BUZZ: L'Opera Restaurant and Camelia at Mandarin Oriental

By Margaret Kemp

L'Opera Restaurant. Photo: M. Kemp.L’Opéra Restaurant, Paris 9th

The Paris Garnier Opera House is magnificent; Garnier's handsome building (started in 1862, inaugurated in 1875) with its sumptuous staircase, mass of sculptures, glittering chandeliers and Marc Chagall-decorated ceiling are breathtaking. That ramp, on the rue Scribe side, was built so royalty could be driven, in their carriages, straight to the royal box! Today there's valet parking (10€).

Charles Garnier really wanted a restaurant, but it was not to be until 135 years later and a successful bid by Pierre-François Blanc to Commission Nationale des Monuments Historiques. Another five years and, rumor has it, 6 million euros later (Blanc won't comment, “quand on aime on compte pas,” he says), L'Opéra Restaurant is open. Architect Odile Decq has created a contemporary red, grey glass and steel bubble. Some love it, some loathe it, but all have a comment.

The terrace has space for 180, with parasols and a very sunny aspect. Inside there are 80 seats on the ground floor and 90 on the mezzanine. “We're 'running in' at the moment,” admits Blanc. He searched France for a chef, says he had meetings with remarkable men before asking Michelin 2-star Christophe Aribert (Les Terrasses d’Uriage, Isère) to compose the menus. “Christophe's classic/contemporary approach is just right for L'Opéra,” says Blanc. Working with Aribert is young talent Yann Tonneau (Castel Beau Site and Mama Shelter) and Chef Patissier Hervé Moreau, recently at Pierre Gagnaire.

Wines are displayed in a refrigerated glass cabinet and there's the Martini Bar for cocktails or Champagne before or after the performance. A well-stocked boutique is accessed from the restaurant and sells Jean Paucton's honey from the hives on the roof. As you would expect there's “house” music everywhere, even on the sunny south-facing terrace. And the loos, darling, are a sensorial experience.

L'Opera Restaurant. Photo: M. Kemp.

The dishes, which Blanc hopes will attract Michelin, are inspired by the two chefs' origins. So, le homard, le merlan and la sole are attributed to Brittany-born Tonneau. But, as it's breaded and served “Grenobloise” with a touch of maple syrup and a side of Hollandaise, it's obvious there's amicable collaboration going on backstage. Aribert takes credit for an excellent trout, smoked with Royan ravioli, a broth of Comté cheese, nuts and champignons de Paris. Tender Guinea fowl is roasted, served with baby carrots, purée of carrots, citronnelle, sesame and Opera honey. Lobster is paired with cooked and raw fennel, a broth of lobster “américaine.

L'Opera Restaurant. Photo: M. Kemp.

No prizes for guessing the desserts: there’s L'Opéra in all its coffee-chocolate glory, but there's also a contemporary version with yellow Chartreuse and nuts. Melba classique, Clafoutis contemporain . . .  let's hope they add Pavlova. “People come in all the time, criticize the décor and leave,” sighs Blanc. “But often, after a Martini Charles or a “Phantôm by Martini” at the bar they come over and congratulate me on a job well done!”

Whatever, L'Opéra Restaurant will bring a young crowd to the Opera House, a new joie de vivre, a new era's beginning. Demandez le programme.

World Opera Houses with restaurants include: Vienna, Austria; Sydney, Australia; Covent Garden, London, UK; Sweden; and San Francisco, Lincoln Center/NY, and Houston, USA.

L'Opéra Restaurant

Palais Garnier

Tél: 01 42 68 86 80

Place Jacques Rouché, Paris 9th

Métro: Opéra

Lunch menu 40€ (from September)

A la carte about 70€ + wine

Open 7/7 from 7am-midnight

Camélia at the Mandarin Oriental, Paris 1st

Arriving at Camélia, Mandarin Oriental's restaurant that spills out onto lush gardens, guests forget their calorie count when confronted with the dazzling display of pastry by young patissier Pierre Mathieu (ex-Cordeillan Bages with Thierry Marx). All the classics are there, with Mathieu's spin on Saint Honoré, the patron saint of pastry, also the rue on which the newly opened hotel is located.

Camelia at Mandarin Oriental. Photo: M. Kemp.

“We've got all-day dining here,” explains executive chef Thierry Marx. “Clients arrive with jet lag and can have breakfast, lunch or dinner at hours to suit them, not the restaurant staff. We also have a 45€/45-minutes menu for hurried guests.”

In the garden, the chef's table seats 8 in a massive birdcage, so you feel like Vanessa Paradis in the Chanel ad. The menu changes frequently, is traditional with touches of Asia, as in: sea bream with wafer-thin turnip ravioli or roast organic chicken with a touch of curry, fromage blanc and coconut rice.

Or, sit at the bar, watch the “live cooking” and order dim sum or sushi from the Teppanyaki counter. The room and garden attract a very mixed crowd including movie stars, businessmen, fashionistas, tourists, and of course, “the ladies who do” who can't resist Pierre Mathieu's tea-time treats, which they also take home in designer boxes and swear, “Of course I made them.”

Camélia

Mandarin Oriental, Paris

Tél: 01 7098 7888

251, rue Saint Honoré, Paris 1st

Métro: Concorde

Open 7/7

Average Spend 50-70€ + wine

All day menus for informal eating

New York, New York 52€

Tokyo 55€

Margaret Kemp is a Cordon Bleu graduate who spent a year traveling the world, working and watching in the kitchens of top chefs from Sydney, Australia via Bangkok, Hong Kong, California, New York and France. She reports for BonjourParis on the latest European trends, restaurants and hot spots.

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