December 9, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

Frayed Beauty Awaits Savior

mollard restaurant, paris
The fabulous decor needs some tender, loving care, as does the food.

Ask any Michelin inspector what a chef needs to get starred, and he will tell you that it’s almost as much about the decor as about the food. Well, here’s a decor that, if some tender loving care were lavished on it, would be a shoe-in. Mollard’s interior was designed in 1895 by the Dutch-born architect Edouard-Jean Niermans, who, according to my trusty (but not always trusted) Wikipedia, was closely involved in makeovers of the Folies Bergères and Moulin Rouge. His other high-profile achievement was the Negresco in Nice.

To our jaundiced eye, it’s gorgeous. Every surface glitters with Art Nouveau mosaics originally executed by Italian mosaicists, and everywhere there are Caillebotte-style scenes of elegant fin-de-siècle Parisians doing leisurely things. The pictures were made in the ceramics manufactures of Sarreguemines, in then-German-administered Alsace-Lorraine.

When my girlfriend and I wandered in one Friday evening with Bertie the Gastrohound after an aperitif at a friend’s place nearby, there was a healthy-sounding buzz and a bustle of hierarchically disguised staff – the important ones in suits and bow-ties, the waiters in black vests and long white aprons, and the hat-check girl in a strict anthracite power suit.

I seemed to imagine hearing that it had changed hands since the last time we went there a few years back, when we came away saying that the best thing that could happen to it would be to be taken over by the Flo Group, a great snapper-up of fine period interiors like those of Julien or Terminus Nord. My memory of that earlier visit is one of jaded staff and their geriatric jokes, tired food and decor, and a place just about to drop off the branch, an event that, had it happened, would certainly not have been of earth-shattering importance.

But my imagination, not for the first time, had failed me, and the waiter proudly told me that it was still in the same pair of hands that have held it for the past half-century. And there’s the rub.

Mollard is seriously frayed around the edges – literally. After passing the traditional array of seafood outdoors, you enter through a brushed-satin-draped airlock that has seen far better days and blends with the central decor like marshmallow and octopus. Those unlucky enough to be seated near this door, as we were, suffer the slings and arrows of icy blasts as staff come and go with trays of seafood and as diners go in and out.

Go to the toilets and you descend a creaking staircase on a threadbare carpet and cross another expanse of tired, stained carpet before entering a place still decked out in sanitation equipment designed in the 1960s – not a period renowned for its design sense. The entrance to the kitchens and the adjacent service stairs to the upper-floor function rooms are scabby, to put it mildly.

The food is pretty shabby too, and I won’t linger over it. There was not a single must-have dish on the menu, and we did actually think of going elsewhere, but it was cold and we were hungry. Our shared langoustine salad was a heap of assorted leaves with a nondescript vinaigrette, and five (count’ em) small langoustine tails. I played fast and loose with a steak tartare (Katherine thought I was putting my life on the line), but her confit lamb could have come from the nearest greasy spoon. The check? Some €98 for one starter, two main dishes, an unremarkable bottle of Chinon and two coffees. Not exactly value for money.

This is a serious waste of what could be a fabulous venue, exemplifying everything bad that people say about Paris dining. If only the Superman of the restaurant world would appear and magic Mollard into a place I would want to go back to…

Richard Hesse

Mollard: 115, rue Saint Lazare, 75008 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 87 50 22. Métro: Saint Lazare. Nearest Vélib stations: 1 and 10-12 rue de L’Isly. Open daily until 1 a.m. A la carte: around €45*.

* three courses, not including wine

© 2009 Paris Update

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