Being one of the oldest restaurants in the world is no small feat — neither is being the establishment that popularised the use of the fork. These are both claims confidently made by.
Opened in 1582 on a location between the River Seine and the Bernardins monastery, this establishment became very fashionable among aristocrats and royalty — kings and their courts frequented the restaurant for elaborate feasts that featured whole ox and Heron paté. During these early years, La Tour d’Argent served the wild ducks that lived by the Seine, a favourite dish of King Henry III. The duck eventually became the speciality of the house.
In 1890, owner Frederic Delair put La Tour d’Argent’s duck on the global map when he created a new ritual, lending each duck its very own number when served. Known as Canard au Sang, or pressed duck (a complex dish, comprising duck served in a sauce of its blood and bone marrow), the dish is still the restaurant’s best-known dish, with numbers still climbing well past the one-million mark in 2003.
The restaurant was acquired in 1910 by André Terrail. He maintained its culinary traditions but sought to further upgrade the restaurant with a modernised façade, new recipes and the beginnings of what would become La Tour d’Argent’s famous wine cellar. He later moved the restaurant to the sixth floor of the building, further increasing its popularity with a stunning view that overlooks the river and Notre Dame. La Tour d’Argent continued to garner countless accolades, including three stars from the Michelin Guide.
With a history spanning more than 400 years, La Tour d’Argent also survived World War I and II. During World War II, Claude Terrail (André Terrail’s son) not only served in the armed forces, but saved the wine cellar from being purged by the occupying Germans by walling up the enormous cellar that contained a majority of its prized rare vintages.
Over the course of the ownership of Claude Terrail, the restaurant was recognised as one of the most fashionable in the world and regularly entertained Hollywood stars of the time such as Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. The identity of La Tour d’Argent had become synonymous with Claude Terrail’s elegant flair and lively personality. The brand later expanded with the addition of a new boutique, a 'Petit Musée de la Table' and a sister restaurant located in Tokyo’s Hotel New Otani (which opened in 1984).
After Claude Terrail’s passing in 2006, his son André inheritedat the young age of 26. The establishment was without Claude’s outstanding persona and it dropped to one Michelin star. This was a period when naysayers were doubting the restaurant’s ability to survive. The story behind Disney Pixar movie Ratatouille was in part inspired by La Tour d’Argent. Yet, like the animated film, the third-generation owner and his restaurants have not only survived, but are thriving. Both restaurants in Paris and Tokyo continue to entertain royalty and contemporary celebrities, such as the Japanese emperor Hirohito, actress Angelina Jolie and actor Brad Pitt.
The current owner commands the restaurant with a deliberately subtle demeanour. While La Tour d’Argent has maintained its classics, the past few years under André Terrail and current chef Laurent Delarbre have marked a new evolution. There are also changes and upgrades in store that the Terrails of the past may have balked at — but keeping up with modernity while preserving the brand’s spirit is the 400-year-old secret of La Tour d’Argent.