Sometimes change is good, even at an historic monument. The renovation and reopening of Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower was one of our top highlights of the year.
It was out with the decade-long-rule of Alain Ducasse and in with Chef Frédéric Anton, the talented Michelin 3-star chef and Meilleur Ouvrier de France (the country's top culinary award). Unlike Ducasse, who oversees a global empire of restaurants, Anton keeps his focus in Paris at Le Pre Catelan in Bois de Boulogne (3 Michelin stars since 2007) and now, the jewel of France, Le Jules Verne, 200 feet above Paris on the most famous monument in the world.
The improvements to the Jules Verne experience start at terra firma with a host and dedicated entry at the South Pillar security gate, so guests with reservations can go ahead of the long lines, zip through security, and head to the restaurant's separate elevator.
As soon as we passed through the ground floor door of the South Pillar we noticed positive changes. The restaurant entry through the base of one of the legs of the Tower poses a design challenge. The space is small and consists mostly of a few steps leading to the restaurant's dedicated elevator. The Ducasse-era version of this area was not thoughtfully done, there was no real sense of welcome. But now, what was once industrial and uninviting is moody, dark, and sleek, drawing you in. Busts of Jules Verne and Gustave Eiffel greet you, and a professional attendant guides you to the elevator.
There are only six passengers per ride, with windows on both sides of the elevator to let you see the inner workings of the tower, with views of Paris beyond. A display tells you how far above the ground you are at each stage of the ride. At 123 metres the elevator stops and the doors open into the magical kingdom of restaurant Le Jules Verne.
The exemplary service begins as soon as you leave the elevator. A young and dynamic team, with René Carbonnière at the helm, greets you warmly and escorts you to your reserved table. (Reservations are an absolute must here.) The first thing you notice about the dining rooms is a sense of lightness; gone is the heavy upholstery and dark color scheme, replaced with an airy palette of steel, white, and gold accents. The restaurant is divided into three rooms, each with exceptional views onto either the Champs de Mars, Quai Branly, or Trocadero.
The menu choices are simple. On weekends diners can choose either a five-course or a seven-course menu. During the week there are a few more options, but Chef Anton and his team know that diners want to spend their time here admiring the view, not poring over a lengthy menu.
Anton balances the visitor's attention between the food and the view. "Our goal is to have the diner admire what's on the plate as much as what's out the window," chef told us. The tables are kept bare and the dinnerware is consistently white, to highlight the magnificence of the cooking. Anton worked as an apprentice with Joel Robuchon for seven years and you can see elements of Robuchon's dazzling flavor combinations here.
The dishes are as chiseled as the architecture of the tower. Here the menu honors products from the French terroir and focuses on the bounty of the land with unpretentious titles like crab, cauliflower, farmhouse chicken, chestnut, and chocolate. We started with a single gougère filled with warm brie and a sprinkle of crushed pistachio; along with it was a flavorful lobster velouté. With a glass of champagne on the side we were relaxed and ready for the seven courses ahead.
This is a tough brief for Chef Anton — how to fulfill the meal-of-a-lifetime expectations of guests who are not proficient in the language, taste, and experience of a Michelin-trained dinner. Visitors who are here mainly for the view or the sense of occasion or to visit the most famous monument in France. ("The most famous monument in the world," chef corrected us.) Somehow Anton delivers. His bold dishes honor the tradition of French haute cuisine while at the same time are accessible to diners from all corners of the globe.
Here, with Paris below and the afternoon stretching ahead, we were surrounded by diners having a special meal, a special occasion, a special moment. In a nearby banquette a large multi-generational family from the French provinces were honoring their grandparents' anniversary. Next to us a chic couple from Belgium celebrated a birthday. As the meal progressed we noticed other birthday celebrations and even and a marriage proposal two tables down.
Architect Aline Asmar d'Amman led the renovation, after winning a year-long competition. The Beirut-born designer made her mark at the 18th-century Hotel de Crillon where she renovated the suites and historical salons in another massive Paris hotel makeover. At Le Jules Verne, Aline expanded the seating and raised the central tables to give diners better views.
After months of work the magic was revealed. The tower and its mechanisms are now the focus of the decor. The views of Paris are reflected in mirrors that enlarge the space. There are gold accents; 2,500 gold sheets were affixed by hand. The bay windows in each of the three rooms offer a unique view of the capital and its surroundings. Even the banquettes were inspired by Gustave Eiffel's apartment, including the materials used.
When the Eiffel Tower opened at the 1889 Universal Exposition the first level housed wooden pavilions with 500 seats each representing Alsatian, Russian, and French cuisine. It wasn't until 1983 that restaurant Le Jules Verne, named for the French novelist and playwright who penned Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days, was established. In 2007 Alain Ducasse took over Le Jules Verne and transformed it into a fine-dining restaurant, earning himself one Michelin star, which he held until his ten-year lease on the space ran out in 2018.
The Iron Lady, which celebrated 130 years in 2019, now has an even brighter future. If we were forced to choose our last meal on Earth, we may well want it to be here.
The Carte menu (available at lunch), offers three courses. The Voyages Extraordinaires tasting menu can be selected with either 5 or 7 courses at €190 and €230 per person, excluding beverages.
Remember, you're in Paris so you want to look your best. Men should wear a suit or a sports jacket and trousers (not jeans). For women likewise, dress to impress. Here's your chance to channel your inner classically-dressed Parisienne. Naturally, T-shirts and shorts are interdit (not allowed).
Arrive at least 15 minutes early, as you must go through security at the Eiffel Tower. Make sure you have your reservation to present when you arrive at the South Pillar. It's the only way you'll be able to sneak in at the front of the line to get immediate access to the restaurant's private elevator.
In France, there is a 19.6% service compris (service included) amount added to your bill. This means that there is no sense in adding an extra tip. By law, servers will receive this service compris amount on their paycheque.
Metro – Bir-Hakeim. Get a spectacular glimpse of the tower as you cross the river from Trocadero, since this is one of the only Metro lines that runs above ground.
Metro — Alma. You come up out of the Metro next to the Eternal Flame sculpture and walk across the Seine on the Pont d'Alma. Then it's a short but breathtaking walk to the Tower. South Pillar, Level 2 (Pilier sud deuxieme étage)
Metro – Trocadero. Arrive on the Right Bank, cross the Trocadero plaza, and walk across the bridge.
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