Le Restaurant is a gem hidden in the city of Paris. Tucked away in the heart of the Left Bank, this romantic restaurant hides behind opulent green curtains inside the smallest five star hotel in Paris – L’Hôtel. At the helm, you find young chef Julien Montbabut, carrying on traditional French cuisine with his very own delicate, contemporary, and colorful touch. Here’s his story.
L’Hôtel has been a secret hideaway for both local and international guests and celebrities. Known as the final home and resting place of writer Oscar Wilde and as a lively center of Parisian society during the sixties, the walls of L’Hôtel have quite the story to tell. The hotel boasts its Michelin starred restaurant, Le Restaurant, where guests can escape for a romantic and intimate meal on plush armchairs. Head chef Julien Montbabut does a splendid job of carrying on its Michelin star with his contemporary twist on traditional French cuisine.
What is your background? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Paris in the 13th district. I studied four years at Ferrandi, a hotel school in Paris. Apprenticeship at “La Fermette Marbeuf” alongside Gilbert Isaac. Then Le Pavillon Ledoyen, three star Michelin restaurant, with Christian Le Squer. Le Jamin two star Michelin restaurant with Benoît Guichard. L’Hôtel with Philippe Bélissent and La Grande Cascade as executive sous-chef with Frederic Robert. All experiences in Paris.
What are some important lessons you’ve taken away from these experiences?
All the chefs I have worked with have passed their enthusiasm and expertise onto me. Importantly, this includes the focus on each plate, every service, and ensuring the customer is well taken care of. It is a wonderful opportunity to work alongside Michelin star chefs or the “Meilleur Ovrier de France.” With them, I learned the importance of technique – how to cut, cook well, and hold a knife properly. I was also lucky to work with exceptional products, all uniquely and carefully selected. I even recall receiving live frogs and the most enormous turbot!
Now, I am completely committed to finding the best of everything by sticking as closely as possible to the seasons and establishing great relationships with the suppliers and producers who are as passionate as I am.
What is your earliest memory with food?
Ice cream that my mother prepared with Petit Suisse, a famous cottage cheese that children love, and bananas.
What is your philosophy when it comes to your cuisine?
I follow my inspiration and am sensitive to l’air du temps, trying to let go of the foundations of our French cuisine, because they’re like my DNA, and I know they are already and naturally a part of the way I cook.
You’re offering a traditional/classical experience with your cuisine, but how are you putting your own modern touch to it?
My own personality is expressed in my work with the seasonings, using for example, unique vinegars, condiments that we make ourselves but also using some roots. We are also playing with textures and temperatures, creating contrast. Finally, the dish’s arrangement in the plate makes the whole very contemporary.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite dishes?
Crab is a dish that is always in demand. In fact, my guests ask me to never take it off the menu! It is a memorable starter. I purchase very large crab from Loctudy in Brittany. We cook them every morning, then collect and sort the crab meat. This is tedious work, but the result is amazing. We then add a mayonnaise with “Savora,” a sweet mustard – something that I love and one of the only things found in my refrigerator at home!. To finish, I add avocado and yuzu. It’s gluttony and freshness in the same plate.
You mentioned that you love to travel. Can you tell us about one most memorable experience from your travels thus far?
I travel a lot between South America and Asia. Always backpack off the beaten tracks. One of the most memorable experiences could be climbing the Semeru volcano on Java island.
Climbing to the top of a live volcano was an incredibly exciting experience It was a hard trek and, physically, one of the toughest things I have done in my life. Arriving at the summit must be earned though. And after hours of suffering, you experience the most amazing and breathtaking view – a lunar landscape. That was the most unique moment!
What are some of the best things you’ve eaten abroad?
Every journey has enriched me in its own way. Eating proper ceviches in Peru. Drinking a glass of Malbec in Cordoba. Discovering vegetables and spices in India. But one of the most beautiful memories – and one of the simplest – was the authentic taste of passion fruit juice in Brazil. After that, I realized that all of the other passion fruits I had tasted had no flavor!
Anywhere else you’re dying to visit?
If I had the opportunity to take my backpack and go off in search of adventure tomorrow, I would certainly be in Botswana exploring the Okavango Delta.
What are your thoughts on the future of fine dining & the culinary scene in general? What role do you think you find yourself in all of it?
In a few years, the culinary scene will have improved and will be globalized. You can now find excellent chefs all over the world. In the midst of all this, I try to keep my identity and a French tradition to showcase our regions (soils) and our expertise – savoir-fair.
What kind of guests do you find coming to your restaurant and from where?
We are fortunate to have a very mixed clientele, ranging from the young Parisian couple celebrating an event to the princes of Saudi Arabia.
How would you describe your style of plating?
Delicate, contemporary, colorful.
What is one tip you have for plating?
Do not overload the plate to enhance the product. I bring splashes of color with condiments, vegetable powders, herbs, and flowers. My motto: the best is the enemy of the good – you do not want to do too much at risk to give the desired opposite effect.
What is next for you?
Cooking is so overwhelming, it absorbs me entirely. For me, what’s next is the next plate that will leave the kitchen and meet our client’s palate.