Far from the 1920s enclaves of the Latin Quarter and the more modern cocktail bars that now dot the North Marais, Le Meurice looms over the prestigious rue de Rivoli. Another sort of Paris awaits here, one that has drawn the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling and Elizabeth Taylor. In other words, it’s not the sort of locale that most Parisians have the opportunity to visit, but I was recently given the chance to see the newly refurbished Dali restaurant, located on the ground floor of the hotel – on the same night, I should mention, that Bernadette Chirac, the former French first lady who is so proper she uses the formal vous with her husband, was dining there with her diminutive French dog.
As Salvador Dalí was once one of the Meurice’s most regular customers, spending a month a year in the Royal Suite Alphonse XIII over a period of 30 years, it seems only appropriate that the Meurice give the famed surrealist painter a nod. While it is not the main restaurant of the Meurice – that eponymous three-starred kitchen has been run by chef Alain Ducasse since 2013 – the Dali remains a unique space. French designer Philippe Starck and his daughter Ara had already left their touch on the restaurant in 2007, but now, carpeting designed by Ara reflects the canvas that she had already stretched across its ceiling, etched with Dali’s familiar handwriting over pink and coral tones. These colours are reflected by the copper light fixtures topped with light-colored natural silk throughout the room; Dalí’s topsy-turvy manipulation of images can be seen in the glass teardrops hanging from them and in the angled mirrors that line the walls.
Within this space, Executive Chef Jocelyn Herland proposes a culinary voyage through the Mediterranean with haute-cuisine flair.
We begin with a caponata of vegetables, lighter and more ethereal than any I’ve had before. Melt-in-your-mouth cured ham evokes the terroir of Dali’s native Catalonia, but a revisited patatas bravas takes the proverbial cake: corks of potato are hollowed and fried before being filled with a fermented garlic purée so silky the word doesn’t seem to do the texture justice. These ‘shared plates’ appetisers mark the trend finally reaching the tables of the Meurice; I, for one, am ready to have my own plate again.
The genius of the appetisers left the mains a bit wanting: a John Dory dish served with Mediterranean vegetables was perfectly fine, but it brought nothing new to the staple the way the appetizers had.
Desserts, however, brought a crescendo to the meal: pastry chef Cédric Grolet’s new interpretations of classic French pastries include an herbaceous cherry tart with a pronounced and welcome tarragon accent. The strawberry and basil version, while less unique, was no less delicious.
The service left a small something to be desired, but maybe to be at home in a place like the Meurice, one must first find one’s place amongst the Parisian upper crust. Still, as Paris’ most-desired tables become trendier and hipper, and as much as the kitchen is willing to welcome novelty and creativity, the sumptuous quality of the Meurice remains resolutely the same.
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All images are courtesy of Le Meurice.