Paris's oldest restaurant reopens with a taste for nouvelle cuisine

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The Independent Online

Rémy, the gastronomic rat who has been the movie triumph of the summer, would certainly approve.

The Tour d'Argent, the oldest restaurant in France and one of the inspirations for the hit cartoon movie Ratatouille, will re-open today after a three-month, hi-tech makeover.

The celebrated dining room overlooking Notre Dame cathedral, which has received famous visitors ranging from the Queen to Marilyn Monroe, will be unchanged. But the kitchens, spread over six floors, have been gutted and rebuilt, with a cinematic touch of their own.

Cameras and flat screens will allow 35 chefs to monitor the progress of dishes on every floor of the 425-year-old restaurant.

The ¿4m (£2.7m) renovation of the Tour d'Argent is part of a drive by its new, young proprietor, André Terrail, 27, to re-establish the reputation of a gastronomic legend. His father, Claude Terrail, who died last year aged 88, ran it for 60 years, making it part of the itinerary of every Hollywood star visiting Paris.

In recent years, however, the restaurant's reputation has suffered from the loss of two of its Michelin stars and frequent changes of master chef. So André Terrail closed it down for three months to rebuild its kitchens, offices, and its menus.

The movie Ratatouille has been an enormous hit this summer on both sides of the Atlantic, and tells the story of a Paris sewer rat who becomes a gastronome and the secret inspiration of a young chef.

The restaurants in the movie are based mostly on The Tour d'Argent, which has a new young chef, Stéphane Haissant, 34. He will still offer the dishes for which the Tour is famous: quenelles de brochet (fish balls made from pike), sole cardinale, and its renowned canard au sang, or bloody duck. He will, however, also extend its repertoire to include ideas borrowed from Indian, Japanese and Spanish cuisine.

"We must remain faithful to our clientele, which wants to find those things for which we are famous. But we must also move on," M. Terrail said.

The Tour still has its celebrated wine cellar, including bottles of cognac from the 1700s, which were hidden from the Germans during the Second World War.

And among the many legends and stories associated with it is the suggestion the fork was "discovered" there in the 1580s. Henry III of France is said to have seen Italian diners using a strange pronged instrument in the restaurant and ordered a set.