December 27, 2013

Service à la française

VIEW PHOTOS

Service takes on a very special meaning during the year-end holidays. Champagne house Veuve Clicquot, which has long been synonymous with unique service à la française, invites you to an exceptional visit of the private dining room at the Hôtel du Marc.

The dining room is the nexus of refined service “in the French style”, a place rich in history…and secrets. The dining room is where taste and esprit meet, a place where guests are treated like royalty. This is where unique French art de vivre reaches its pinnacle, an art unrivalled anywhere else as the table is transformed into chef-d’œuvre, and service is performed like an exquisite ballet.

Everything actually began with the invention of the dining room in 18th century Britain. France quickly outpaced Albion, however, with the birth of the “table arts”. Under the first French Empire (1804-1814), “service in the Russian style” was adopted under the influence of the Tsar’s ambassador, Prince Kurakin.  Dishes were brought to the table one after the other, while bouquets, candelabras and dishes brimming with petits fours and sweets provided sumptuous centerpieces.

During the Second Empire (1852-1870),  France took luxurious table settings to new heights with a proliferation of silverware, cut crystal, porcelain, glasses and myriad utensils. White linen became a sign of prestige and was de rigueur. Distinctive service à la française developed too, as serving dishes were presented to the left of guests, who served themselves from shoulder height.

This tradition thrives today at Veuve Clicquot’s Hôtel du Marc. Built between 1840 and 1846, the family residence of the Champagne house still resonates with the sumptuous receptions that hosted the cream of Reims and Paris high society during the Second Empire. This tradition of welcoming prestigious guests is very much alive. Updated by architect Bruno Moinard, the dining room décor features countless details that express inimitable French taste: black and gilded wainscoting, trumeaux decorated with pastoral scenes, mise en abyme mirror effects, a lacquered mahogany table and chandeliers with smoked crystal pendants.

The time-honored traditions of ceremonial service remain as impressive as ever. Contrary to British custom, the fork is set with the tines down, revealing the family coat of arms on the shaft. Dishes can be passed between guests, of course, except the soup, salad and cheese. And as etiquette dictates, wine is served from right to left. Lastly, just before dessert is served, the maître d’hôtel reappears and decants a bottle of Veuve Clicquot demi-sec into a chilled carafe, as delighted guests look on in anticipation. This ceremony lets them marvel at the superb golden hue of the wine, which opens to reveal the roundness that Madame Clicquot treasured.

  • mail