The new address..
Thierry Marx is no new chef on the block. Often labelled “French Andria Ferran,” this possessor of two Michelin stars from Bordeaux is widely known for his molecular approach and iconoclastic take on French gastronomy. This I found very exciting, especially when the Paris top (Michelin) dogs – Gagnaire, Passard, Robuchon, or even Barbot – often serve up innovations that rarely defy French culinary prestige.
At the brand new Mandarin Oriental Paris, Marx conjured a scene of total chicness. A creamy minimalist enclave, well padded walls on which were hung immaculately patched cloth sculptures by Patrick Jouin spoke volume of its fashionable location, rue St Honore, just opposite rue Cambon where Chanel opened her first boutique. Sur Mesure – the name of the restaurant meaning “tailor made” – reflected this.
Molecular, french… and Oriental?
The menu at Sur Mesure, however, was not quite “tailor made” as its name suggested. Diners followed patterned tasting menus of either six (€145) or nine (€180) courses. There were, certainly, the French pride of foie gras and truffle but the culinary promise seemingly lay in Marx’s imaginative (or sometimes perplexed) coupling of eastern ingredients with French techniques. Say, beansprout risotto with truffle!?
The meal commenced with something not quite mind-blowing. Crisps of oriental seasonings – nori, curry powder, and sesame in that order – were discernible in flavour. I enjoyed the seaweed-ed one most and thought the curried verged on being bitter. My real issue was that for €180 per person I should not be breaking these crisps to share. “Carotte Structure & Destructure” arrived as three bowls of amuse-bouche. The first – made from turning grated carrots into a block and was half way between sandy and mousse-y – escaped me in taste. Another was carrot puree on a crispy disc with a line of balsamic vinegar. Fruity acidity worked well with the fine velvety carrot. Full of texture, too. I also enjoyed the last offering of red and white carrot wrapped in roasted meat and served with mustard drizzle. Fresh peppery-ness of grated carrots brought life to the tender, albeit muted, beef. Very Japanese and sushi-like.
“Oeuf Translucide” was the dish both of us would not mind having another go at. Two textures of an egg – a slow-cooked gelatinous yolk toppled with an agar-like blanket of egg white – were creatively garnished with Parmesan cheese. On the bottom was a curd-y Parmesan layer; then, Parmesan foam; then, Parmesan infused biscuit; and then, crusty Parmesan sand. The minimalistic interplay of these two ingredients (both of which are my favourite) resulted in a dish rich of, well, egg and Parmesan comfort. On the one hand it was a joy to lick protein-filled gooey-ness off the spoon and delighted in cheesy intensity. On the other, this was, in all honesty, much ado about nothing.
Also comforting and interesting was “Presse de Foie Gras, Anguille Fume ‘Terre et Estuaire’ “. This brought to my mind the exceptional smoked eel and foie gras dish I had at Martin Berasategui. At Sur Mesur, a firmly pressed finger of foie gras found a new companion in smoked herring. This arrived thinly glazed with apple on top. The fruity caramel injected a typical sweetness required in a foie gras dish, while the herring – there was not much fish in sight – contributed an aroma of saltiness. I enjoyed the wafer thin toasts very much.
“Semi-Pris de Coquillages, Longuet Caviar” was a chilled dish of many disparate components, starting with jellied fish emulsion, pickled beetroots, shallot cloud with chopped razor clams and a finger sandwich of chicken mousseline with caviar. It all looked so pretty but along came the frustration of how to eat this dish properly. Should I hop from point A to B to C, jelly to foam to sandwich, or to put all in my mouth at once. The taste, however, reminded me of spring and was well worth the frustration. The vibrancy of the sea elements and distilled sweet cloud of shallot clarified the depth of the mousseline sandwich and caviar.
