It’s been nearly five years since Richard Hesse reviewed Monjul for Paris Update, soon after this restaurant in the Marais opened. Since then, I have considered it one of my favorites and have been back many times, often with foreign visitors, all of whom love it. After a long hiatus, I had dinner there with two friends from San Francisco last week (they loved it, too) and found it as creative, delicious and reasonably priced as always.
Looking around, I noticed that there were a few empty tables and thought about how I sometimes have to spend hours trying to get a reservation at a trendy new restaurant whose phone is always busy, when it would be so easy to call the friendly staff at Monjul a day or two ahead of time and be sure of getting a great meal. It was time to re-review this little gem.
The only things that have changed since it opened are the servers – just as amiable and efficient as all the others I have encountered – and the menu. The quality and originality of the dishes are up to the same high standards, and it is only to the credit of chef Julien Agobert – who can be seen quietly toiling away in the kitchen in the back of the long, narrow, prettily decorated restaurant – that every one of the dishes on the menu the other night was new to me. This is a chef who doesn’t repeat himself, who likes to play, inventing fun and exciting new combinations not only of flavors but also of colors, textures and shapes.
I started with “Monsieur Lapin” (“Mister Rabbit”), one of the most flavorful rabbit
terrines I have ever tasted, accompanied by a sage scone decorated with lettuce “rabbit ears,” mustard-flavored cream, a dab of quince paste and a few slices of what I think was papaya. For an extra €2, Bobbie had the rich, warming “Promenons-nous dans les Bois” (“A Walk in
the Woods): foie gras and artichoke ravioli in a cream of mushroom soup with corn chips and a mushroom “petal.” Jay’s “Ratapak Pak” was unquestionably the most beautiful presentation of the evening. It consisted of swordfish carpaccio marinated in lemongrass, a rectangle
of cucumber jelly, little cucumber balls, a “forest” of bok choy and ratatouille.
Nothing is served in the expected way at Monjul. My “paella” was deconstructed and stuffed into tubes of chicken, and served with an amazingly good Parmesan risotto topped
with delightfully garlicky foam. Bobbie once again sprang for the dish with an extra charge, in this case €4: crispy prawns with peas, delicious maki stuffed with ginger-flavored
polenta, tomato jam, vegetable cannelloni, shrimp and fresh herbs. And once again Jay chose the most visually interesting dish, the salmon “larded” with peanuts and shrimp, with
a “river” of cauliflower pickles running through it, sided by a little glass of Thai soup topped with turmeric emulsion.
The gustatory thrills continued with the desserts. I had the brilliantly refreshing “Lucky Meringue Sphere” (I was supposed to make a wish before breaking it, but I forgot). The
hollow ball of light, crispy carrot-colored meringue sat atop a bed of rice pudding flavored with orange-blossom water. Inside was an exciting combination of orange mousse and lemon sorbet. Bobbie and Jay both chose the “Cheesecake Bubble Bubulle,” a lime-flavored New York-style cheesecake
served with a glass of “Lebanese coffee” with orange-blossom water and Carambar (a chewy candy all French children love) ice cream.
It’s hard to find anything to criticize about Monjul. The setting is attractive, the service just right, and the noise levels low. While the portions may look minimalist in the photos, they are not. We left feeling full, satisfied and happy. And the prices are more than reasonable, considering the amount of imagination and work that goes into each and every dish.