Mathieu Pacaud is a very fortunate and brave young man. Not many of us are born into a star-chef family, and those who are may have neither the desire, courage, or personal strength to follow in famed footsteps. Mathieu is the son of Michelin three-star chef Bernard Pacaud and his wife, Danielle, owners of the restaurant L’Ambroisie on the Place de Vosges. At 33, after many years working in his father’s kitchen, Mathieu has just opened his own establishment, Hexagone, a large, glossy, 16th arrondissement restaurant just off the Place du Trocadéro.
When the senoir Pacauds created their tiny nine-table restaurant L’Ambroisie on the Quai de la Tournelle in the early 1980s (moving to the Place des Vosges in 1986) they were part of the then-junior crowd that now capture top seats in the Paris culinary hierarchy, along with Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy. Even back then, the distinctiveness of the Pacaud palate was already evident. In 1982 I wrote: “Chef Pacaud magically manages to take the most basic, simple ingredients, and transform them into something elegant and grand yet totally uncomplicated.”
The same words could be said of Mathieu Pacaud’s cuisine today. He clearly learned his lessons well during the years spent at his father’s side on the Place de Vosges. The menu at Hexagone is classic yet does not struggle with binding rules. And his food is so breathtakingly beautiful, it took a little while for me to place a fork, a knife, a spoon into his creations. Still, nothing here is fussy or overly fancy. A saffron-rich broth surrounds delicately cooked, briny langoustines, wearing a “hat” of paper-fine whisps of root vegetable linguine. Simple, sublime, subtle, like so much of the Pacaud family fare.
His ecrivisses du lac (fresh water crayfish) was another artistic creation almost too beautiful to eat, a forest of cauliflower branches, pillows of cauliflower mousseline and tender crayfish bites, floating atop a delicate layer of jelly ever so subtly perfumed with aniseed and dotted with a green mango sauce, all in perfect harmony. Adorned with a few microgreens and edible flower petals, this was one of the prettiest dishes to come out of the kitchen.
I loved his seared lamb, and loved even more the tangle of bright, fresh herbs – mint, coriander, dill – that topped the meat, allowing you, with each bite, a mouthful of flavors as welcome as the spring’s fresh air. I would have liked my lamb a tad less cooked and a bit more tender. But once I tasted the soothing smoked potato puree that accompanied the meat, I was ready to forgive. Creamy, rich, and just so subtly smoked that the potato puree could have stood on its own as a very tiny mid-course. The lamb and herb rectangle was set in a pool of a rich, classic meat sauce, and punctuated with a vibrant green dollop of intensely flavored fresh herb puree. Better than icing on a cake.
The homard bleu (blue lobster), was a perfection of simplicity, served with a rich shellfish foam and miniature cylindrical pebbles of topinambour (Jerusalum artichoke) soft and melting on one side, with a panfried outer edge like a hashbrown on the other, for that necessary touch of crunch in the dish. The concept was simple, the execution perfect, here the produce is center stage, but Matthieu elevates it to something poetic.
As a chocolate fan, I couldn’t pass up his Bayano Brésil ganache --- that firm, thick thick pad of chocolate piped between delicate chocolate wafers – and served with a truly memorable honey ice cream.
We also sampled the poached pear, delicate slices stood to attention guarding a cylindrical tower made with rich brown sugar, filled with a licorice parfait and topped with a coffee foam. All the elements of a perfect dessert were there: crunch, sweetness and softness. A glorious ending to the meal.
From the à la carte menu, we were advised to chose four courses as each was considered a demi portion, however with moderate appetites, an amuse-bouche of pickled vegetables, and a small boule of freshly baked crusty, yeasty bread and butter to share, we found three courses to be quite satisfying.
The wine list here is extensive and would make fine reading all on its own. Prices range from bargain-friendly to off the charts, so beware, and choose carefully. I was more than satisfied with a few glasses of Yves Cuilleron’s famed 100% Marsanne Saint Joseph Lombard, a singularly fine white that is well matched to Mathieu’s food, with its minerality, notes of citrus, even brioche, a wine that has personality and power, without ever seeming heavy.
The restaurant itself – with striking black and white marble floors, comfortable beige leather banquettes, is lovely, yet lacks the distinctiveness and personality that is so evident in Mattheiu’s eloquent cuisine. One gets the feeling that one could be anywhere: Paris, Hong Kong, London, New York. That’s the sad reality of world restaurant décor today I guess.
As we enjoyed our midweek lunch, it was fun and curious to observe diners at nearby tables. Next to us sat a confident French businessman wearing a bright red Legion d’Honneur rosette in his lapel. I guessed that he and his companion would drink red Bordeaux. They did. At another table, more surprisingly, two French work colleagues drank Coca-Cola on ice and a quarter of lemon, with their langoustines. At one other, a man enjoyed a large glass of frothy beer with his meal. As the world turns……
Mathieu Pacaud has more than a good chance of succeeding here. Anyone interested in checking out his talents should surely reserve for the 49€ weekday lunch, an excellent way to test, and to judge.
Hexagone | 85 avenue Kléber | Paris 16 | Tel: +33 1 42 25 98 85 | Métro: Kléber or Trocadéro | Open Tuesday - Saturday | Lunch: 49€ (3-course) week day menu | Lunch and dinner: 180€ degustation (7-course) menu, à la carte 75-130€ | hexagone-paris.fr | email@example.com