Restaurant review: Le Duc, Paris

As Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) lies dying on the Boulevard Raspail at the end of Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout de Souffle, he utters the famous words: "C'est vraiment dégueulasse". What exactly was disgusting - other than being shot down in his prime - is left tantalisingly (nouvelle) vague. One thing is for sure, Godard was not having a dig at Le Duc, the discreet fish restaurant just a few metres away from that very spot.

Discreet is not a word often associated with international haute cuisine; the recent mushrooming of Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsay haute cuisine franchises in Paris, London and New York has encouraged an unparalleled level of hype. And the food, in its quest for astral recognition, is far from discreet. Le Duc, by contrast, unlike most haute cuisine franchises in Paris, London and New York, known to be one of the best addresses for fish and seafood in Paris, is fine dining without the fuss. It doesn't blow its own whistle; it lets its diners do that instead. It has no website, and no complicated booking procedure and, respectful of traditional values, closes on Sundays. The restaurant's exterior neither makes you feel like a VIP (ie windowless and door-manned) nor flaunts its virtues ("my what big langoustines that monsieur is eating"): instead, with its simple windows, half-curtained like any bar or bistro, it gives very little away. Tant mieux for the late President Mitterrand, who dined there regularly.

The interior, a study in downplayed luxe, is like being aboard somebody's yacht. Not a flashy gin palace, but a wood-panelled sailing yacht - the sort on which Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly honeymooned in High Society. By the door is a cabinet display of sailors' knots and above the dozen or so tables large decorative portholes display trophies of marine life. On my Friday night visit, the clientele was distinguished-looking and of a certain age. Among the men there was a prevalence of navy blazers, the discreet uniform of the Parisian upper crust, while the women sported the remnants of an off-season tan - more St Lucia than St Tropez, I suspected. It might have been the lighting, but our charming waiter seemed tanned and fresh off a yacht too.

We were brought weighty wholemeal bread and butter from a regal-looking embossed pot, which any duc would be proud of, to go with a cupful of bigorneaux (mini snails).

We were informed that fish at Le Duc is, on the whole, from Brittany, with the exception of some oysters (Normandy) and salmon (Scotland). The restaurant is known for its raw fish entrées and anything à la vapeur (steamed). I began with an exquisite sea bass tartare with dill mayonnaise and served in a mini silver tureen, with toast. My companion enjoyed robust batons of salmon au nature - raw and gently salted, served with new potatoes. The presentation was unfussy: no Michelin-friendly foam, "jus" or "lit" in sight.

While still avoiding artistry, my main course was nevertheless artistic in its minimalism: a monumental tranche of whiter than white turbot on a large white plate. My companion's monkfish tails with roasted fennel and covered with a layer of creamy lime butter was more classic, but equally succulent. Both were accompanied by a dish of chewy black rice, creamed celeriac, as well as our choice of Pouilly-Fumé.

In keeping with the "less is more" philosophy, there was only one cheese on the menu: Roquefort - a bewilderingly piquant option after such delicate flavours. We passed directly to dessert. My mille-feuilles raised the bar so high I will simply never bother again. My companion's baba au rhum sponge was pronounced "gourmand", as it greedily absorbed the liquor poured on to it.
This kind of cuisine is no less haute, in my mind, than that of Ducasse, Blumenthal et al. And, I might add, with my turbot ringing in at €45, not a great deal cheaper - although I suspect we missed a trick not going for their €46 lunch deal (our two meals, with two glasses of house champagne, a bottle of wine, came to £180). Because of its relative simplicity, Le Duc's cooking trades largely on the freshness and quality of its ingredients; any lack of culinary expertise cannot be masked. Here the ingredients spoke for themselves, leaving us quiet in admiration.

Le Duc, 243 Boulevard Raspail, 75014 Paris; Tel: +33 1 4322 5959