Was it one overhead too many? A year ago, three-Michelin-starred chef Alain Senderens announced that he was closing Lucas Carton, one of Paris's most famous restaurants. He had held Michelin's top accolade for more than 20 years, but had grown weary of too much linen laundry, not to mention having two waiters per customer - "one to carry the plate, the other to lift the cloche".
Instead, he reopened the same site as the 80-seat Senderens. It's not a brasserie, as widely reported, but "a modern restaurant" - and this means doing things differently. One waiter, not two, simpler flowers and an average spend of about €110 (£75) per head, about one-quarter of what it was at Lucas Carton.
Senderens even tried to give back his stars (although Michelin has now given the new restaurant two).
Senderens does tradition with a twist. The ceiling has huge amoeba-like bulbs - by Noé Duchaufour Lawrance of Sketch fame - shedding soft light over vintage art nouveau panelling. Korean glass engravings change colour during service. The food picks up these themes, with Asian flavours and a tendency to reinvent.
So you get quality produce, a price level down from Lucas Carton. Out goes turbot, for instance, and in come salmon and cod. Here the fun begins, for Senderens has long matched fusion accents - eastern spices here, a hint of exotic citrus there - with homely standards.
In the dos de saumon d'Ecosse mi-fumé à la maison, servi tiède, rubans de concombre glacés aux épices Thai (€20/£13.50), there is a zingy aftereffect from the spices, including some cracked pepper, and at the same time a buttery foam to bring things gently back down to earth. Senderens admires provincial cooking and lightly airbrushes in its flavours. An accompanying glass of Talisker is mixed with water to release the flavours of the whisky and the food alike (€10/£7).
If flashy flavours are largely absent from the mains, strong accents replace them: a dusting of cumin in agneau de lait des Pyrénées au sautoir, cocotte de légumes du moment au jus (€39/£26.50) and a salty rouget barbet cuit dans les algues, fenouil confit, glaçons d'huile d'olive (€33/£22.50). Here the olive oil cubes are melted over the dish, while a streak of tapenade runs across it, adding a nice variation to the saltiness of the fish.
Senderens picks a wine for each dish. So a glass of Montilla-Morilles (€13/£9) accompanies foie gras de canard rôti, tubes de navets caramélisés au poivre Maniguette et noisettes torréfiées (€29/£20).
Tea also features. "You never stop learning," says Senderens, and recently he took a course in tea, resulting in a new signature dish: pigeon du pays de Racan au crabe et au thé Qi Lan, retour de Shanghai (€68/£46.50 for two people). It comes with thé Guan Yin 2 (€9/£6), less than 200kg of which is made each year.
Former glories survive: the famed canard Apicius (off the menu at present) and desserts such as millefeuille à la vanille de Tahiti (€16/£11). But cooking "modest" ingredients to the highest standards requires a different approach in general. Senderens sympathises with younger chefs who prefer to open bistros because it gives them greater freedom. In Paris, he cites Marius as an example of a "good, unpretentious place for fish".
Senderens also wants his customers to appreciate food for its own sake, not because guidebooks say they should. For the chef, the makeover has brought a new lease of life. Even with 200 covers daily, reservations at Senderens are about as hard to come by as tablecloths.
- Asperges vertes de Pernes les Fontaines, crûtes et cuites, cappuccino au lait d'amande, coquillages à l'huile épicée, €29 (£20)
- Trois légumes dans un ravioli ouvert, beurre mousseux au thym citron, tapenade du Moulin du Calanquet, €20 (£13.50)
- Boeuf de Salers aux graines de sésame, raviolis et pailles de pommes de terre, €38 (£26)
- Tartare de veau et langoustine, vermicelle de riz, parmigiano reggiano, €36 (£24.50)
- Chèvre Anneau de Vic-Bilh, citron confit, gingembre rose et poivre de Séchouan écrasé,€12 (£8)
- Fine feuille de Madong Millésimé 2005, ganache moelleuse aux épices, croquant à la vanille, glace au pralin, €18 (£12)
- Soupe de fruits exotiques, sirop perfume à la mélisse et cannelle de Ceylan, €16 (£11)
- Fine dacquoise au poivre de Séchouan, marmelade au citron confit, glace au gingembre, €17 (£11.50)