Very few buildings break the elegant 19th Century Haussmanian visual homogeneity of Paris, which is why the Palais de Tokyo comes as an intriguing surprise. Built in limestone on the banks of the Seine in the 16th arrondissement for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology, it opened in 1937 and features a streamlined art moderne design by architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal. Today, it houses the largest centre for contemporary art in Europe and, as of this May, one of the most fashionable restaurants in Paris, namely the striking Monsieur Bleu, which features interiors by modish designer Joseph Dirand.
As someone who’s obsessively interested in good food, I’m rarely distracted by restaurant interiors. But when I arrived here on a warm night during early summer, I immediately noted the dining rooms’ impeccable lighting– soft and sort of rosy gold in a spectrum that takes 10 years off of any face – the palpable social energy and the arrestingly chic crowd, composed of almost all of the tribes which are part of the warp and woof of Paris’s major industry: style in all of its various manifestations. The moss green velvet tub chairs and dark green marble panelling were also very handsome, so in spite of my habitual wariness of ‘fashionable’ tables in Paris – one usually eats poorly in such places – I was guardedly hopeful and curious.
I wouldn’t probably have chosen this place myself. Instead, I was meeting a very chic friend from New York, and with her sky high, red-soled heels and immaculate baby blonde coiffure, she was pecking away at her Blackberry when I was ushered to the table. She told me that she’d heard about this place from a friend who works for Marc Jacobs – which made sense – and so after some catch-up chat over a glass of Champagne, we looked at the menu. To know how seriously I could or should take it, I asked about the chef, whom the waiter informed me was Benjamin Masson, most recently of Petrus, a chic brasserie with good seafood.
Still, I decided to order simply – a warm potato salad with foie gras and coddled eggs, and then the roast chicken with morel mushrooms, while my pal went for dressed crab with beetroot and wasabi, and the calf’s liver. Well, the happy surprise was not just that the food was good, so was the service. At fashionable Paris restaurants, service is all too frequently dismissive, disorganized and even a little hostile, but here it was alert, charming, and playful. Desserts of cheese cake and a caramel sundae with pecan nuts were a nice finale, too.
So against all of the odds, I ended up dropping my guard and admitting that this is a great-looking restaurant with a fascinating crowd, a decor that would have been a perfect backdrop for a Helmut Newton photo shoot, and perfectly pleasant food. And this on a rainy night when we couldn’t sit outside on the terrace, which boasts one of the best views of the tour Eiffel in all of Paris. Monsieur Bleu is open daily, another plus, so I’d suggest that it’s an ideal address for Sunday dinner – which is always difficult in the French capital. But do book ahead as it’s very popular.
Monsieur Bleu, 20 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris +33 1 47 20 90 47. Open daily. Average à la carte €65.
Originally published in the August-September 2013 issue of France Today