Eye Candy for
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED
Readers may recall that the answer to the ultimate question about Life, the Universe and Everything in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was 42, although it proved impossible to compute what the actual ultimate question was. I would suggest that the computer got it wrong and that the answer has to be 29. For a start, it’s made up of two numbers which when added together give 11, ie, 1+1, the perfect solution for a perfect dinner, which, for my money, is the ultimate experience. And €29 is also the incredibly good value-for-money price of an unusually fine dining experience at Monjul.
The food not only looks stunning when it arrives, but it also gives your taste buds a roller-coaster ride to remember. Take the little amuse-bouche presented to launch the proceedings: a tiny, perfectly formed dollop of smoked mackerel rillettes on one of those Chinese soup spoons, sitting next to a little deep ruby-red pepper stuffed with fresh tuna. Two bites, you might think, and that’s it. But amazingly, the flavors linger as the full complexity – dare I say beauty – of the pairing dawns on you.
The menu (a choice of four starters, five main dishes and five desserts in the evening) is basically incomprehensible, since the dishes are cryptically described at best. The surprise when the food is placed in front of you is almost complete. And for once, the waiter’s explanations when he serves the dishes you have chosen almost blindly are most helpful. He can do it in decent English, too.
Do not be put off by the cryptic menu, however – far more space would be required to describe the dishes in detail. Take my tartare de boeuf en cannellonis de pomme granny, for example. I expected cannelloni-type leaves of Granny Smith apple wrapped around raw steak. Not quite. What was set before me was a hamburger-shaped patty of finely hand-chopped (not ground) raw beef topped with a thin layer of tiny-tiny diced apple. The single cannellono next to it contained a delicate coleslaw-like mixture. Round and about were various decorative touches, including a number of small pools of the same slightly smoky barbecue sauce that had been added in a minute quantity to the beef. The eye-catching presentation was easily matched by the pleasure of the eating.
The other starter was the laitière de foie gras au potiron, which had us thinking cream of pumpkin soup with foie gras. Again we were happily bamboozled. Out of the kitchen came a yogurt jar (La Laitère is a popular brand of yogurt) containing layers of liquidized pumpkin, foie gras crème brûlée, and a vinegary foam, from which emerged a spray of what looked like straw but turned out to be delicate cracker. For once, my companion found, the foam was a component in its own right, its acidity perfectly complementing and balancing the more rounded flavors of the other two ingredents.
The lapin croquant à la moutarde au pinceau (pictured above) and the makis de boeuf et crevettes moelleuses main courses both came with light, creamy, near-liquid mashed potatoes flavored with just a hint of smoked ham. The rabbit was a still-pink piece of slow-cooked saddle rolled in pastry, with a hint of traditional Meaux mustard, served with little jellied cubes of more Meaux mustard. The beef was shaped like makisushi, with a strip of nori seaweed on a thin strip of beef on the outside, and more chopped beef and plump prawns inside, served with a pungent swimmer crab dipping sauce. Both dishes looked as gorgeous and complex as they tasted.
The desserts were just as beautifully presented and delicious, mine a little lychee pastry served with passion fruit sorbet and a shot of lychee juice, hers a dark chocolate mousse served alongside a minty sorbet, a spoon-shaped cookie and a cigar of crunchy chocolate-covered praline.
What we remarked on dreamily was the perfect balance of the meal. Each dish was as splendid in its own right as the others. Nothing disappointed. We admired the artistry and the sheer amount of labor that had gone into the menu – a true labor of love.
The decor is simple, with one wall stripped to the original stone, another painted a restful shade of cream, with splashes of red here and there. A dark wood floor and plenty of space between the wooden tables with their blond-wood Scandinavian-style chairs. Noise levels were extremely comfortable, even with the place three-quarters full.
The amazing value for money also extends to the unpretentious wine list. The most expensive bottle is a €28 2002 Côtes de Bourg. Our kick-off 46cl of house Chardonnay vin de pays d’Oc was a nice balance of acid and honey and cost just eight euros, while our pleasantly light 2005 Menetou-Salon pinot noir (Jean Max Roger, Bué, €23) was perhaps a bit upstaged by the glorious food, but then, with such a wizard in the kitchen, who could complain? Grateful compliments to chef Julien (hence the name Monjul) Agobert and his gallant crew.
Update, Nov. 12, 2008: Monjul continues to do its own unique, amazing value-for-money thing, with very comfortable noise levels, and a maître d’ who has relaxed magnificently into his job, assisted by a charming waitress who matches the beauty of the food.
Monjul: 28, rue des Blancs Manteaux, 75004 Paris. Tel: 01 42 74 40 15. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. Métro: Hôtel de Ville. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 29, rue des Blancs Manteaux; 50, rue Vieille du Temple. Fixed-price menus: €29 (three courses, not including wine), €14 (lunch only, two courses), €18 (lunch only, three courses).
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