Subject: Joel Robuchon &starred restaurants
Hi Frieda - and Felice,

Thank you for the update, Frieda. I knew the Zine network would come up with the latest news.

Alas, it is as I thought and we are out of the money for a reunion lunch at Robuchon.

My booking there was obtained through another Parisian restaurateur (friend of a friend), and that was about the only way of getting a table there at the time. I seem to recall that it sat only about 50 - and had a floor staff about twice that number!

The original booking was for two but my partner had a last minute business commitment that simply couldn't be changed, so I decided to go alone rather than miss the experience. (We had just arrived in Paris and there was no time to organise for someone else to take up the opportunity of the extra place. Had I been in the Zine scene then, I can imagine that I would have been knocked down in the rush of people responding to an invitation!)

Robuchon, at the time (mid-90s), was probably the most Three Star of all the Michelin Three Stars, so as I WALKED there, and arrived alone to find the stretch limos disgorging my fellow diners, it was a little offputting. However, I wasn't going to be done out of the experience, and thought it would be quite fun to be tucked away in a quiet corner at a table for one (next to the kitchen door - we've all been there, have we not?), and just observe what the rich and famous were doing.

Not to be!

My table was in a position that commanded a view of the entire room, beautifully situated, beautifully presented. The service hit just the right note, and made me entirely comfortable.

The menu prices undid the comfort - for a moment - as I wondered what on earth I was doing spending so much money on lunch - alone.

I must add that I enjoy travelling alone at times. And I like to eat alone at times. But dining in such splendour on such magnificent food is an experience that generally is better shared. I suppose the caveat there is that it needs to be shared with someone who also values the experience, and is completely spoiled if that is not the case.

Well, my wondering about my sanity lasted until the first tiny tasting dish arrived in front of me. Then it was pure indulgence and decadence for the next four hours, as I worked my way through the degustation menu and accompanying wines, and floated back the hour's walk to the hotel where the two of us could have stayed for a week for the price of my lunch!

Needless to say, it was the menu du jour at the local caf for the rest of the trip - but worth every penny of the price.

Now Frieda, we need a substitute for those moments of pure madness. What should be top of the list in Paris or elsewhere in France, assuming we win the lottery? I have eaten at Jamin - and while everything was impeccable - food, service, decor - it just did not do anything special for me. (That probably sounds ridiculous, but so be it.) Have also dined at Ambroisie (Michelin ***, Paris), which was a lovely experience but I don't need to go back particularly (and couldn't pay the bill these days anyway!). I would not go back to Le Pres d'Eugenie les Bains (***, down near the Spanish border) either - acceptable food, pleasant rooms, but bad service and I didn't care for the spa co-location at all.

If I won the lottery, I would be on my way to Boyer's Les Crayeres (***Reims), booking in for a week! Breakfast, lunch and dinner - and open access to the cellar, in the midst of the Champagne region, would suit me fine until I came back to reality.

But since I'm unlikely to win the lottery (I think you have to buy a ticket first and I never do!), maybe we need to bring our sights down a little and go for a balance of quality and price. I should add that one of my favourite French restaurant memories is of a meal at a very simple hotel in Beynac, near La Roque Gageac, where we were astonished by a three course meal, with a centrepiece of wonderful fish in red wine sauce, and local wine, for around $AUD25 (around 9 pound sterling, $US13). It was superb. (But I would find somewhere else nearby to stay!)

Enough indulgence. Back to work - or it will be dry bread and water for the rest of the year.

Bon appetit! Joan Melbourne, Australia