REVIEW: Restaurant Le Dalí at Hotel Le Meurice

By Dominique Dinse | 18 Jun 2022 | Indulge, Travel

Elegant fine dining in the heart of Paris. What could be better?

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Paris is a city best explored by foot – which, as anyone who’s ever explored its sprawling arondissements will know, is not the most luxe experience. With children in tow it can make the whole family very grumpy. Little diners and five-star establishments aren’t usually the most comfortable mix, so it can be tempting to just flop down at the nearest ‘McDo’ and make-do with a Happy Meal. 

For our family, très fatigué from spending a weekend exploring Paris’s top sights for our nine-year-old’s first visit – including a day of queueing and rides at Disneyland – it was a joy to discover a five-star restaurant that doesn’t just tolerate potential noise- and mess-makers, but positively encourages them.

Le Dalí, the relaxed and elegant all-day restaurant at iconic hotel Le Meurice, has reopened after months of renovation – and the whole family is bid a warm bienvenue

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Set under the elegant arches on Rue de Rivoli, within strolling distance of the Louvre, a longtime family favourite, and opposite the glorious Tuileries Garden with its boating lakes just made for little feet to run around in, Le Meurice opened in 1935, its owner’s vision to create a hotel that would feel like home away from home to Brits abroad.

Long the hotel of choice for royalty and holidaying celebrities – from Pablo Picasso, who hosted his wedding banquet here, and later Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan, to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and Jay-Z and Beyoncé. In 2019 the hotel – now under the ultra-luxe umbrella of the Dorchester Collection – unveiled 49 newly restored rooms and suites, including a spectacular penthouse suite, marking the start of yet another exciting new chapter in its rich history. 

Happily, post-lockdown Paris is perfect for exploring in style and en famille. Le Meurice’s Family Time offer includes two rooms, with 50% off a second nearby or connecting one for children, plus American breakfast for parents and children’s breakfast, plus a gift for each child. To really push le bateau out, reserve the Belle Étoile – the seventh-floor penthouse suite, one of the most spacious in Paris, with its spacious terrace offering exceptional 360° views.

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The decade-long hotel renovation – spearheaded by general manager Franka Holtmann to, she says: “combine 18th-century splendour with the most innovative modern comforts” with a view to attracting a fresh, young clientele through some of the most prestigious doors in Paris – has more recently extended to the restaurants and their ethos.

Innovative (and multi-Michelin-garlanded) superchef Alain Ducasse has been overseeing culinary side of things here since 2013, appointing rising young star Amaury Bouhours in 2020. “Based on the basics of Alain Ducasse’s cuisine and the best French produce, Amaury gives free rein to his imagination while always making creations corresponding to the seasons,” Holtmann says, adding that Bouhours and his team of more than a dozen young chefs lend the five-star dining experience “a modern and uninhibited air”, where “every guest can feel at ease”.  

This is brilliant news for families, and it’s in Le Dalí that Bouhours is given free rein, his culinary artistry the perfect match for the spectacular surroundings. 

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Philippe Starck, enlisted in 2007 to oversee the hotel’s grand redesign, has worked his magic on Le Dalí’s distinctive interior, enhancing the surrealist’s love of quirky design and distorted reality and complementing lavish Louis XVI decor with his own modern touches. Dalí stayed at least once a month per year for over three decades from the 1950s, keeping the hotel team busy with suitably eccentric requests. Legend has it that he once ordered staff to bring a flock of sheep to his room. They, naturally, obliged. 

Eye-catching additions to the colonnaded and mosaic-floored room today include a magnificent hand-painted canvas designed by his daughter, Ara Starck, suspended beneath the restaurant’s glass dome, the perfect complement to the golds and creams that bring this classically proportioned room to vibrant life, and the gold silk-shaded lamps with mesmerising crystal teardrop pendants that dot the walls. 

It’s into this spectacular space that we were graciously ushered, collapsing gratefully into the most comfortable leather chairs and cosily cushioned banquette at one of the expansive tables in a corner of the vast dining room, the 9yo’s yellow Disney character cap blending in seamlessly with the gold-tinged decor. 

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There swiftly came a flute each of Moet for Mum and Dad, and one each of Orangina – equally elegantly presented in smart glassware – for the 9yo and 16yo.

Hungry from walking, we snapped up the focaccia – warm and cut in four, melting, salty and perfectly moreish – and then some fresh and crusty sourdough, both served by with fresh green olive oil for dipping. 

An amuse bouche followed then – paté en croute, with chicken and foie gras – smoky and delicious. Surprisingly, this richly flavoured morsel, ceremoniously set before each of us in tiny delicate bowls, with a toothpick for popping straight into eager mouths, was loved not just by the adults, but by the whole family – its savoury meat and crisp coating prompting even the 9yo to marvel: “Ooh, that’s nice!”

“We wanted to give you an amuse bouche everyone could eat,” explained Nolwenn Cotet, Le Dalí’s assistant restaurant manager, who waited on us attentively throughout. 

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The choice of two family starters also proved all-round winners. The first, panisse with harissa dip, were hot and light-as-air chickpea chips – traditionally served as a street snack, often in a paper cone, in the south of France. Le Dalí’s version was similarly served in paper, in a nod to these humble roots, but with a Le Meurice twist – the cone was suspended in an elegant holder and clasp, with a little silver bowl of harissa dip – so hot and spicy and surprisingly good value, in such elevated surroundings, for 15 euros.

