There are friends we love despite their faults, so we stick by them anyway. The 7th arrondissement fish restaurant, Divellec, is a bit like that for me. The brasserie-sized restaurant, overlooking Les Invalides, was recently re-incarnated from the 1980s Le Divellec, a rather haughty but quality businessman’s lunch place.
Today, chef Mathieu Pacaud – son of Bernard Pacaud of L’Ambroisie and owner of Hexagone – is in charge, and though the restaurant only opened in December of 2016, it has surprisingly received a whopping two Michelin stars right out of the starting gate.
Let me start with what I love about Divellec: With each visit I am charmed by the makeover of the décor with its ocean-like shades of blue, comfy wicker arm chairs, the mix and match of selected pottery, and ultra-slim stems of the wine glasses – all of which have the right touch of class and elegance. The staff, too, is spruced up, smiling, sometimes a bit distant and corporate perhaps, but they make you feel taken care of.
Some of the food can be spectacular as well as beautiful, like the gently poached oysters bathed in a brilliant green watercress sauce and topped with a spoonful of caviar. It’s full-flavored and satisfying, set in a white porcelain, shell-shaped bowl. Technicolor food at its best.
Their sole paired with fresh, seasonal morel mushrooms is a delight, the fish plump and flavorful, perfectly moist, with a touch of sweet vin jaune from the Jura in the sauce.
Sommelier Claude Esambert – an upright Frenchman back from a decades-long stint in California – is outgoing and knowledgeable, giving us the details of one of my favorite white wines, the Burgundian Saint-Aubin from Hubert Lamy.
The kitchen clearly understands deep-frying, and their current appetizer – which arrives almost the moment you sit down – is a dream: ultra-crispy, tiny, deep-fried eperlans (smelt or whitebait), the ideal starter to pair with a glass of Champagne rosé, such as the popular Billecart Salmon.
On this particular visit, everything from the simple raw ecrevisse (crayfish) topped with a colorful vegetable mix, fresh herbs, and bathed in a bright vinaigrette; to the moist, perfectly cooked sea bass paired with pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and herbs, made for a truly pleasant, lunchtime meal.
There is great attention to detail with top suppliers here: chocolates from Jacques Genin, cheese from Marie Quatrehomme, breads from Fréderic Lalo of Le Quartier du Pain, and olive oil from the famed cooperative in Mausanne-les-Alpilles in Provence.
But there are problems with Divellec, ones that I am surprised got past the Michelin inspectors. Fish is very hard to get right, and Divellec fails more often than it should, with dishes that are underseasoned or not totally thought out.
At times the kitchen favors presentation over flavor. On my first visit, I ordered their langoustines wrapped in pastry and deep fried. But sadly these lovely crustaceans were smothered in a white napkin, and covered by an ostentatious glass cloche, which turned what should have been crispy gastronomic treasures into a soggy, sad mess.
One order our ormeaux (abalone) was so tough it was inedible, and I did what I rarely do, returned the dish. In its place arrived a perfect platter of well-seasoned bar (sea bass) ceviche, but one doesn’t expect to send anything back to the kitchen in a 2-starred restaurant.
I have been to Divellec several times since it opened yet strangely I have never, ever, seen a chef in the dining room. What the restaurant lacks is someone in charge, someone who personifies the place and rules with a sense of style and perfection.
But the worst sin of all came on our last visit when the host of our party of eight decided he wanted a glass of red wine. We requested the wine list but the sommelier simply went ahead and poured an unordered glass of red. When I asked my friend how the wine was, his response was an unenthusiastic “okay.” I sniffed it, and could tell instantly it was seriously corked, with a strong scent of spoilage. The wine was quickly replaced, with an apology for the flaw, but the damage was done. This just should not happen in place of this caliber.
Prices here can be overwhelming, especially if you order their turbot, whole sea bass, lobster or whole sole, priced by the gram.
Despite all of this I will surely go back, for the creative fish combinations and presentations, great ideas for what I might recreate at home, as well as the magical chocolate soufflé made with Jacques Genin’s grand cru chocolate. But I do hope that someone takes charge of Divellec. The restaurant has been mostly deserted on my visits, and just does not have the sort of joie de vivre a restaurant like this should exhibit. Someone there needs to wake up!
DIVELLEC | 18 rue Fabert | Paris 7 | Tel: +33 1 45 51 91 96 | Métro: Invalides | Open daily | Lunch: 49€, 90€, 210€ weekday menu; 49€ weekend brunch menu, Dinner: 210€ 8-course menu. Lunch and Dinner à la carte, 130€. | Reservations: suggested | www.divellec-paris.fr | firstname.lastname@example.org