Café de Paris Patong Beach
4-5, 110 Thawewong Road
Patong / Kathu
Open: Daily 11:00 – 23:00
Tel: +66 82 448 4887
GPS: 7°53’30.7″N 98°17’41.0″E
Recommend: The Café de Paris sauce (obviously)
Avoid: Driving here in a car (there’s not much parking)
Reviewed on 27th July 2017. Details may become inaccurate over time.
Before last Thursday evening, I had never realised that wine is such a complex subject. I knew there was a lot to it, in the same sense that I realise that rocket science is not particularly simple, but the sheer depth and intricacy involved was made much clearer to me during the wine dinner at Café de Paris Patong Beach.
These special events occur about four times per year, according to restaurant owner Georges Dufresne, when wine companies are in town to offer free samples in the hope of becoming the establishment’s chosen vendor. As Georges has a proven track record with running high-class restaurants in Patong, he possibly gets these opportunities a little more frequently than most. That track record comes in the shape of the recently closed Le Versace Restaurant, which was ranked among the top restaurants in Southeast Asia on TripAdvisor. His new venture is due to have its grand opening on 6th August, but is already open now and – spoiler warning – is already shaping up to be better than its predecessor!
Assortiment d’amuses bouche
Rather than just giving a straight review, which I’ve already done for this restaurant as part of my day job, I want to instead tell the remarkable story of the wine dinner. As I said, I learnt so much from the great company I had for this amazing meal and I think sharing that would be more interesting than just telling you what a dozen other websites could – that Café de Paris Patong Beach is an outstanding restaurant!
The evening started with the E. Guigal Tavel Rose 2013, which was a little too drinkable. I’d already necked about three glasses of the fruity, full-bodied beverage before realising that I probably ought to pace myself because there was still a five-course meal and four other wines to try (not to mention the drive home) before the night was done. This was accompanied by some mixed appetisers – shots of cauliflower soup, foie gras and crispy cheese sticks – which, for the want of a better word, were very appetising.
This was also the beginning of the pleasant conversation. Out on Café de Paris Patong Beach’s street-front terrace, I spoke to the lady responsible for bringing these fine beverages to Thailand – Charlotte Térouanne, the Southeast Asia export manager for Europvin – and was introduced to Rafael, who had been the vice-president of operations for the Amari Hotels Group for 20 years. Along with Georges, these would be my guides on this remarkable culinary adventure.
Filet de Bar poêlé et poireaux étuvés
The second course (the first having been the appetisers) was where my appreciation of good wine pairing was really born and where Rafael took it upon himself to become my teacher – a decision for which I am immensely grateful. He had been sat opposite me in the simple-yet-stylish air-conditioned interior of Café de Paris Patong Beach and waxed lyrical on a great range of fascinating subjects, the first of which was wine pairing.
The food of this fish course was fantastic. A pan-fried sea bass filet on a bed of leeks, with a lobster bisque dressing, it had quite a powerful ‘fishy’ flavour, but the leeks added an almost fruity dimension. On Georges’s advice, I followed each forkful of fish with a slurp of the E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc 2015, which was an absolutely outstanding combination. As Rafael pointed out, the wine’s strong flavour meant that it was not overwhelmed by the strong lobster sauce and the cool, fresh taste was a delightful contrast to the aforementioned fishy flavour. The combination was making my head spin, though that might have been because I’m a quick eater, so was gulping down the wine at quite a rapid rate.
Feuilleté aux champignons
With the third course, the wine changed from white to red. Georges offered those who wanted it a fresh glass, but Rafael insisted that I should stick with the same one. As he pointed out, the old glass tastes of wine, even if only faintly. A new one would taste of dishwasher detergents. The red in question was the E. Guigal Gigondas 2010, which Rafael correctly deduced was made primarily with the Grenache grape. A comparatively rare and little-known ingredient, it creates quite a heavy-duty dinner wine of extremely high quality. In Rafael’s words: “There’s no such thing as a cheap Gigondas.”
This wine was accompanied with one of the meatiest meatless dishes I’ve ever eaten. The mushrooms provided the flavour while the puff pasty supplied the texture, with the red-wine sauce finishing it off nicely. Again, the pairing skills of the chef at Café de Paris Patong Beach were outstanding and created quite a heady dish. I’m getting dizzy just writing about it!