Our second starter, a brace of elegant grand roue sweetcorn galettes (18 euros), were crisp and sweet in their perfectly crimped shells, with creamy quail egg and topped with dusky oxalis leaves. Again (thanks largely to their witty presentation, atop a little silver bowl brimming with the same sweet Basque corn, but airpopped to perfection) this was snapped up by even the youngest in our party and was, we decided, the most elegant way to see the kids on their way to their five a day. 

Both of these dishes came from the beautifully eclectic A Partager (To Share) menu. Other choices on our visit included crispy crab from the small Brittany seafood hub of Roscoff, and crudités with black olive dip (28 euros each), or smoked sardine tartlets (16 euros).

There is also a tempting Entrée (Starter) menu, which on our visit ranged from cuttlefish tagliatelle with hay-infused cream, green peas and dill (38 euros), to white asparagus from the south-west department of Landes with wild garlic and Ile de France rhubarb (30 euros). Sated for the moment, however, by our shared openers, we opted to embark immediately on the main event. 

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For me, this was smoked monkfish (38 euros), the meaty fish rendered almost fragile in overlapping, wafer-thin slices, topped with similarly exquisitely painstakingly shaved orange and purple heritage carrots in painterly shades of crimson and sunset-orange – pretty on its ornate glass platter and perfectly framed by the artist-designed room. The fish was subtly smoked and topped with a paprika-rich sobrassada, a smooth but heftily flavoured sausage.

The 16yo’s filet de boeuf roti (65 euros) – “the best steak I’ve ever eaten” – came perfectly cooked to medium, as requested, and served on a delicate bed of ash from the grill, with two giant pommes paillasson (a kind of gratinee potato cakes, crisp and oniony) on their own separate side plate and with a silky, handwhipped béarnaise in its own little silver saucepan and silver spoon. Enormous and filling, this was nevertheless wolfed down in minutes by the teenager who had spent most of the previous few hours working up an appetite skateboarding at local hotspot Palais de Tokyo. 

Husband’s gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb) from the cool, rich slopes of the Pyrénées, was meltingly succulent, served up on socca (a little chickpea flatbread) with sundried tomatoes and black olives – all specialities of Nice (54 euros).

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The 9yo spaghetti bol (“silky and warm – not too hot, that’s important” with shaved parmesan served in a little bowl on the side for enthusiastic sprinkling, as is a 9yo’s wont. Served with a flourish that delighted the youngest diner in the room. This came from the brilliant kids’ menu – 34 euros for either starter, main and drink, or main, dessert and drink. They can, of course, choose something to finish from the main dessert menu instead, and that’s just what 9yo did. 

Now the dessert menu at Le Dalí is deceptively simple. Typically a choice of a couple of pastries – on our visit there was that beloved pain perdu and a suggestively named coconut big Brest (which prompted sniggers from both the husband and the 16yo). Fruity choices were pear in wine, almond, grapefruit and passionfruit. These turn out, when brought to our table with a choreographed flourish, to be perfect facsimiles of the real thing rendered in chocolate and sweet treats, each perched simply on a white plate with no garnish or embellishment – but the flavour is on steroids. 

The 9yo’s Almond, a supersized version of his favourite healthy snack, was a glorious confection of almond mouse, caramel, praline and nutty gianduja. Every morsel polished eagerly off.  

The 16yo’s Passionfruit was simply that – a lifesized version in chocolate and with sweetest essence of that tropical fruit oozing from the soft centre when the crisp shell was cracked open with a spoon.

Husband’s red wine pear was also a dead ringer for the real thing – the chocolate shell giving way to an aromatic gel of red wine and pear reduction. 

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Finally, my coconut big Brest (how could I not choose it, with a name like that?) was sweet and crunchy, the perfect classic Paris Brest with its piped choux circles, elevated stratospherically with the addition of a cloud of almond cream and praline, all topped with curls of toasted coconut. This is 19 euros, compared to everything else on the dessert menu, which weighs in at 25 euros – but tastes a million dollars. 

The genius responsible for this five-star finale is Le Meurice’s Cédric Grolet. Now 35, he joined Le Meurice in 2012 after years since the age of just 13 spent in kitchens across France honing his skills in pastry, chocolate and ice cream. “When I was a child, instead of eating sweets, I ate fruit, it’s the nature that always inspired me,” he says. “Some fruits are very good if tasted naturally but still better when you concentrate the flavour. I’m only satisfied when my dessert is better than the fruit that inspired it.”

Multiple awards later – including Best Pastry Chef in the World 2018 – he is wowing here, both with his own branded boutique, just around the corner from the hotel, and with lucky Le Dali diners invited to enjoy his creations across the day from brunch and lunch to teatime and dinner.  

With his sweet treats plus Amaury Bouhours’ culinary adventures to entertain and delight, plus the creative spirit of Salvador Dalí and design vision of Philippe Starck, Restaurant Le Dalí is a feast for the senses – and all the family. 

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For reservations at Restaurant Le Dalí, tel: +33 1 44 58 10 44

For more information about Le Meurice’s Family Time offer, with two connecting Deluxe Rooms from €2,000, and a two-bedroom Superior Suite from €3,000, tel: +33 (0)1 87 16 44 50; or email: reservations.lmp@dorchestercollection.com (quoting Family Time at Le Meurice).