Our meal at Nessia started off well. We arrived unfashionably early and had the rather dark but stylishly decorated restaurant (black marble tables, designer chairs and sconces, open kitchen in the back) to ourselves. We also had the full attention of the server, who seemed to enjoy practicing his English on us (even though he was aware that we all spoke French) and explaining everything on the menu in great detail, to the point where it became almost overbearing and sometimes bossy: he gave us firm instructions on what we should order, some of which we followed. He seemed to mean well, though.
Scanning the menu made it clear that Nessia’s chef, Thomas Cherbit, has an international outlook. I counted the influence of many different world cuisines mixed together on the menu’s limited number of dishes: Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern and even French – the chef applies French techniques to the preparation of the ingredients.
Once we finally got our order in, the first courses arrived almost immediately. We had decided to share two starters. The grilled gyoza were a good example of the chef’s globe-trotting approach. Filled with wagyu beef, aged cheddar cheese and scallions, they were served with a lovely homemade tzatzíki with fresh mint and a slightly sweet soy-based sauce. The combination was a hit.
The other starter, listed as “finger food,” was truffle and mozzarella arancini with an intriguing smoked-hay (foin in French) and parmesan sauce. These rice balls bore little resemblance to the Italian version, looking more like sea urchins with their crunchy black shells, which seemed to be made of puffed black rice. They were served on a bed of hay, a reminder of the hay in the creamy sauce, which we couldn’t taste. To satisfy the understandable curiosity of my friends, Helen and Michael, the server explained that the hay had been ground up fine in a blender and mixed with the other ingredients. The overall result was pleasing.
Among the three main courses we tried, we at first voted Helen’s roast quasi de veau confit (confit fillet of veal) with smoked butter the best. The tender, juicy and surprisingly flavorful veal harmonized beautifully with the accompanying pressed celeriac, truffled potatoes, cumin-flavoured celery cream and veal reduction.
Michael tried the Angus beef, sliced and served on a bed of Japanese rice, with crunchy sautéed vegetables sandwiched in between and a soy-based sauce on top. He liked it right off the bat but grew to enjoy it even more as he worked his way through the tender beef, slightly crunchy vegetables, and perfectly cooked rice.
I had a similar experience with my cannelloni with smoked bacon, wild mushrooms, reduced meat jus and aged parmesan. At first, it seemed to be overloaded and too rich, but as the flavors mixed and melded, I came to enjoy it more and more. The only thing I didn’t appreciate was the unfamiliar pasta; rather than the stuffed tubes I expected, it was a kind of ribbon pasta folded into a honeycomb shape, much of it stuck together into an unappealing big lump. It was up to me to pull it apart and pile onto my fork all the disparate flavors and textures (al dente pasta, creamy sauce, crunchy bacon, tender mushrooms) to make it sing.
At this point, our opinion of the restaurant began to decline, not at all because of the food – au contraire – but because the server who had over-hovered at the beginning of the meal now totally abandoned us. We sat in front of our dirty dishes for well over half an hour while the ambient noise began to mount to an uncomfortable level, unable to catch his eye. The restaurant wasn’t full, but he spent a lot of time chatting with other customers as he had with us at the beginning of the meal. We finally got the attention of one of the kitchen staff, who cleared the plates and took our dessert order.
That divine dessert, which we shared, helped save the evening. It was a refreshing, addictive interpretation of a blanc manger, caramelized on top, with a mango and coriander (great touch) “tartare” and passion fruit custard.
As Michael pointed out, each of these complex dishes, probably very time-consuming to make (which helps to explain the rather elevated prices), was not only full of varied flavors but also an interesting mix of textures, making them even more enjoyable to eat.
As you have probably gathered, Nessia’s kitchen is looking good, but the front-of-house service needs some renovation.
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