Yes to Oyster Soup,
No to Foie Gras and Eggs
A la Marguerite is comfortable, attractive and centrally located.
Why this restaurant is called A la Marguerite (daisy) is a mystery. There is nothing flowery about it. It has a clean, sleek minimalist decor that shows the hand of an architect – none of that imagination-free lounge-style modernity seen in some Parisian cafés. Behind the bar on the ground floor is a fumoir (smoking room) with its own small bar. The dining room is upstairs.
Madeleine and I took a seat by the window with a view over the Les Halles construction site. Only one other table was occupied at lunchtime that day, by three men who collected bottle after bottle of wine on their table until it was completely covered with them. They seemed to be businessmen doing serious tasting rather than drunkards, however. The emptiness of the place was surprising, especially since Madeleine had recently been there at lunchtime when it was packed.
Not being very hungry, I ordered two starters, which at one time would have raised the eyebrows of a French waiter. The charming waitress didn’t even blink. Before the first one
arrived, we were served a hot appetizer: a tasty fricassee of clams with green onions, Espelette pepper and sprouts.
My first starter was nothing short of brilliant: whole raw oysters in a creamy (but not too
creamy) soup with croutons. On the side were strips of bacon, a sprig of ice plant and little celery-stuffed cannelloni (these were rather tasteless) atop a celeriac purée.
The second starter, fried eggs with foie gras and foamy sauce poulette, sounded interesting but wasn’t really: the ingredients were fresh and good, but there was very little foie gras,
and the dish didn’t add up to anything more than the sum of its parts. A few potato chips stuck on top didn’t help.
Madeleine did very well by ordering the set lunch menu. It started with a healthy and tasty small dish of cooked-just-right dorade (sea bream) served with bok choy and a purée of
golden turnips. Her main course was a thick, flavorful Bigorre pork chop with the fat cooked
almost like crackling. It came with a potato gratin so tasty that I couldn’t stop dipping my fork into it, and a purée of lentils.
Dessert for me was an accomplished mi-cuit chocolate cake, made with high-quality chocolate and not too sweet – just the way I like it – with caramel ice cream and a
nougatine wafer. Madeleine’s fixed-price menu came with coffee and mignardises, sweet tidbits including succulent cannelés (rum-flavored pastries with a caramelized crust), financiers (little almond-flavored
cakes) and chocolate truffles. The perfect lunchtime dessert, which gives the reassuring impression that you are not overindulging.
Apart from the unsuccessful pairing of eggs and foie gras, the only demerit I can give this handsome and agreeable restaurant concerns the over-elevated prices. Starters average €15 and main courses €25. The set lunch menu, at €29, is not really a bargain. Could this explain why A la Marguerite was empty at lunchtime the other day?
In the evening, these prices would be more in line with Parisian norms, but just compare them with the subject of our review last week, Jin Xin Lou, where the three-course meal was of comparable quality but cost less than €20. To be fair, however, you are paying for a classier, more centrally located setting at A la Marguerite.
A la Marguerite: 49, rue Berger, 75001 Paris. Métro: Louvre or Les Halles. Tel.: 01 40 28 00 00. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price lunch menu: €29. A la carte: around €55. alamarguerite.com
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