Camélia at Mandarin Oriental Paris

by Annabelle Hood - Tuesday March 1, 2016 9:03 am

251 rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris, France www.mandarinoriental.com/paris

Annabelle Hood dines à la carte at Thierry Marx’s unusually decorated Camélia in Paris

There are times I catch myself loudly sighing at my catalogue of (judgment) errors. Take the first and only time I visited Dubai; it managed to rain for two of the three days. Another time, thanks to card clash, I got stuck in a lift in Shanghai’s tallest hotel. Sigh.

Most recently, I excitedly booked a table for two (a Birthday treat for a girlfriend braving a marital breakup) at what I thought was Thierry Marx’s fine-dining restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Paris. What I’d failed to note is that the Michelin-starred ‘Sur Mesur’ is closed on Mondays. So we turned up somewhat spruced up on a Monday night to find ourselves dining at its sister restaurant Camélia, surrounded by burly businessmen in jeans and open-collar shirts.

Don’t get me wrong; Camélia is a perfectly respectable and indeed very good, all-day brasserie, but when you’re expecting to turn ‘left’ on board – let’s just say, it’s not quite the same.

I’d love to say that a flat apperitif of 2009 Roederer Rosé ‘fizz’ poured from a Magnum lifted the spirits (ironically the wine menu’s Champagnes are listed under Les Effervescents. At €28 a glass, it’s fair to expect a few bubbles, non?), but I’d be fibbing if I did.

No, what perked us up was the waiters’ friendly, relaxed service (wow – in Paris?) and the diverting décor of the striking room itself: Vast overlapping white petals lining its curved backlit walls – a nod to the restaurant’s floral name – although it could be argued that the petals also resembled teeth, but I appreciate ‘Les Gnashers’ doesn’t have quite have the same ring to it.

The restaurant’s entrance is flanked by a large chilled cake cabinet (for Afternoon Tea) and there’s a central ‘bar’ in the middle of the room, with a Gaudiesque alcove on one side of it and a leafy courtyard on the other. The best tables facing the garden were occupied, so we sat at one of the tables dotted along the illuminated wall. Unfortunately it was too chilly to sit outside, but ‘La Table du Jardin’, a raised metal pod, looked fun for parties of up to 8 people eating al fresco.

Then came the food; thankfully the most diverting element of all. Camélia’s seasonal menu offered a novel mélange of French, Japanese and even Moroccan cuisine thanks to a collaboration with native female chef Meryem Cherkaoui at the time of our visit. We eschewed the Taster Menu and chose from the extensive and eclectic à la carte menu, which proudly noted that all Camélia’s meats have French provenance, with the exception of beef, which they source from Ireland.

My spirits soared biting in to ‘Le Tourteau’ (€36); a domed crab raviolo perched on a tangy disc of green apple and cucumber jelly redolent of grass meadows, with banana avocado guacamole dotted over the plate like cherubs' tears. I now know empirically how “nectar of the gods” tastes.

An excellent Franco-Oriental fusion of ‘Le Canard’ (€38) followed – amber medallions of lacquered duck breast marinated in ginger and saffron, garnished with a rectangular mound of vermicelli, glazed carrots and majhoul dates.

We dipped a toe in some homemade icecream (the list is impressive, as are their teas, which include the Sencha green tea delicacy Japanese Gyokuro), before rising from the table like sloths, still curious to ogle the Sur Mesur restaurant that might’ve been.

The Maitre-D spotted us slovenly approaching the low-lit hip Bar 8, and kindly let us take a peek at Thierry Marx’s elegant fine-dining restaurant: Its starched tables lined the four sides of an external glass atrium. The room’s white wallpaper peeled wittily off the walls, akin to Fontana-esque scrolls; blank canvases awaiting tomorrow’s fortunate diners. Sigh.

Leaving the Mandarin Oriental, a lump lodged in our throats as we tottered past a tramp huddled against the chilly night air of the famously upmarket Rue St. Honoré. Beggars truly cannot be choosers. Mindful of this, I sighed with gratitude at my happy mistake.

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