Mandarin Oriental in the haute couture district of Paris offers several dining options but it being an enchanting May evening, we opted for alfresco at the Camelia, a secluded terrace garden in the hotel’s inner courtyard.
We began by nibbling away on an array of delicious, truffle-spiced nuts, raisins and sunflower and pumpkin seeds while absorbed in the hotel’s diverse list of champagne cocktails. We chose two out of the six homemade ones: ‘J’aime Paris’ (who doesn’t, especially in Spring?) – bubbly infused with strawberries, basil and limoncello; and ‘Springtime in Paris’ (even harder to find someone who doesn’t) – Aperol, rose wine, bitter rhubarb and grapefruit. There are also 13 creative homemade long and short cocktails. Of these I chose ‘My Green Eyed Love’ (a dangerous choice considering my wife seated beside me is brown-eyed and that it was our 19th wedding anniversary). It was a mouth-wateringly refreshing blend (the drink, not our marriage, though that too) of fresh basil, lime juice, Bombay Sapphire gin, mandarin-based, St. Germaine liqueur bitter plum and bitter lemon soda.
Eating continued with bread. For me, there’s really one place in the world where it’s impossible to turn down this most basic of all foods – and that’s France. At Mandarin, my expectations were more than satisfied by a wonderful, salted variety whose recipe we were informed had been handed down by a veteran chef.
Slices of tuna, pan seared just enough to create a thin crust while trapping the tenderness of the flesh, served in a tangy ginger, yuzu (Japanese citrus) and soya juice, with cauliflower and semolina add-ons, made for an excellent entrée, the combination causing my taste-buds to buzz with delight.
Presentation of my wife’s beef tartare would have persuaded anyone shy of trying such a delicacy to do so, a pudding-like structure, with a base of kohlrabi strings and a hat of mixed greens and dill and a mousse-like texture, flavored with a truffled coulis.
Our salad was a light tangle of assorted leaves so weightless they seemed as if they had been netted from the depths of the sea and dried slowly in the sun. The wines paired for us with the entrees suited perfectly – a Haut Medoc, Chateau Sociando Mallet 2008 and a Pouilly Fuisse, Les Reisses, Domaine Denogent 2011.
Surf and turf options as main dishes are plentiful at Mandarin Oriental’s Camelia. I opted for rump of veal served as two rotund slices, pink as the chefs had suggested, well-textured, having been braised, and accompanied by the latest trendy vegetable, kale, as well as girolle mushrooms. Rummaging through the assortment of tantalizingly sea offerings of calamari, turbot, cod and John Dory, my wife, Columbia, finally settled on lobster which came as a medallion – so no messy work required – with in-season green asparagus and a finger-licking bisque that demanded considerable ‘la scarpetta,’ to use an Italian term, with the delectable bread.
As for ‘afters,’ where would you ever find ‘an inclined’ dessert? Try the Mandarin, under the name ‘Penchant’ – a leaning cocoa and almond shortbread biscuit covered in light chocolate mousse, finished off with a crown of chocolate cream. Dining at the Camelia is truly a sensual experience and in more ways than just taste. Service is efficient, conversation with waiting staff convivial and ambiance au natural. Even the sound of cutlery on Bernardaud tableware tinkled with a pleasing resonance. All praise to chefs de cuisine, Thierry Marx and Ricardo Silva.