After 10 years at the helm of the emblematic Jules Verne restaurant with its bird's-eye view of the Seine River from the heights of the Eiffel Tower, decorated chef and entrepreneur Alain Ducasse has changed perspectives. Since September 2018, his brigade of 36 chefs, sous chefs, commis and pastry chefs is no longer perched above the masses who visit the dame de fer daily, but now floats a fraction of a league lower in the hold of a revolutionary vessel moored on the Right Bank, precisely in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Ducasse Sur Seine, the name of Ducasse’s new adventure, launched in partnership with a specialist in fluvial tourism and a French public financial institution, is billed as a world premiere. It is the first 100 percent electric riverboat to welcome diners for gastronomic cruises on the French capital’s majestic, monument-lined waterway.
At first sight, the structure resembles an ovoid aquatic flying saucer, all glass and steel, with an elegant transparency, and a play of lights revealing a dining room at each end and a superior deck for cocktails and afternoon tea. The interior appointments, entrusted to a team of Israeli-Italian designers, are in nuances of watery blue-grey and pearly beige. All of the codes of a contemporary fine dining restaurant, Ducasse-style, are here; stylish service staff, crisp white linens, custom-designed porcelain and silver cutlery. The cruise even boasts its own nautical motto, “Voluptas Urbis Adposita,” engraved on silver plates and a wavy blue logo, freely translated, “the delights of the city unfurled at your table.”
The Ducasse Sur Seine concept and its realization are in harmony with the line of action that Alain Ducasse has followed for more than a decade, marked by a respect for the planet, reflected by his choice of ingredients derived from organic and sustainable agriculture, with a concentration on fish, shellfish, grains and vegetables, underlined in this new project by a requirement for an ecologically friendly boat. Specifications for clean energy apply not only to the means of propulsion, but also the kitchens, located a few meters below the dining rooms, and powered by nine tons of high-tech batteries housed at each end of the vessel.
The launch, at precisely 8:30 p.m., is remarkably silent, smooth and odorless, nearly unnoticed by diners who glide under a twinkling Eiffel Tower, as the first delicate course is served: small morsels of gilt-head sea bream prepared gravlax-style with a garnish of salt-baked chioggia beets. Also on the menu, a slice of lobster and mini-claw, garnished with multi-colored florets of steamed cauliflower and a drizzle of tangy coral vinaigrette, or a turbot medallion with tiny mussels, white beans and seaweed in a flavorful shellfish reduction. The petit pâté chaud, a little warm pâté of guinea hen and foie gras in a salmis sauce, is heartier, as is the farm chicken roasted with herb butter. For vegetarians, one of Ducasse’s signature dishes, the “Cookpot,” consists of vegetables and grains simmered slowly in a broth in individual porcelain dishes. The wine cellar in the hold of the barge includes over 100 references, more than 1,000 bottles, to accompany these proposals. The price (not including beverages) is from €100 for the lunch cruise and from €150 for dinner. During the afternoon, when the boat is moored at the dock, tea or aperitifs can be enjoyed on the superior deck.
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This new initiative comes on the heels of a much publicized affair that unfolded between late 2017 and early 2018, when the concession for the use of the Eiffel Tower’s Jules Verne restaurant and the brasserie on its lower level was up for renewal. Ducasse’s bid for a second 10-year term was challenged by the proposal of a duo of multiple-starred Parisian chefs, Frédéric Anton and Thierry Marx. Despite Ducasse’s court appeal, the Anton-Marx proposal, backed by the powerful Sodexo group, won out. The two restaurants, currently closed, are scheduled to reopen under the new regime in the fall of 2019.
Alain Ducasse may have lost his reign of the Eiffel Tower, but he has rebounded at a royal location on the Seine with its garland of twinkling lights and historic monuments, and has marked another point in his campaign for promoting sustainable and ecologically responsible restoration.
Photos by Pierre Monetta.