L’Opéra Restaurant

L’Opéra Restaurant

Ever since architect Charles Garnier’s magnificent opera house opened in 1875, there have been plans afoot to open a restaurant in the building that’s come to define the world’s idea of the ultimate opera house. Garnier originally intended for the opera to have a restaurant, but the plan was stymied by financial constraints, which also shelved similar attempts in 1973 and 1992. The current project has also been on and off again for several years, but L’Opéra Restaurant finally opened this summer, headed by chef Christophe Aribert, a dark-horse candidate who also runs the two-star Les Terrasses in Uriage, near Grenoble. So far, Parisians are having quizzical reactions, to both the architecture and the menu.

With great curiosity, I went off to dinner on a recent summer weekend and had a decidedly mixed experience.The dining room, on the ground floor at the back of the Opéra, is distinguished by curved glass windows between the building’s limestone arches, which struck me as odd. To be sure, it couldn’t have been an easy job for architect Odile Decq, but if she sought to channel the audacity of the Chagall ceiling in the main auditorium by doing something bold and unexpected, it doesn’t quite work. A massive, streamlined white plastic mezzanine comes off as a feint at 1960s caveman chic, and the bright red chairs in the main dining room read airport lounge.

Fortunately, the food is somewhat better. I liked my smoked salmon with mustard sorbet and enjoyed a taste of my friend’s smoked trout with raviolis de Royans (miniature cheese-stuffed ravioli). But a tomato salad with truffle shavings was a bore, and the sole Grenobloise was a muddled postmodern riff on that great old French favorite with croutons, lemon and capers. Desserts were more impressive, including an opéra, a traditional French pastry, in two different versions: classic—almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, layered with ganache and coffee buttercream, covered with chocolate icing; and “modern”—the same sponge cake with yellow Chartreuse, milk, walnuts, chocolate and pan masala, a mix of Indian seeds and spices. All told, this polite performance—at top prices—certainly didn’t deserve an encore. But since the place is still finding its way, it’s convenient after the ballet or opera, and especially since most nearby restaurants are awful, it might be worth a second chance.

Place Jacques Rouché, 9th, €75 per person without wine.

Originally published in the October 2011 issue of France Today

Alexander Lobrano’s book Hungry for Paris is published by Random House. Find Hungry for Paris and more in our bookstore.


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