By now we are talking about Emmanuel Macron, France's new president. Huppert is puzzled by how quickly the press has turned on him after he defeated Marine Le Pen in May's presidential elections. Since then the 39-year-old has won a majority in parliamentary elections and introduced a grand presidential style that he has described as "Jupiterian" and which the leftwing press has denounced as revealing autocratic leanings.
"He was elected with a certain enthusiasm and immediately we grow suspicious," she says. "It's strange. We don't even give him the time . . . Since Macron's identity is to have blurred the right and left, criticism comes from the right and left. Now doomsayers will tell you that by blowing up the right and left, everything is in place for the far-right to reach power next time . . . Personally, I want to believe in him, and for a while."
After such a good start, the mozzarella and strawberries salad feels bland, but we take comfort in the mighty whole salmon - over one metre long, from Scotland, cooked in a crust of salt - to which we are briefly introduced. It has been a momentous year for Huppert on a personal level too. But she is typically insouciant about her Oscar nomination for Best Actress. "If I had gone through all this in a little country . . . but it's America, it's irrational, it's blown out of proportion. It tells a lot about how people relate to America. When you're there, you're just in a town called Los Angeles." She seems more overwhelmed by her recent trip to China, where she gave live readings of Marguerite Duras's The Lover - a partly autobiographical novel about the author's affair, when she was 15, with an older Chinese man in colonial Vietnam - to huge crowds. "They knew it so well. The reactions afterwards were insane, so enthusiastic. It was moving."
Next up is an unexpected mustard sorbet in a cold cucumber soup that brings back memories of the late New Wave director Claude Chabrol, who directed Huppert in seven films. The bespectacled bon vivant used to pick locations according to his love of haute cuisine. Around New Year's Eve 1996 in Savoie, he insisted on driving 40km through a blizzard to get to chef Marc Veyrat's restaurant near Annecy in the Alps. "We thought we would never make it," Huppert recalls. When they arrived, the heating was broken and the place was empty, barring a party of Japanese tourists.
Chabrol once said that he saw "eye to eye" with Huppert and that she would "never cease to surprise me and perform better than anything I have dreamt of." Huppert has described her bond with him as "filial". She excelled in his Balzac-like depictions of perversion amid the provincial bourgeoisie. In 1978, he chose her to play the title role in Violette Nozière, the true story of a 1930s teenager who poisoned her father and was sentenced to the guillotine. Huppert won the Cannes Festival's Best Actress award for the role. Her success in Nozière heralded a series of ambiguous female characters and a second Best Actress award in Cannes for Michael Haneke's 2001 The Piano Teacher. More recently, she has featured in comedies. But her performance in Paul Verhoeven's Elle, as a rape victim who engages in a sexual game with her attacker, is further testimony to her mastery of darker characters.
Before she goes into this there is a more pressing issue: she wants to change the wine. Taken aback, the sommelier brings a lighter bourgogne, but I find it too acid. As he heads back to his cellar, grumbling - he will bring a decent red from Côte Roannaises - a tall figure marches towards us: it is Passard. "Imagine, people want to eat tomatoes in winter, when all they need is a good parsnip soup!" he exclaims. Huppert promises she will no longer eat tomatoes in winter, but it is summer and we happily tuck into our thin tomato tart, topped with purple basil and anchovies. As she does so, she speculates about a man eating alone and scrutinises a party of eight, probably an American family. But observation is not the inspiration for her minimalist acting, she insists. "It's all inside, vertical, not at all panoramic. I can be an actress without getting out of my bedroom. I like watching people, it amuses me, but it has nothing to do with my work. Now, observing people in the street, to see that most have pretty empty gazes, it gives me one clue, essentially that I need to do less. Fiction tends to inflate everything. Observation pushes you to subtract, rather than to add."
This surely applies to her character in Elle. At first, Michèle seems to brush aside her rape and move on to deal with other crises - her unemployed son who is about to become a father, her irritable daughter-in-law, her mother who wants to remarry with a younger man, her video-game company and her sick father, in prison for going on a killing rampage when she was 10. After the rape, she picks up the broken glass on her kitchen floor, takes a bath, orders sushi. She stays alone in her big house, even after realising that her rapist is the neighbour about whom she fantasises. "The many subplots are intended to show she puts the rape at the same level as her many other issues," says Huppert. "She wants it to be almost like a non-event, which makes it highly troubling. At the beginning of the film, you could think the rape is minimised. But the end is perfectly clear."
She says the film raises more questions than it provides answers. Its success, especially in the US, surprised her. She found out later that Verhoeven had envisaged a Hollywood twist and a US actress for the role but that none of those approached accepted it. "There's a form of provocation," she says of the director. "It's a way to send a message to Hollywood, even if he offends a lot of people in passing. But all ended really well. And he said he could never have directed another actress, so he has admitted his weakness."