Paris is famous the world over for its fine food and superb restaurants. From casual cafés and neighbourhood bistros to fine dining restaurants and gastronomic institutions, the French capital has, for centuries, shown the rest of the world how to eat well and create a sense of occasion whilst doing so. With seventy Michelin-starred restaurants, Paris is arguably one of the world’s culinary capitals. Understandably the emphasis remains on French gastronomy, which is so well loved and cultivated that UNESCO has added it to the list of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage”. Rich in sauces and benefitting from France’s diverse geography, climate and agricultural traditions, French cuisine encompasses the freshest seafood, poultry, meat, vegetables and fruit, and the nation’s wines and cheeses are as world-renowned as its desserts.
In the shadow of such established and celebrated local cuisine, Parisian restaurants delivering international and exotic fare at the highest standards have been few and far between with notable exceptions. So, when a new kid on the block opens like LiLi – offering Chinese cuisine at the same level as Paris’ finest dining establishments – people take notice.
LiLi was always destined to be standout. Combining longstanding gastronomic traditions of Parisian fine dining with the global reputation for luxury and excellence that Peninsula properties are renowned for, LiLi makes for an über chic and exotic addition to the French capital’s restaurant scene.
LiLi’s chef, Peter Ma, began his career as an apprentice in Hong Kong at the age of 17, and has since worked at some of the best Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau. Ma brings a level of authenticity and professionalism to the Chinese restaurant scene in Paris that is unparalleled.
Drawing upon the hotel brand’s Hong Kong roots, LiLi is a divine ode to Cantonese cooking, flawlessly presented in a glamorous yet tasteful setting, firmly rooted in the 21st century with nods to bygone oriental eras. Located in Paris’ moneyed 16th arrondissement within The Peninsula’s classic fin de siècle Haussmann building on grand tree lined Avenue Kléber, although LiLi has its own dedicated off-street entrance, making one’s way through the hotel’s magnificent marble and gold-accented palatial ground floor spaces creates an inimitable sense of occasion. Yet crossing from the hotel’s contemporary yet classical take on period interior architecture into LiLi’s threshold is to be instantly transported into another world.
The décor in LiLi is as one would imagine in the villa of a wealthy 1920s Hong Kong tai-pan realised by a flamboyant French interior designer. Rich dark wood columns, panels inlaid with intricate patterns and fiery red curtains are offset by oversized electric blue tassels and fanciful chandeliers. A circular central ceiling fixture from which a single light pendant dangles adds a sculptural dimension. Ambient low lighting completes the seductive stage-like setting.
You would be right in thinking that this all sounds a bit dramatic; it is. Chinese opera served as one of the inspirations for LiLi’s interior esthetic, the restaurant having been named after a famous Chinese opera singer. Lacquered wood detailing, screen-printed images of seductive Chinese operatic characters and wall-mounted costumes and masks add avant-garde accents to the theatrical space.
An intimate foyer gives way to the ample main dining room with soaring ceilings, adorned with private alcoves around its perimeter. Contemporary artworks skillfully mixed with antiques add the warmth of a sumptuous personal residence, whilst high backed chairs and banquettes add an element of stylish formality.
All of this elegant decadence just whets the appetite for the main event – delicious Cantonese food at its best. The menu is expansive, with six and eight-course set options plus page upon page of à la carte choices. Divided into sections including seafood, meat, poultry, vegetables, noodles and barbeque, the biggest challenge at LiLi is deciding what to settle on as it all sounds so delicious. It’s best to arrive hungry and share plates to sample as many different dishes as possible.
The Kamchatka crab with enoki mushrooms and cucumbers was tender, meaty and fresh. Minced foie gras served with chopped rice crackers to be rolled in lettuce leaves was addictive – I was truly sad when this dish had been consumed. Bresse chicken paired with jellyfish, daikon and sesame sauce not only tasted divine but proved that the chef was unafraid to mix non-conventional delicacies with the best local produce. But for many no Chinese feast would be complete without Peking duck. LiLi’s version is traditional, classic and quite possibly the best I had ever tasted. The meat was succulent, the skin perfectly dark golden and crispy, the pancakes thin.
If the meal had ended there and then it would have been a triumph. However it ascended into pure gluttony, in the best of all possible senses. Obsiblue prawns from the Pacific island of New Caledonia were lightly grilled in Chinese spices. Obsiblue is a unique variety of prawn, blue in colour and famed for their sweetness and texture, served in only a handful of the world’s best restaurants; they were magnifique.
The sweet and sour duck was the perfect combination of sweetness and savoury. Steamed monk fish from Brittany was accompanied with black bean sauce and bean curd. In fact, throughout the meal superior traditional Cantonese fare was continuously enhanced by the best French ingredients. This being France, the wine list is encyclopedic and offers even the most cultivated oenophiles something to ogle and open their wallets for, Lili’s sommeliers on hand to expertly pair wines with Chinese dishes.
Décor reminiscent of the opulent Ming Dynasty combined with delicious cuisine and classic dishes refashioned in a dynamic way all contribute to make LiLi a truly unique destination restaurant. Private enough for romantic and discreet outings, grand enough for special occasions and sufficiently gastronomically creative to broaden the palette of even die-hard Chinese food connoisseurs, LiLi is not only a welcome addition to the Parisian restaurant scene but wholly deserves its place amongst the city’s best establishments.
Executive chef: Christophe Raoux.
Chef de cuisine: Peter Ma.
Address: The Peninsula Paris, 19 Avenue Kléber, Paris 75116, France
Telephone: +33 1 58 12 67 50
Email: [email protected]
Cuisine: Gastronomic Chinese.
Opening hours: Every day 12:00-14:30 + 19:00-22:30.
Lunch price: 7-course set lunch EUR88.
Dinner price: 8-course set dinner EUR118.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Children: High chairs available. No kids’ menu but meals can be adapted to suit.
Credit cards: All.
Parking: Free valet for diners.
Dégustation menu – Steamed lobster dumpling with asparagus (EUR18), steamed shrimp dumplings with bamboo shoots (EUR16), chilled Kamtchatka king crab with enoki mushroom and cucumber, sesame oil seasoning (EUR42), roasted Peking duck served in two courses (EUR128), Glazed Kintoa pork loin (EUR32), wok-fried Brittany blue lobster with ginger and spring onions (EUR120), French Obsiblue prawns breaded with Chinese spices (EUR42), wok-fried Simmental beef tenderloin with mushroom and sugar snap, black pepper sauce (EUR42), Yeung Chow-style fried rice (EUR28), chilled mango cream with pomelo and sago pearls (EUR12).
Reviewed by Alex Benasuli for dinner on 13th May 2017