Cyril Lignac thinks we’re nitwits. That is why his recent update of historic 11th-arrondissement restaurant Le Chardenoux serves ditzy, overpriced nightclub food under the guise of a swank bistrot. That is the only plausible explanation for how the bearded, perpetually grinning chef known for his routine TV appearances in France can lie about it so boldly.
For “over 100 years,” Le Chardenoux’s website proclaims, “the restaurant has kept its authentic values with innovative seafood cuisine.” In fact, until reopening after refurbishment in January 2019, Le Chardenoux long served a dependable mix of bistrot standbys, ennobled by a gorgeously preserved décor. Newly refreshed with mosaic flooring and a leafy ceiling motif, Le Chardenoux now resembles a high-end hotel restaurant, its self-conscious chic anchored only by the original pink marble bar foundation.
The menu, too, has been transformed. Le Chardenoux is now a wannabe raw bar, playing catch-up to nearby seafood success stories Clamato and L’Ecailler du Bistrot. The menu is divided into themes: “shellfish & crustaceans,” “raw and marinated,” “sea and land.” The first two sections serve as appetizers, while the third comprises putative main courses that prove too small to warrant the distinction. Of the entire menu, only two mains – a burger and a chicken saté – derive from land, making Le Chardenoux a total washout for anyone who dislikes fish. It also begs the question of why the restaurant’s thoughtless, almost entirely conventional wine list is predominantly red.
Oh wait, it’s because we’re nitwits. We pair mussels gratin with Côte-Rôtie.
Utter numskulls that we are, we’re hoodwinked by pseudo-innovations like a 16€ appetizer of “crispy sushi,” which turns out to be four strips of raw salmon laid on small bricks of fried rice. (When Jiro dreams of sushi, this is his nightmare.) Brain-dead and hungry, we lurch for a main course consisting of a pair of lobster rolls the size of Twinkies , which the young server honestly notes contain not just lobster, but shrimp and avocado as well – an innovation that leaves us with nearly none of the star ingredient. Lignac is confident we’re dumb enough to pay 27€ for this; after all, three tender scallops in a fine thai mousse beneath a few scraps of frisée lettuce – an even smaller main course – runs at 29€.
By the time the extraordinarily miserly cheese course arrives – an ice-cold slice of Saint-Nectaire so thin it could be used as a bookmark – even the slowest among us begins to suspect we are being had. We are consuming a menu of almost unprecedented rapacity. How could Lignac do this to us? Could it be that he’s drunk on the success of his expensive, B+ pastry shop on the opposite side of the street? Or on the unlikelier success of his odd hot chocolate shop on the corner? Isn’t he concerned that the virulent cynicism on display at Le Chardenoux might affect the reputations of his other businesses? Perhaps we nitwits should just abandon him en masse.
Le Chardenoux in Pictures
What People Are Saying About Le Chardenoux
Le Monde (2019) Food critic and serial abuser of the second-person perspective Marie Aline here employs her literary schtick with slightly more grace than usual, skewering the new iteration of Le Chardenoux for its lack of generosity. “Le Chardenoux has become a restaurant for those who are no longer hungry,” is her damning verdict.
Vogue (2019) heartily recommends Le Chardenoux, saying “everything is delicious” and praising the “melting sashimi.” But then again Vogue is not a food magazine.
Alexander Lobrano (2019) is harder on the Le Chardenoux’s new décor than its new seafood-themed menu. He compares the former to Kim Kardashian, while on the subject of the “good” cuisine he merely muses that “food trends have never been more international.” He notes the price of the fish for two is “eye-watering.”
Le Figaro Madame (2019) delivers a positively Orwellian denial of reality about Le Chardenoux, praising the menu for its “generosity.”