The main artery of the Parisian haute couture district is the rue St. Honore. This is not a grand boulevard of Haussman’s Paris, but what it lacks in grandiose proportions it makes up for in the quality of its shops, hotels and restaurants.
This is where fashionistas fly in to do a hit and run on Hermes without glancing at price tags and where models sip drinks at cool bars. In this high intensity district, I found a corner of peace and quiet in the garden of the Mandarin Oriental Paris.
The Mandarin Oriental is positioned front row centre on the rue St. Honore, but of all the luxury hotels in the area, the Mandarin Oriental is the most unobtrusive.
The hotel’s structure has a clean art deco sandstone façade which does not scream for attention among the flashiness of rue St. Honore. Blink and you might just miss it.
Through the doors and down a hallway past several welcoming but stern guardians lies the lobby which combines elements of eastern zen and early 20th century art deco with a very contemporary take on what is now in vogue in interior design with a focus on organic curves that draw you in.
Upon arrival, I had a quick pre-lunch drink at the bar, named Bar 8. The interior of the bar is dark and sexy – a perfect place for a night time liaison, but perhaps not ideally suited for a Sunday afternoon bellini, therefore I opted to take my drink in the inviting courtyard garden.
Unlike most Parisian hotels which have more formal courtyards, the Mandarin Oriental’s courtyard is incredibly cosy. It is lush from top to bottom, starting with the ferns and moss on the ground reaching to the sky with the mature trees which must have been airlifted into the courtyard during construction.
There are no straight lines here and plenty of wooden nooks and crannies to hide out in. In a city based on café culture where everyone stares at each other, a bit of greenery and privacy is very welcome.
Lunch on Sundays is served at Camelia, the more casual of the two restaurants in the Mandarin Oriental which are overseen by Thierry Marx. Camelia has taken a different approach to Sundays in Paris by offering a set menu that begins with a selection of self service items from the counter followed by individually prepared mains cooked to order.
I am never a big fan of the all-you-can-eat self-service brunch which always runs the risk of exuding the vibe of an aspirational country club, but Camelia’s take on the classic manages to steer clear of any such stereotype.
The appetizer selection is diverse and consistent in its high quality ingredients and execution across the board: delicate sushi, hearty terrines, fresh salads and smoked fish fill a table where there is something for everyone.
For my main course, I opted for a traditional Beef Wellington: the pastry crust flaked, there was a delicious layer of finely chopped mushrooms separating the steak and the crust and the beef was a delicate melt-in-your-mouth cut. The vegetables and potato strayed from traditional elements and added a much appreciated zing to the dish.
The front of the restaurant contains a large pastry case which showcases the desserts of the day. The chef clearly wants you to keep dessert in mind from the moment you step into the space, and for good reason.
I chose the fig cheesecake which came with a crumbly cracker base and was coddled in finely chopped nuts to add some delicate texture to the creamy sugary body. A perfectly satisfying ending to a Sunday lunch.
Prices certainly aren’t cheap at Camelia – which isn’t surprising given the Mandarin Oriental is clearly competing with Paris’s grandes dames like the Plaza Athenee, Le Meurice and Le Bristol - but lingering in this beautiful corner of Paris surrounded by gorgeous foliage in such a serene setting certainly makes up for it.
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