La Tour d’Argent claims to be the oldest restaurant in Paris, and has been serving diners since 1582.
With a Michelin star — it previously had three until 1996, as noted on the Tour d’Argent website — the restaurant remains one of Paris’ most revered destinations, steeped in history and tradition.
However, its Michelin Guide demotion prompted the restaurant to announce its largest-ever renovations earlier this year, aiming to “bring the restaurant into the 21st century,” according to the website.
Ahead of its nine-month closure in May, I went to eat lunch in its historic dining room.
The restaurant is located near the center of Paris, in the city’s 5th Arrondissement.
The building sits just beside the Seine river, and is about a 20-minute walk from major central train stations Gare de Lyon and Chatelet Les Halles.
The restaurant is so iconic, it was reportedly used as inspiration for the Pixar classic “Ratatouille.”
As the restaurant has been operating for so long without changing its classic ways, elements of it were used by the movie studio to help craft the image of the fictional restaurant “Gusteau’s”, according to Lonely Planet.
From the downstairs area, we were escorted through a hallway toward a private elevator to the dining room on the sixth floor.
The doorman and staff were quick to show us through the narrow hallway toward the elevator that would take us up to the dining room.
However, it very was easy to get distracted and slowed down by the decorations on the wall.
The walls leading up to the private elevator are lined with portraits and pictures of famous diners, including Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visited the restaurant in 1948 as their first official trip outside the Commonwealth after marrying a few months prior, according to writer and historian Lauren Kiehna’s blog, the Court Jeweller.
Other notable former patrons include US presidents and world leaders.
Alongside Her Majesty, US presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon could be spotted in photographs, as well as former USSR and Russian leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.
I was surprised by the unimpeded views over Paris, including Notre Dame, which remains under reconstruction.
Having been owned by the same family since 1911, the restaurant’s dining room was moved up to the sixth floor to maximize its views over Paris in 1936, according to Condé Nast Traveler.
The sixth-floor room gives unparalleled views over the city and Notre Dame.
However, due to the fire that destroyed much of the cathedral, it remains mostly covered by scaffolding while they repair the building. This is on track for completion in 2024, according to The New York Times.
Once we ordered the wine, it arrived with its own trolley and basket.
Every element of service felt well-considered, with the smallest of touches helping to make the hospitality here extraordinary.
The wine basket is used for transportation up the dumb waiter from the cellar, where a worker located the bottle among the hundreds of thousands of bottles stored.
Each dish that arrived was a clear display of French fine-dining techniques.
From the hake to the scallops, and chocolate souffle to finish, all dishes were made by chefs who were very technically proficient, with each dish beautifully presented, utilizing advanced techniques rarely seen outside of fine dining.
But despite all that, we weren’t blown away by our meal.
On top of the decor, the dishes felt as though they’d also remained untouched since 1936. While that’s often one of the key drawing points for visitors, I’ve eaten far more interesting meals for less money, such as wildly creative 20-course tasting menus that include Wagyu beef fat fudge.
However, I’ve never eaten anywhere with this level of high-quality service.
You can also buy a range of items such as preserves and wines under the Tour d’Argent name.
Browsing the shop after our meal was a perfect way to end the experience, and further demonstrated the attention and care the restaurant gives to its branding.
It’s clear from our trip that the restaurant aims to provide a whole experience for its diners, as opposed to just providing a good meal.
Particularly in an age where service in fine dining restaurants seems to be becoming increasingly casual — which isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion — this lunch was certainly a memorable one.
Despite service at the restaurant being faultless, I can see why they feel the need to modernize.
My experience at La Tour d’Argent was one I’ll never forget. I really enjoyed my time here as it gave me an insight into luxury I wouldn’t be able to experience elsewhere.
As the restaurant closes to modernize itself and its menu, I can understand why. While I really enjoyed my lunch, the restaurant’s devotion to upholding the past also seemed to limit the menu.
It will be interesting to see how the restaurant plans to change while preserving itself, but I’m glad I came here when I did to get a once-in-a-lifetime taste of classic French luxury.