Part of one of our favourite buildings in the city – the Grand Palais – the Minipalais has a spectacular setting, but is the unquestionably expensive food up to scratch? We went down one lunchtime to check them out…
You’d have a hard time fighting back a sense of awe when arriving at the Minipalais. Set in one corner of the Grand Palais, the building’s size and grandeur are jaw-droppingly impressive. And yet, this magnificent edifice has been surprisingly mistreated over the years, notably when the Paris University took possession of certain sections in the 1960; the structure was blithely split into classrooms with no respect for the original architecture, and the loggias now used for the Minipalais’ terrace had glass bricks added, crudely finished off with slapdash cement, damaging the original mosaics. Astounding.
However, all of this was restored between 2009 and 2010, the mosaics recreated, certain stone elements that had not been finished in time for the building’s original opening were put in place. It probably looks better now than it ever has, and if you’re trying to impress someone, arrange to meet them here and you’ll have made a statement before saying a single word.
As for the Minipalais itself, it is housed in a cavernous space that looks onto the main nave on one side, and makes the most of a certain theatricality with shadowy projections and giant tarpaulins that look like the backdrop to a play. Industrial-style lighting and a touch of colour give a contemporary touch, helping to lift the feeling of ever-present safe earth tones, and scattered pieces of sculpture give the impression of being in a the giant workshop of some artist. A lot of untreated wood is also used, notably to hide the kitchens, accentuating the feeling that a lot of going on ‘backstage’. This is a space that makes a statement, with great use of the high ceiling.There’s a lounge area to one side where you can wait while your table is readied, and a bar with windows behind that look onto the main nave. Although we were there in winter, when it was closed, the columned terrace is immense and a prime spot for lunch. We did a quick film looking around the room to give you an idea of how big it all is. Our waitress was hardly phased at all!
Once settled in at our table, we started dissecting the menu. And it is not cheap. Don’t forget you are in a historic building, just off the Champs Elysées, not far from the French President’s place of residence, eating food ‘imagined’ (as opposed to cooked) by Michelin-starred chef Eric Frechon. The crowd is very obviously wealthy and not always particularly sympathetic (the ladies at the table next to ours sent back their bottle of pink champagne because it ‘tasted funny’). However, for your money you are offered what looks like some great food, and there are an impressive number of young waiters, meaning that you are served quickly and efficiently (and even whilst waiting you can crunch away on lovely fresh bread and the complementary gougère).Although there is a two-course lunch menu at 28 euros, we decided to eat a main course and dessert à la carte (the first courses cost between 8 and 15 euros). The John Dory roasted with laurel is served on a bed of caviar d’aubergines prepared with porcino mushroom. It was beautifully served and had a great mushroomy smell.The ‘pearly’ cod was served with white beans in a bouillon perfumed with coriander and lemongrass, although we though we also tasted a hint of ginger and perhaps caramel. The bouillon was poured onto the dish at our table, making sure that it was piping hot.The pasta dish is gnocco (not gnocci; these ones are shell-liked, not solid) cooked like a risotto, but with a tiny piece of chorizo inserted into each one (how do they find the time?!) and served with lightly cooked rocket. It’s one of the cheapesr dishes on the menu, and perhaps one of the most impressive, taste-wise.But the real tour de force for us was the pan-fried scallops with a celery and coconut milk puree and foam. Not only did it look spectacular, but the coconut was a great and surprising element, used for both taste and texture. Very impressive stuff (as well it should be at 31 euros). The modest size of our main courses left us with enough room for dessert. Perhaps they do this on purpose? 😉 One member of our party decided to go for the café gourmand, a mix of mini desserts (fresh fruit salad, butter biscuit cookie, caramel pot) served with an expresso coffee. Another chose a mont blanc dessert (made with piped chestnut puree) flavoured with rum, but although it was agreeable, you couldn’t call it amazing (especially at 9 euros). And our final choice was taken from the menu of the day, a coffee eclair with Bailey’s cream. Once again, it was light and well presented, but nothing to write home about, and if the ingredients hadn’t been marked on the menu, we would have had a hard time telling you what they were.Finishing off with a quick coffee, it came served with little marshmallows. Lovely to look at,great texture… but with such a ‘subtle’ taste that we weren’t sure what was in them.Apart from the desserts – that were less impressive than the rest of our meal – we had a wonderful, relaxing time at the Minipalais. The setting is stunning, the service is both laid back and impeccable, and the prices are quite logically high, but for a special occasion we would recommend it, and we hope to be back during the summer to try out the amazing terrace!
The Minipalais (here) is open every day of the week non-stop from 10am until 11.30pm. Think to book about a week in advance. Telephone: +33 1 42 56 42 42
Official site: www.minipalais.com
Download the menu here if you’re curious.
And we think their presentation film below is pretty kitsch!