The International Writers Magazine
:Dining in Paris

A Night at Maxims
Caitland Metland

o it was Valentines day in Paris. We jump in a taxi and I lean forward to ask the driver, ‘we are looking for a restaurant somewhere in the quartier latin’ a hopeless task perhaps.

Travelling through the Champs Elysees and the Place de la Concorde we came to an abrupt stop in a vast, empirical yet empty street. Met by, an elaborately dressed doorman. The exterior looked like an art nouveau masterpiece. The doors are opened and we are ushered in to the reception.

Glancing at my other half's attire they issued him with both tie and jacket (as my father said, the place has to be good if you get both!) before leading us down the corridor, past the letters from Picasso et al to the Grand Salon. The world famous belle époque dining room is unrenovated from 1893. The sheer amount of mahogany answers the questions of where the rainforests went, and the mirrors and brass reflect enough lights to imagine it all lit by candles.

The table lined square room, allows a wandering eye to discover who else is wishing the night away. Favourite of Edward VII, the Prince of Wales and Louis Jourdan, this is where Onassis wooed Callas. And we found ourselves, a student and a young naval officer on Valentines night.

We were handed our menus and the first thing I noticed was the lack of prices. I leaned over and asked what I couldn’t have. The list ran to the Lobster and the Caviar. Both of which I dislike anyway. Joe courageously managed to keep his jaw closed at the wine list. But to be fair, who else was going to pay for the orchestra on stage. (The average price per head is Euro 150)

The food? Well to be fair I remember little of it. We had Saint Jacques as a starter, which the afore mentioned officer decided was on a bed of cous-cous, so took a mouthful before realising it was salt. Over the past few years Maxims has got a lot of flak for it’s food, and I can perhaps see why. The Bass I had for a main course was undressed before me with such speed that I was more impressed by that than the taste. We skipped desert and went straight for coffees.

Surprisingly the service was incredibly good. Not because I expected the staff to be poorly trained, but we were a young English couple obviously stumbled into the wrong place. My French, is not without accent, and the Parisian staff, politely did not find flaw with it.

Halfway through the evening a young man wandered in minus tie and jacket and sat with a couple in the much desired tables scattered in the centre of the room. I passed a moment wondering who he was, no doubt if he was British I would have known.

Somehow Maxims has managed to hold it three Michelin stars (the highest Michelin goes too) despite its falling reputation. For me, the sheer history of the place, along with my dining companion, made my night. The food was merely something to keep me busy.

It snowed as we left the restaurant. Joe finally managed to relax, having never experienced such spectacle. It was not perhaps the easiest way to be introduced to haute cuisine. The walk home made you wish, just a little, that you had stepped out to see a black beret and an artist walking the streets.
© Cailtin Metland Dec 2005

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