Paris has so many restaurants that it would be possible to dine out somewhere different everyday for a year, possibly two. And places just keep on opening, like the private members' club Le Cercle that, although it has existed for some years, is now a chef's residence by night. Some of the country's best chefs take up residence in the kitchen for a few weeks and rustle up gourmet French cuisine for the Parisian in-crowd.
Originally set up as a private club by a group of writers who wanted a cosy yet stylish place to meet, Le Cercle was then taken over by Hughes Piketty in 2008 who turned it into a private members' club akin to an English after-hours drinking club. The interiors, dressed in red carpets and matching velvet upholstery, wooden panelling lined with books, and hushed lighting, have remained the same as when the club originally opened save for the bar. Layered in red cricket balls from India, it has become a veritable Le Cercle icon.
The club remains a private members' club in the day, when members can use the space as an office, bar, café or meeting space for a monthly fee. However, since September, in the evenings Le Cercle has been transformed into a speakeasy style restaurant where diners have the opportunity to sample the gourmet cuisine of the current chef in residence.
"Often when you want to taste a chef's cuisine you have to travel to their restaurant, which may not be in an easy-to-reach city, so the idea was to bring the chef to diners instead of them having to organise a special trip," says Mr Piketty. For this gastronomic residence, the first of its kind in Paris, owner Mr Piketty worked on the project with the MFPCA (Mission Francaise du Patrimoine et des Cultures Alimentaires), the entity that is responsible for registering French gastronomy on the UNESCO heritage list.
Although centrally located on a busy road of Paris' 2nd arrondissement, Le Cercle is a rather covert affair with discrete signage and drawn curtains in the windows. Guests must ring the bell to be let in by the staff, who welcome diners in a manner that is more casual than one might expect. Upstairs is the bar, where a booking isn't necessary, while the downstairs restaurant also holds a private dining room in the back.
Every few weeks the chef changes over leaving the kitchen to the next resident chef. Each chef puts together a three or four-course meal that illustrates their interpretation of 'French cuisine'. So far, Le Cercle has hosted Keisuke Matsushima (one Michelin star for 'Keysuke' in Nice), Matthieu Dupuis-Baumal (executive chef at three-star 'Maison Troigros' in Roanne), Gille Stassart (of 'Grégoire Rousseau') and Gérard Cagna (two stars in his 30-year career at 'Le Relais Ste Jeanne' in Cormeille-en-Vexin).
In the New Year, guests can book to dine with Julien Perrodin of 'Barju' in Tours (6-24 January) and Giovanni Passerini who will be opening his Parisian restaurant soon (27 January-14 February). As Le Cercle offers a set menu, it is advisable that diners take in the different courses of the menu offered before booking in order to avoid having to miss a course, for instance of ris de veau (veal sweetmeats), for those diners who aren't fans of offal.
The 2015 list of guest chefs so far:
Julien Perrodin, Head of Barju Tours Restaurant 6th-24th January 2015
Giovanni Passerini, who rose to fame with his Michelin starred restaurant 'Rino', 27th Jan. – 14th Feb. 2015
Franco Bowanee & Karina Laval, Chef and Pastry Chef respectively of Château de Vault de Lugny in Burgundy, 17th Feb. – 7th March 2015
Alexandra Marre, Head Chef of restaurant Le Balandre (Hotel Terminus), 10th – 28th March 2015
Le Cercle, 6 rue Etienne Marcel, Paris 75002, +33 014 236 9857, www.leclubducercle.fr