The Mini Palais joins nearby Parisian cultural gems Le Grand Palais and Le Petit Palais as the gourmet pearl of the trio. Located on Avenue Winston-Churchill, the Mini Palais, which caters to the epicurean fancies of visiting and local bon-vivants, has been open since September 2010: an introduction is long overdue!
Mini Palais, maxi pleasure? Yes, the title of our piece is rather facile. But truly, the only thing ‘mini’ about the Mini Palais is the name - an easy target for a bon-mot. In French, ‘palais’ means ‘palace’, but it also means ‘palate’, and it is indeed the palate that concerns us here, and more generally the well-being of the senses and enjoyment of fine food.
At the risk of diverting attention away from the chefs, I’ll say it anyway: the Mini Palais begins with the highly impressive 300 m² peristyle that is its terrace. I can just hear head chefs Éric Fréchon (consulting chef) and Stéphane d’Aboville (executive chef) grumbling backstage. Patience, cooks, allow me to explain. In summer, the Mini Palais terrace - with its restored mosaics, colossal imperial columns and elegant statues - features a Champagne bar which is open every evening from 6 pm to midnight. Pianist Pierre-Yves Plat tinkles away as bubbles and happy thoughts rise to the surface. A clever lighting scheme projects touches of light onto the façade. When night falls, it’s easy to follow Woody Allen’s lead in Midnight in Paris and imagine Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald arguing at the bar while virile Ernest Hemingway -sitting solo at another table with a cigarillo between his teeth - ruminates over his literary genius and the animal nature inherent to humankind.
If the evening becomes suddenly chilly, you can take refuge inside the dining room designed by architects Gilles & Boissier. High ceilings, waxed floors, large bay windows, wood and leather furnishings, a ballet of impeccably professional waiters: it had been ages since we so enjoyed the genuine spirit of the (upscale) Parisian brasserie: chic, authentic and relaxed. No need for a suit and tie - just bring your appetite. The elegant manager, René Carbonnière formerly from Le Bristol, welcomes you and leads you to your table. The colourful earth-and-sea menu was created by 30-year-old Stéphane d’Aboville, former sous-chef of Le Bristol, and inspired by Éric Fréchon, the triple-starred chef of the same famed restaurant on the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré. Fréchon says, ‘In keeping with my culinary ambitions, I work with the masters of each of a number of specialties: Philippe Camdeborde for delicatessen, Bordier for butter, Claude Raffin in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie for his small-boat fish … Most of them are also our suppliers at Le Bristol.’ Thus the Mini Palais functions on a diet of three-star ingredients - a fine reason to work with a perfectionist chef who doesn’t cut corners where quality is concerned.
The starters, inspired by the bounty of the season, subtly bring together different elements of fresh spring produce, as with the cold soup of white asparagus and petit pois mousseline with fresh mint or the cantaloupe in watermelon jelly with coppa, honey and black pepper sorbet. The main courses are perhaps more classic, offering fine fish, as in the Grilled John Dory, tomato carpaccio and Colonnata bacon,and meat dishes such as Grilled lamb chops with harissa, a perfectly simple recipe which perfectly honours the meat. Finally, desserts are exclamation points ending a meal which leaves you satisfied without being stuffed to the gills. Try the exquisite wild strawberries served with yogurt sorbet and basil.
Amongst my very favourite dishes: for starters, vintage sardines with seaweed butter; for meat, the pork belly cooked at low temperature for fourteen hours, then grilled and served with a side of agria (mashed potatoes) with mustard from Meaux; and for Fridays, the almond-crusted whiting with a New Zealand spinach salad, piquillos and capers, a delicious take on the famous almond-crusted whiting served at the Bristol. Finally, how can anyone resist the giant rum baba and its vanilla cream, a Creole halo which transforms the patron into a saint and absolves the sin of gluttony?
When the meal is over, walk towards the Pont Alexandre-III and enjoy quintessential Paris in all of her patent, ineffable beauty as the Eiffel Tower shimmers in the distance.
Tel: (33) 01 42 56 42 42
Open daily from 10 am ‘til 2 am. Approximately € 45 per person. Valet service.