26 August 2013

cuttlefish water ? : la régalade conservatoire, 75009

My chef friend G's last night in town the other evening unfortunately coincided with what you might call the Mariana Trench of August in Paris: that deep lightless ravine of restaurant closures across the city, occurring mid-month, where life as we know it cannot sustain itself.

We decided to go to chef Bruno Doucet's La Régelade Conservatoire, which had remained open because it is attached to a hotel. I'll put off any qualitative discussion of the meal for later, because I'd like to visit the other two influential Régalade locations (Saint Honoré and the original on ave. Jean-Moulin) before I go shooting off my mouth at length.

But one facet of the meal we had warrants individual attention. We were, without being asked, given English menus. For G this was fine, as he doesn't speak French. The problem was that, as it turned out, neither of us spoke the pidgin English of the translated menu, which was astoundingly misleading. We received dishes that bore little relation to what we'd ordered in English, and it was only when, mid-meal, I asked to see the French menu, that I saw what had gone wrong.

G had been curious seeing that an entree contained an ingredient called "cuttlefish water." It turned out to be your average squid ink, a fact which would have been readily apparent had I been looking at the French menu.

A "Cold duck and monkfish foie gras terrine" suffered from unclear wording. I'd expected a duck terrine involving monkfish liver. What arrived was instead an enormous hunk of duck foie gras separated by a sliver of monkfish liver. Again, this was only clear in the French, which notably didn't even include the word terrine: "Pressé de foie de lotte et foie gras de canard, tetragone."

Meanwhile a "poitrine de cochon," a self-proclaimed specialty of La Régalade, had insensibly been translated as "pork breast" rather than what is was, which is pork belly.

In all three cases, had we been shown the French menu, we would have ordered something else. Menus in Paris should either be in French alone, or French and English. I have never seen any Anglophones jump out of their skin at the mere sight of accent punctuation. Bilingual menus simply offer the opportunity for monolingual Anglophones to get less monolingual, at least at the dinner table.

I left the meal at La Régalade Conservatoire wondering on how earth it could it be possible no one involved in the translation of their menu was familiar with culinary English. It's forgivable and touching when one sees things like "leg of lamp" on a menu written in both French and English, as used to feature on 5ème bistrot Restaurant Christophe's menu. Or when, as I once saw on a menu in Annecy, "avocat" in a salad is translated as "lawyers."

But it's just mystifying, borderline perturbing, even, when mistranslation this bad occurs on monolingual menus offered automatically at a renowned chef's third location, particularly when said location is attached to a hotel serving mainly international clientele. Suppose they were to translate cacahouette as "bean," crévette as "necktie," or lait as "water of cow"? People could die.

Or what if they called an avocado a lawyer, and my family had been eaten by cannibals, and I were sworn to take revenge on restaurants whose menus include long-pigs - even lawyers?

It just goes to show you can never be too careful with menu translations.


  1. What a travesty! "Affinated cheese selection," indeed.

    It always pisses me off that people assume translation is easy or irrelevant.

  2. I work five minutes from the original, not a hint of english in sight. Come visit before they move us to neuilly.

  3. I didn't seem to have this problem. Why didn't you ask for a French menu? I always do if they hand me an english menu.

  4. nazila: i only noticed after the waiter had already departed. and, while i avoided going into it in the post above, service was quite bad. it took forever to flag servers down.

    furthermore, requesting a french menu would be no help to non-french speakers, of which there are presumably a great many passing through la regelade conservatoire. my main point is that a restaurant with a celebrity chef and three locations ought to be functioning at a higher level, i.e. retain at least one person on staff who can effectively translate a menu.