Mumi is a strange name for a Paris restaurant, especially when you learn that it stands for “Museum Mile,” as in New York City’s string of neighboring art institutions. What’s that got to do with a restaurant in Paris’s first arrondissement, you may well ask. The tenuous connection is that Mumi is located within the triangle formed by the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou and the Bourse de Commerce, the future home of tycoon François Pinault’s contemporary art collection. In the end, however, who cares what the name is when the food is as good as it is here?
The long, narrow restaurant has been done up in style, with handsome horizontal wood paneling, tinted glass room dividers and an amusing seahorse mural by street artist Codex Urbanus riffing on the work of contemporary art superstars Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and the late Keith Haring. A text on the wall next to it makes it clear that the work is a critique of the contemporary art market and the very museums the restaurant is named for.
Two friendly, professional servers took care of us, starting us off with two colorful and delicious amuse-bouches: a melt-in-your-mouth Parmesan biscuit filled with red-pepper cream and a ball of muesli prettily dotted with green tarragon cream. After a burst of tarragon flavor, the hard-to-chew muesli didn’t taste of much at first, but then the nutty flavors opened up in the mouth. Surprising and wonderful.
With the basket of bread – which had the crunchiest and most delicious crust ever – we were given a beaker of extra-fine olive oil to dip it into. Another beaker contained some decorative olive leaves, which the waiter wisely warned us not to eat (i guess he could tell we were the types who would eat anything).
The main ingredients of one of the starters were tender baby beets and shallots (sourced from Caillot, specialists in onions, shallots and garlic), but those succulent and deliciously simple vegetables were accompanied by lots of other goodies, including a perfectly cooked green onion, foie gras parfait, tiny shimeji mushrooms, a cocoa crumble and onion jus.
The other starter was much simpler but also stellar: mackerel prepared two ways – marinated and “snacké” (which the French use to mean “flash-cooked”) – with cucumber and cucumber-flavored Greek yogurt.
Then came a lovely chunk of pork with crispy skin, served with pearl-barley risotto and broccoli.
The fish of the day, maigre (meager), which also had nicely crisped skin, came with leeks accompanied by a fat, tender leek-flavored gnocchi, colorful cauliflower and curry sauce. Very fine.
Everything up until then had been great, but the desserts went beyond to the category of fantastic. I’m still dreaming about the luscious and refined chocolate dessert: a fine layer of top-notch pure chocolate topped with a layer of creamy chocolate and then a layer of cocoa powder. On the side, a perfect strawberry, sorrel ice cream and dabs of matching sauces.
When I had polished that off, I set to work on my friend’s unfinished fromage frais and kiwi dessert, served in a chocolate collar. It was addictively good. Unfortunately, once he noticed my interest, he started dipping into it again.
The extra dessert was an exquisite passion-fruit tartlet with meringue.
When the chef, Angelo Vagiotis, who is Greek but has lived and cooked all over the world, came out for a chat at the end of our meal, we showered him with well-deserved compliments.
The restaurant’s name may be spurious, but the reference to art is apt. It’s on the plate.