Thursday, February 22, 2024

Tour D’argent: The Legacy of a Parisian Classic

By any standard, the loss of a coveted star from the Michelin Guide is enough to send the owners of the unfortunate restaurant, spiralling into depression. To lose two stars is a cause for public mourning. It takes something special then to be able to withstand such a blow, and still keep one’s place as a veritable temple of fine dining. La Tour D’argent is that sort of restaurant. Although it saw its three-star grade (which it received in 1951) drop to two stars in 1996 and then to just one a decade later, its dining room is still as packed as ever. But then again, we are talking about a restaurant that has a history dating back more than four centuries – far longer than the Guide has been in existence – and one which has become more than just a venue to wine and dine.

Known fondly to locals as La Tour, meaning The Tower, the renaissance-style structure where the restaurant is located was originally an inn built in 1582. Situated next to the quay, the building quickly became a favourite meeting place among the French upper class to enjoy the splendid view of the River Seine and Notre Dame cathedral. Apparently, it was also frequented by King Henry III and his successor Henry IV, and was where forks were first used in France.

La Tour D’argent also served as the inspiration behind the 2007 Pixar animated movie, Ratatouille that tells the story of a Paris sewer rat who takes up residence in a once-great restaurant and attempts to transform it back to greatness.

Over a Million Ducks and Counting

The current president of La Tour D’argent, André Terrail, who is named after his grandfather, inherited the restaurant in 2003 from his father, Claude Terrail, the same year the restaurant recorded its millionth duck eaten.

La Tour’ signature dish is its pressed duck, the Caneton Tour d’Argent. Introduced by Frédéric Delair who owned the restaurant in the 1890s until the Terrail family bought it in 1912, the ducks used for this dish are raised free-range on a farm managed by the Burgaud family in Challans in the Vendée region of France.

As part of a custom thought up by Delair, which is nothing more than a novelty marketing gimmick, each bird is numbered and the name of the patron who eats it is specifically recorded with the date. Diners who order this dish will receive a postcard with their bird’s serial number as a souvenir.

La Tour’s long list of patrons who have ordered the Caneton Tour d’Argent include countless members of royalty, dignitaries and celebrities, and in 2003, the restaurant recorded the millionth duck consumed.

For the Love of Wine

Award winning Head Sommelier, David Ridgway oversees the restaurant’s wine cellar and shares his expertise with patrons.

Wine connoisseurs will also be spoilt for choice at La Tour D’argent with some 15,000 wines to choose from a 400-page catalogue. The restaurant’s wine cellar houses more than 450,000 bottles with a value estimated at Euro25 million as of 2009.

The wine cellar is overseen by the Head Sommelier, David Ridgway who is also the recipient of numerous awards including the Trophée Spirit (2004), Sommelier de L’Année from the Guide Pudlo Paris (1998), and Maître Sommelier de France. He is also the founding member of Les Dégustations du Grand Jury and he teaches oenology at Asforest in Paris.

Since joining La Tour in 1981, Ridgway has been sharing his unparalleled expertise with the restaurant’s demanding clientele to ensure they have an unforgettable culinary experience.

In this world of constant – sometimes not entirely welcomed – change, it is good to know that some things remain the same – the duck at La Tour D’argent being one of them. Whether you are a prince or a man from the streets, you can be sure that the dish will remain true to the quality of cooking and execution which has served the restaurant well for over a century. It is this ability to keep time-honoured customs while introducing new delights, which has people returning to its dining rooms. We can safely say La Tour D’argent has all its ducks in a row.

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