Since 1911, the Terrail family has curated a legendary French gastronomical experience at La Tour d’Argent, the “Silver Tower” on the banks of the Seine River in Paris. A Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 1986, the restaurant is offering more than 3,000 pieces of tableware at auction May 9 and 10. According to André Terrail, grandson of the founder and now the restaurant's owner and CEO, the auction coincides with the new arrival of chef Philippe Labbé and an updated edition of the 400-page wine list.
“We’re going to be under great scrutiny in the beginning of May,” said Terrail, 35. “But this is an evolution rather than a revolution. We have collections of silverware, China, even furniture, that simply do not belong to the future of La Tour d’Argent.”
The auction comes at a time when the restaurant, known as a defender of haute French cuisine and once the host of French royalty, has nevertheless developed a reputation that leans toward traditionalism, which may be responsible for the restaurant’s slide from three Michelin stars in 1995 to one today. French restaurants are shifting to a more casual style, but La Tour d'Argent is unafraid of bucking that trend.
Artcurial, a leading French auction house, is curating the sale. Associate director Stéphane Aubert believes sale prices should exceed catalog estimates. The estimates begin at $55 for a 116-year-old silver oil lamp and rise from there. One silver duck press, the epitome of the restaurant’s classic recipe, Caneton Tour d’Argent, or pressed duck, has attracted interest worldwide and is expected to exceed its $4,300 to $6,500 estimate (the press is in used condition). Part of La Tour d’Argent’s culinary history includes labeling each duck with an individual number, which now range well into the millions.
Most exciting for wine drinkers, 100 bottles of spirits and liquors are leaving La Tour d’Argent’s cellar. The restaurant has long held a reputation for having one of the world’s more comprehensive French wine lists, with an inventory of 350,000 bottles and more than 14,000 selections. This is not the first time La Tour d'Argent has sold off collections from its wine cellar; previous auctions were held in 2009 and 2012.
“Obviously, we’re sad to see them go, but spirits are less consumed now then they once were,” said wine director David Ridgway, who has been with the restaurant since 1981 (the wine program's francophile pride is so strong that in Ridgway's first 10 years, his British nationality was kept secret). Three bottles of Clos de Griffier Cognac from 1788 are estimated to sell for between $22,000 and $28,000 each. “They’re part of history. These were protected through two world wars. Some Cognacs were [made] before the French Revolution.”
History aside, Ridgway expects the bidding for spirits to be strongly based on flavor.
“The way they made Cognacs then and the way they make Cognacs now is not the same. Cognacs used to be more 'pure spirits'; there was no coloring added. Even though these are very old, they’re very pale. It’s quite amazing.”
More than 2,400 wineglasses—all labeled, like the duck press, with La Tour d’Argent’s logo—will be available. Terrail believes some of the Riedel wineglasses may go for less than their original retail price, which was $30 per glass. The low estimate for a set of six glasses is $115.
Furniture pieces include a colored screen depicting the view of the Seine from the restaurant’s dining room (estimated at $2,200 to $3,300) and a large carpet from 1900 ($4,300 to $5,400).
Bidding is currently open online. The full collection is listed at www.artcurial.com, and in-person viewing times are available at the Artcurial headquarter showrooms on the Champs-Élysées boulevard. The auction itself will consist of three sessions, starting Monday afternoon.
The team at La Tour d’Argent said they are looking forward to the auction. “We’re cutting ties with the 18th and 19th century, and moving forward into the 21st,” said Ridgway. “I’ve said farewell to the bottles and kissed them goodbye.”