I also found “Risotto de Soja aux Huitres, Truffe Noire” uniquely and utterly mind-blowing for many reasons, but first and foremost was the fact that I paid for an €180 menu to eat beansprouts. The French waiter instructed me to put the spoon in my mouth. This was not entirely patronising as the spoon contained a spill of black truffle oil, which I could otherwise have mistaken for a spoon uncleaned for a Michelin-star standard. One spoonful (after my truffle oil licking) revealed unrivalled excitement. These translucent pearls of chopped up beansprouts tasted exactly like beansprouts. From an Asian point of view, I was really intrigued by the method but completely underwhelmed by the taste. Beansprouts themselves are crunchy but quite watery and are usually cooked with ingredients of a more solid texture. To pair them with something so light as truffle infused oyster foam, in my opinion, was to underplay the texture contrast and what was left was just.. beansprouts. That said, I found the additional ingredient of oyster (not Oyster Sauce, or else I would be shouting profanity) springy and doused in sea richness to have worked wonders. I was glad I had this dish and had to give credit to Marx for being very brave, though.
“Coquille St Jacques, Ananas/ Cardamome” was a deconstructed curry and suffered from an excruciatingly linear presentation. On my far right was pineapple emulsion, curry powder (?), yuzu foam, cardamom-scented scallops, some unidentifiable green thing, and coconut cake. The sweet dimension from pineapple, coconut and cardamom dominated the dish and came in play with subtle layers of tangy acidity. I found myself surprisingly besotted to this – very much like eating a rethought bowl of Annasi Maluwa curry.
Less outrageous in interpretation was “Cochon de Lait Confit/ Croustillant, Salsifis/ Chataignes” (The Other Bib’s dish). Expertly confit sucking pig was moist and exuberantly jus-ed. The juxtaposition between creamy nutty-ness of salsify and chestnut was successful but nothing to scream about. I did scream, however, when I spooned the side of Boudin Noir with chestnut mousse and crispy chestnut in my mouth. The infiltration between sweetness and porky depth was sublime. My “Boeuf Bearnaise, Pomme de Terre”, compared to the pig, became a dish of nonchalance. Just a good piece of beef with a thick Bearnaise sauce ball (again a Much Ado About Nothing) and truffled mashed potatoes that resembled dried out gnocchi.
“Sweet Bento & Ylang- Ylang” was a block of beauty. First was Pistachio Cake with Cherry and Almond Mousse – so fluffed up and delicate as if eating cloud. It was followed by an obscene piece of dark chocolate mousse with toasted rice. Then, a trio of petit four. My favourite was the toffee-like hazelnut biscuit. And, the zingy Guacamole and White Chocolate Foam and Ganache. The bigger plates of “Foret Noire” and “Tatin Spirit” were delicious but redundant. If the meal had ended with the Bento, we would have feel sufficiently and satisfyingly fed. While I liked the cherry intensity coupling with ethereal mousse in Foret Noire, I couldn’t bear the multi-layered apple-ness of Tatin Spirit. Cider jelly, apple millefeuille, apple ice cream, apple this and that…boiled down to my memory of uncomfortably sugary dessert.
As unique as it gets..
I (and The Other Bib) liked Sur Mesure, generally.
Marx, in the context of France, is undeniably different. The most of my meal at Sur Mesure was interesting and unique. This also owes much to my recent Parisian gastronomic experience. The new “hip” addresses in Paris seem to be employing Arpege and Gagnaire alumni as head chefs (which isn’t at all a bad thing). The result, I feel, is that the innovative approaches become quite studied and sustained within the marriage of those two schools of cooking. Marx, definitely, fills in the niche. That aside, I also find Marx’s intercultural viewpoints daring and inspiring. Not everything works, but, say, the beansprout risotto, though not the most delicious thing I have ever eaten, will stick in my head and my taste bud for a long, long time.
However, to place my meal at Sur Mesure in a broader restaurant context, I couldn’t help feeling Marx’s level of innovation – especially in regard with molecular gastronomy – borders on being dated. Martin B but around year 2006? The dissected approach to plating which one needs to hop from one ingredient to another is a burden of eating to diners and constituted a soul-less exploration of flavours instead of a joyful gastronomic encounter. There will be time for me to fall in love with molecular cuisine (and maybe Thierry Marx) but it was not there or now.
Go for: Innovation. Hip ambiance.
RATING: 3 out of 5
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Paris
rue St Honore
Tel. +331 70 98 78 88