This dish was also accompanied by quite a detailed explanation of what was just a tiny aspect of the wine’s flavour. Rafael noted just a hint of tannin in the taste. This slightly acidic edge comes from the wine having been made with the grapes still attached to their stems. This helps the wine to keep and mature over a longer period, but it means that you get a bitter aftertaste if you try drinking it too soon. Ordinarily, he explained, drinking a 2010 wine in 2017 would be too soon, but it turns out that wine will age approximately three years during the three-month sea voyage from France to Thailand because of the motion of the ocean, meaning that the acidic taste was all but undetectable.
Faux filet de boeufrôti
This, if I’m being brutally honest, was the most disappointing course of the evening. That’s not to say it was actually bad – far from it. Saying this was a disappointment is like criticising the Mona Lisa because it’s a bit small. Possibly, my enjoyment of the main course was hindered by the fact that I had previously sampled Café de Paris Patong Beach’s striploin beef with signature Café de Paris sauce. Georges told me that his sauce is something special because, at a couple of removes, it is basically identical to the sauce which first launched the Café de Paris name in Geneva, Switzerland in 1907. The owner of that first restaurant had reluctantly passed the recipe on to his best friend, Lucien Guillemin, on the understanding that he did not open a competing restaurant in the same area. True to his word, Lucien opened the world’s second Café de Paris in Villeneuve, Switzerland – right on the opposite end of Lake Geneva. Georges, himself Swiss, was lucky enough to get the recipe from Lucien and, with a couple of minor tweaks to it, opened his restaurant right on the other side of the planet.
Compared to this robust and complex dressing, the foie gras sauce at the wine dinner just could not compete. The potatoes gratin with truffle oil were an especially tasty accompaniment, but the E. Guigal Saint Joseph Rouge 2013 was a little lacklustre. Made with 100 per cent Syrah (the French name for what is commonly called Shiraz) grapes, it had a fairly mundane flavour. Again, it was not a bad flavour, but it failed to stand out to the extent the other four wines did. Having been spoilt rotten by the first three courses, these extraordinary flavours now seemed relatively ordinary.
Duo de fromages et fruits séchés
From this low point (which, just to reiterate, is like calling K2 a low point, when compared to Everest), the inaugural wine dinner at Café de Paris Patong Beach finished on a stellar high. It was a pretty simple dish – just some brie and camembert served with various dry fruits and some bread – but the E. Guigal Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2010 it came with was an outstanding match and easily my favourite wine of the evening. I already have a soft spot for Châteauneuf because it is my mum’s favourite wine, but this was a particularly fine one with a beautiful, complex flavour.
It turns out that “a particularly fine one” isn’t as obnoxious an observation as it might seem. Rafael told me that the Châteauneuf region is quite a large one and Charlotte told us that there are as many as 19 varieties of grape which could potentially be included in a single vintage, though a maximum of about six is the norm. This means that there is a large variety of flavours (and prices) available ranging, in Rafael’s words, “from good ones to really excellent ones”. This was definitely one of the really excellent ones.
There’s so much more that I learnt that evening and which I wish I had the space to pass on here, but this post is already nearly double my usual word count. We talked about why hotel GMs in Asia usually have a background in F&B (a helpful insight, if you’re interested in getting into the hotel industry), why apps like Vivino have had a limited impact on people’s attitude towards wine and have failed to remove the overwhelming dependence on experienced sommeliers, how the wood of the wine barrel makes a massive difference to its flavour and more besides.
To summarise the actual restaurant itself and round out this review…what more can I say? It’s an outstanding place, with excellent French cuisine and fantastic prices. Georges boasts that he serves the cheapest champagne in Phuket, among other things (the wine dinner, for example, cost an amazingly low 1,900 baht). The value for money on food prepared using mostly imported ingredients of the highest quality is beyond comparison. Even the location of Café de Paris Patong Beach is pretty good, being right in the middle of town, just over the road from the beach, on Soi Patong Tower. Literally the only downside is that there’s not really anywhere to park your car nearby.
I have what you might call a working friendship with the owner of Café de Paris Patong Beach. Georges and I are friends on Facebook, but my interactions with him have been mostly work-related (at time of writing). In spite of this, I have endeavoured to be as objective in my review as possible. I received no special discounts or incentives to write a favourable review from anyone at Café de Paris, E. Guigal or Europvin. I paid the cost of the wine dinner with my own money and neither I nor my food and beverages were given any more special attention than that of the dozen or more other diners that evening.