The pandemic was a time that separated people, a time when many families and friends were unable to see each other for YEARS. We had a close friend who had been living in Asia for 30+ years until the pandemic all of a sudden prevented her from getting back home.
The border closures were challenging for many. For us, it was tricky to leave Hong Kong. We knew there were risks of not being able to go home (or being locked up in quarantine) if we tested positive outside.
It was in this type of environment that we serendipitously found out that our dear, dear friend would be in Paris celebrating her birthday AT THE SAME TIME we would be there!
What a God-given crazy opportunity to meet up! There was only one day where our travels would overlap.
After a flurry of messages back and forth, we decided to spend the afternoon visiting Versailles together. That evening, we celebrated her birthday with a very special meal at 2-Michelin star Hélène Darroze in Paris.
Welcome to Hélène Darroze Paris
The attention to detail in the artistry of the food is evidence the moment you sit down. We began with three intricately latticed leaf crackers. From left to right: pepper, lobster, and olive.
Helene Darroz is originally from the Basque region of France. Our server, also from the Basque region, explained "the taloa . . . is like a taco.“ This delicious one consisted of a cornmeal crepe topped with mackerel, espelette pepper, and rosemary.
The next course (for the normal tasting) was a a beautiful multi-layered creation consisting of paper-thin white button mushrooms, lardon, and Perigord nuts.
This plump juicy oyster (supplemental cost option) was out of this world. It came topped with caviar gelee and a cocoa bean sauce. It was so ridiculously good.
Our friend does not eat foie gras, so the kitchen was kind enough to prepare a special pea-based cream for her. I personally don’t like foie gras that much either, so I was actually a bit envious of her dish, which looked really good!
Bryan and I got the foie gras, which Bryan absolutely loved. I have to admit it was pretty good, though certainly rich.
Hélène Darroze has some Asian ties. In fact, her two daughters are adopted from Vietnam.
This next course also had hints of Asian flavors, reminding me a bit of Hong Kong‘s shrimp toast, with French influences (of course!). A beautiful layered crispy toast came topped with green asparagus, crayfish, and yuzu kosho beurre blanc.
French blue lobster with Tandoori spices, carrot mousseline, and Lampong pepper reduction with fresh coriander.
The seafood course consisted of a simple piece of hake topped with “crunchies” made from the skin (removed and deep fried). This came with a beautiful piece of white asparagus (which was in season at the time), peas, and a sauce made from fish essence and egg. On the side, dollops of “egg yolk“ completed the plate.
Main Meat Course
Bryan ordered the lamb as his entree, which came with two preparations: a seared lamb rib and a roulade. On the side, a beautiful seared artichoke heart topped with a mint pesto.
I ordered the Wagyu entree, which (unbeknownst to me) also had a (quite hefty) supplement cost. Like many traditional high-end restaurants in Paris, Hélène Darroze gives the male a menu with the prices, and the female(s) a menu without the prices.
Bryan was surprised I ordered so many supplemental courses. He didn't realize that I couldn't see the prices and didn't know (oops!).
This "Wagyu three ways" main course included a Wagyu steak, a “bao” and “shabu shabu”, which were all fantastic.
Our server came back to serve us the next course: flatbread + cheese. She proceeded to shave this very special cheese onto pieces of the flatbread for us to enjoy.
For our first sweet bite, we had a rice pudding with mango and crispies. It reminded me of the mango sago desserts in Hong Kong.
Finally, it feels like no French meal is complete without at least a little chocolate at the end.
Ah, what special memories from such an unlikely meet-up at a restaurant in Paris. We never could have imagined that, despite the fact that we both live in Asia, we had to go all the way out to Paris to meet up. Just goes to show how crazy restrictive the borders were back home.
In any event, our meal at Hélène Darroze was certainly memorable. The food, the presentation, and the whole experience was top notch. But even more so, it's the conversations, laughter, and the joy of catching up in-person that I won't forget. Thank you to the whole team at Hélène Darroze for making our meal so special.
And just for fun, here are some photos from our last visit to Versailles back in 2005, and 2022. Man, time really, really flies.