Rene Lasserre: Basque's Answer to Master Chef

Michel Roth is writing a new page in the history of Lasserre.

by Margaret Kemp

A bistro, in a private mansion built for the 1937 World Exhibition, originally stood at 17 Avenue Victor-Emmanuel III (now Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt) until it was acquired in 1942 by young Basque chef René Lasserre. This chef had honed his skills in the kitchens of Paris’s Le Lido, Prunier and Drouant restaurants before passing away in 2006. His legacy is still very much alive and continues through the work of the star-studded line-up of chefs who have trained under him, including Guy Savoy and Michel Rostang.

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And now, the award-winning chef Michel Roth, formerly at the Ritz Paris, is infusing new energy into the restaurant. “We’re writing a new page in the restaurant’s history – based on the classics that contributed to the success of this historic house,” he explains.

The 1950s décor has been given a fresh twist by young talent Marie Deroudilhe (who trained with Jasper Conran and Patrick Jouin) complete with LED effect. If Jackie O., Audrey Hepburn, Serge Gainsbourg and Charlotte his daughter or Salvador Dali (who usually sat at table 10) were to walk in now, they’d be thrilled with the elegant evolution and, looking up, be reassured that the iconic roof still opens to reveal the Parisian sky.

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“There are many signature dishes,” explains Roth. “People get a kick out of sitting at André Malraux’s table (number 26) and ordering the pigeon, named after him”. Eating at Lasserre, you could be forgiven for thinking that André Malraux is a breed of pigeon!” exclaims Roth.

“Not so! The writer/adventurer/war hero/friend of Jackie Kennedy always ordered the same dish, dedicated to him by his friend René Lasserre. The plump young bird is de-boned, stuffed with foie gras, sliced through with a sword and served pink, with a drizzle of jus, a few fruits and pommes soufflés. “My greatest coup,” Malraux told Time Magazine in 1974, “is that Lasserre created this for me.”

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Today, you can choose from, say, truffle Macaroni and duck foie gras or Roth’s seasonal vegetables grown by Didier Pils or Joël Thiébault. Blue lobster, the new signature dish, is roasted with cardamom and orange, and with litchi petals and caramelised cabbage. Classic mains include filet de boeuf Rossini with pommes soufflées. The gleaming silver trolley offers different meats or fowls daily, carved and served à table to perfection.

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Young chef pâtissier Jean Lachenal, working in close collaboration with Roth, puts a superb modern spin on desserts and classic crêpes suzettes are dramatically flamed tableside.

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Michel Roth explains, “We try to keep it simple, the heart and soul of my recipes are seasonal fresh products. I strive to understand the structure, texture and flavour of each ingredient”.

And, cherry on the gateau, at the end of the meal, ladies were presented with a tiny Limoges casserole – a charming tradition that continues to this day.

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