voila!. Very theatrical. They then proceed to explain each dish in detail.
At last, I can eat no more. Desert and the proffered Cheese trolley is declined, and I ask for a coffee. This is delivered with accompaniment of a bowl of hand-made chocolates laced with Whisky, and other small sweet pastries.
At 100 inclusive (£62), this is not an inexpensive dinner, but when you consider the location, ambience, style, quality and competence, it is most certainly not expensive either. I came away feeling at ease with the world.
If you're in Luxembourg and looking for an impressive meal in an impressive restaurant, I can heartily recommend the Clairefontaine.