The Dôme du Marais has seen better days.
Imagine the delight I took in discovering a restaurant in a former 18th-century auction house in the heart of the Marais, recently reopened after refurbishment …
The Dôme du Marais has seen better days.
Pros: handsome, stately architecture; genial, discerning sommelier
Cons: overrated, overpriced food; sporadic service; neglectful management
Imagine the delight I took in discovering a restaurant in a former 18th-century auction house in the heart of the Marais, recently reopened after refurbishment and, under its previous management, a favorite haunt for many Parisians. Then imagine my disappointment when, in the round, neoclassical dining room under a plate-glass cupola surrounded by an ornate balcony, with white tablecloths and flickering tea candles on the tables and gilded mirrors reflecting to infinity, the food – at par-bistro quality and exorbitant cost – arrived.
But I’m jumping the gun. The experience started well enough, with a young, pleasant waitress rapidly serving us an amuse-bouche of crème de chevre mixed with shallots, chives and – hmm, something mysterious? – topped with radiant radish roots and accompanied by a basket of thick, doughy bread. The considerate, savvy sommelier—who, I suspect, is the sole survivor of the place from its bygone glory days—suggested a Domaine de Montrieux 2006 Vendômois Rouge, which proved as delectably “perlant” as he’d described it. When I asked about the mystery ingredient in the appetizer, he extended himself beyond the wine, scurried to the kitchen and returned with a prompt answer: sundried tomatoes.
Then, all at once, the no-fun-and-games began. While the menu showed promise, it offered no fixed option and listed rocket-high prices. The starters arrived almost before the order escaped our mouths – a mere 10 minutes after we sat down (had they been pre-prepared?) – and with senseless, lazy accompaniments. My friend’s sea-bass tartare, though fresh and correct, came with a soggy pile of bean sprouts and spinach, a lime wedge and an overdose of coriander. My own choice, langoustines de Bretagne, was somewhat over-grilled and lukewarm, but vanquished by a weepy mix of salad greens, slivers of parmesan and, defying the limits of cheesiness, a large Gouda biscuit.
By this point, everything started getting my goat: a bottle of tepid tap water; loud speakers-cum-eyesores propped around the balcony and pumping out exasperating pop music; ugly carpeting, dark and dank. The armless striped red chairs at neighboring tables, which were occupied by a largely fuddy-duddy clientele, looked tatty and tired, while our own table, in the center of the room, simply austere, was covered in stained taupe suede. What’s worse, the owner showed less interest in tending to his customers than in flirting with his assistant (wife?); she traipsed around with long, untied hair, a summery dress and bare legs, totally out of keeping with the venerable surroundings.
Alas, the plats emerged before we could say “boo.” My daurade Tom Yam, a crispy fillet of bream, was out-swum by soggy mungo beans and spinach (overcooked or merely canned?), at €24 no less. Meanwhile, my friend’s chicken was drowned out by a sauce of morilles, un-snappy sugar peas and burn-stained green beans, given a break by a narrow slab of tepid, bland potato.
As if it couldn’t get more inappropriate, the proprietor gazed on indifferently as we made a fast exit before dessert – only an hour after our arrival—sans bonsoir or merci, just check and coat-check, as he obviously had better things to do, like greet his incoming friends with bisous.
Never mind, it all ended happily on the terrace of a nearby café, where a tattooed, mohawked waiter proved more hospitable, and the paprika Pringles and cheap-and-cheerful mojitos more enjoyable than anyone or anything we had encountered earlier that evening.
Le Dôme du Marais: 53, rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75004. Métro: Saint Paul. Tel.: 01 42 74 54 17. Open Tuesday-Saturday. A la carte: around €55. www.ledomedumarais.fr
Reader François-Marc Chaballier writes: “My wife and I had the same, sad, experience. The old ‘Dôme’ was where we went for a special occasion within easy walking distance. We were never disappointed: creative, light, dishes with lots of flavors, attentive service from the sommelier (Philippe; must be the one alluded to in the review) and the headwaiter (Jacky; I suppose he is now gone). The restaurant was then run by professionals (I think the owner-chef once had a one-Michelin star establishment in Nantes), who took pride in their work. We never had a bad, or even indifferent, meal then. The menu changed often, with the seasons (Ah, the lièvre à la royale during game season…), using only fresh, quality, ingredients.
“Our latest visit, which shall be the last, was a terrible disappointment. I suspect the food is now frozen or dry-packed. There are many fewer people in the kitchen (there was quite a large crew before). The young couple that seems to own it is clearly more suited to running a trendy ready-to-wear shop than a restaurant. They simply do not have a clue. The old timers among the staff seemed ashamed of the new régime.
“I was told by a neighbour who is in the food business that the former owner, Mr. Lecoutre, gave up because it got to be too much for him, getting up to go to Rungis and buy his ingredients every morning at 5, on top of running the Café des Musées (corner of Rue de Turenne and rue du Parc Royal, in the 3rd), which he still has. We plan to try it sometimes, although it is a bistro, not a gastronomique restaurant, but it has a good reputation.
“That last visit was like losing an old friend.”
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