Food fight erupts after top Paris restaurant loses a Michelin star

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An unseemly food fight has broken out after France's most prestigious restaurant guide demoted one of the country's oldest, best-known and most exclusive eating places.

The Michelin Guide Rouge for 2006, the annual bible of French gourmets, reduced the 424-year-old Tour d'Argent restaurant in Paris from two stars to one.

The Tour d'Argent, on the left bank of the Seine with picture windows facing Notre Dame Cathedral, is a favourite with visiting Hollywood stars and other super-rich foreigners. Despite its high prices - an average of €300 a meal without wine - it is booked up for months in advance.

The Tour d'Argent reacted furiously yesterday to the indignity of losing a second star. (It was already downgraded from three stars to two in 1996.) A statement said it was "surprised" by the decision which "coincided curiously" with its request to be left out of the 2006 guide.

Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin guide, said no such request had been received. "The Tour d'Argent has a very fine dining room but...we have had more and more comments from clients on the quality of the food," he said.

The restaurant, founded in 1582 on the Quai de La Tournelle, opposite Notre Dame, is celebrated for its "bloody duck", which has been on the menu since 1890. Each duck - caramelised outside and bloody inside - has been numbered. The millionth was cooked three years ago.

Former staff at the 120-seat restaurant blamed its alleged decline on the refusal of its 88-year-old owner, Claude Terrail, to delegate responsibility, despite his nominal retirement. They also pointed out that there had been a series of comings and goings among the restaurant's chefs.

The 2006 guide, to be published next week, is also notable for the consecration of Brittany's first three-star chef, Olivier Roellinger, for Maisons de Bricourt in Cancale.