Lucy Self takes a wonder through la belle Paris and winds up exploring the menu at Camelia…
I love Paris. It’s just so jaw-janglingly beautiful. Even in the ugly bits I walk around with a Cheshire cat smirk on my face, beaming at every shop selling baguettes and elegant old man walking his tiny dog. The bridges at night! The first glimpse of Notre Dame as you come round the corner from the Châtelet metro stop! It just never gets old.
One of the things I’ve been saying I’ll do forever (like going to the theatre more) is spending just a day there, hopping on and off the Eurostar for 12 quality hours with La Ville Lumière. After banging on about said trip for at least eight of the nine years I’ve lived in London, I finally put Paris plan into action a few weeks before Christmas. It was a golden day full of the most predictable subjects (weeping at the stained glass windows of Notre Dame, racing up to the top of the Musée D’Orsey to see the view out of the clock window, skipping across the padlock-adorned Pont de l’Archevêché).
The only really original thing we did was have lunch at Camelia. Not that having lunch at Thierry Marx’s restaurant within the Mandarin Oriental on the Rue Saint Honoré is a particularly ground-breaking idea. It just beats what I usually do (wonder about until a brasserie beguiles me enough to go in which, I have found, can lead to an over-priced and underwhelming lunch).
Once you get through the unassuming entrance, the hotel’s lobby is as wonderfully, orientally over the top as you’d expect it to be. In comparison, the understated taupe and caramel tones of Camelia come as a surprise. It’s all very French (funny that) – full of elegant thin people talking in hushed tones, immaculately laid tables and with a punchily insistent soundtrack of wordless songs. Because it’s a sunny day and (if we’re honest) we find the room a touch claustrophobic, we opted to sit in the charming courtyard garden.
Like Camelia’s interior, the menu is classically French; and executed flawlessly. We started with a terrine of chicken and smoked duck, cleverly accompanied by pressed gingerbread and crisp straws of Granny Smith; and a startling plate of sweet crabmeat over French toast served with a smoothly saporous lobster bisque.
French cooking has the reputation of being somewhat rich and the chef had no compunction proving this point with our main courses. First the ‘veal chop’ – two utterly gorgeous slices of meat burnished to the colour of caramel and a golden cromesquis (fritter) of calf’s foot. This came with three trompette-stuffed tortellini, a smear of parsnip purée and a sauce so intense it needed just a few dots to bring together an already outstanding plate of food.
It was just outshone by a glistening chuck of beef, braised almost black by a long oven session with a bottle of Bordeaux; alongside a ‘gratinated’ (meaning: to cook in a sauce until it absorbs and forms a crust) cannelloni. This is the kind of dish you would choose for your final supper – rib sticking to the point of being wicked but worth every fat-forming mouthful.
A little secret: when it comes to desserts, I tend to only order them so I can sample the sweet wines that match. And, following a very good bottle of Riesling and two courses of pure porkery – a feather light, shock green dome filled with aniseed-laced pear and biscuit base and textbook tarte au citron were the perfect excuse for to round off a stunning meal a sticky glass of Sauternes (some classics are classics for a reason).
Groaning under the weight of a mighty lunch, we stumbled over to the lawned splendor of the Jardin des Tuileries in an attempt to walk off the ten thousand calories we’d just consumed. The sun began to set over the statues and the famous lights of the city began to flicker. I was still grinning from ear to ear…
Camelia – 251 Rue Saint Honoré 75001 Paris
words Lucy Self