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Willy Wonka is in the kitchen

Nestled in a discreet corner of the First Mall is La Maison Blanche, the latest offering at the high-end luxury shopping center where the likes of Bulgari and Tiffany’s rub shoulders with Club 35, one of Cairo’s liveliest nightspots. At the helm of the kitchen is Thierry Papillier, a young chef whose extensive experience in …


Nestled in a discreet corner of the First Mall is La Maison Blanche, the latest offering at the high-end luxury shopping center where the likes of Bulgari and Tiffany’s rub shoulders with Club 35, one of Cairo’s liveliest nightspots.

At the helm of the kitchen is Thierry Papillier, a young chef whose extensive experience in France at one- and two-star Michelin establishments have garnered him the experience and creative background necessary to bring the vision of this new restaurant to light.

La Maison Blanche seems intent on getting the attention of a particular sort of Francophile crowd – one that is already familiar with the culinary trend of updating French cuisine with modern cooking techniques borrowed from the trend of molecular gastronomy. But Papillier does a good job balancing the traditional with the new and exciting.

Opting for the degustation menu is the best introduction to Papillier’s talents. A six-course meal, it certainly leaves one comfortably full. At LE 380 per person (not including service charge and tax), it is not a cheap meal but the expense can be justified.

Starting off with Oyster and Salmon Tartar, oyster sauce and fresh herbs, there was a nice saltiness overall to whet one’s appetite.

The Cep and Duck Ravioli had a sweet creaminess to it; so rich in texture and taste, it was a shame there was only one piece of ravioli – albeit very big. I will perhaps order this as a starter next time I dine.

Our third course of turbot fillet, black olives emulsion (painted as streaks on the side of our plate like black ink), leek and Pet-sai cabbage with veal juice was divine. Papillier apparently only orders fish from England, preferring the full bodied taste and saltiness so particular to fish from the Atlantic.

Roasted veal tenderloin with autumn vegetables served in “cocotte was our fourth course. The veal was so tender, cooked medium rare exactly as I ordered, and simply dissolved on the palette with each bite. Yams and Kenyan snow peas were delicious compliments.

Out of curiosity, we asked to add an additional course to our tasting menu: the Australian rack of lamb, stuffed with wild mushrooms, potatoes “fondant and lamb juice was deemed the best rack of lamb in town by my dining partner and lamb enthusiast.

After sampling dessert, it was obvious that in the kitchen was a gifted chef with a very sweet tooth. Apparently, Papillier specialized as a pastry chef in France.

Litchi and raspberry jelly was served with a scoop of rose and raspberry sorbet with macarons on the side. It was a vision in pink, and in the words of my dining partner, “a threat to my manhood. The pairing of litchi and its manipulation into strands of jelly was quite intriguing.

A long slice of chocolate, shaped as a bar of gold, came out for our last course. Made from Valrhona chocolate with mousse, almond biscuit and praline cream, it was quite intense in its chocolate flavor without being overbearing. The detailing of each plate was more artistic with each course. This time, gold foil on our chocolate bar matched the gold foil trim of our plates. Subtle, not really. Decadent, absolutely.

An additional treat was brought to our table: a traditional French lemon tart reinterpreted. It was firstly upside down. The dough of the tart was a square holding a layer of yellow liquid and lemon sorbet on top. A spoonful revealed pepsin sugar crackling and popping in one’s mouth like the volcano rock candies of yesteryear. This is what Charlie must have felt like whilst sampling the candy of Willy Wonka.

Tea is a ritual here with gourmet Mariage Frères tea being served. A tea cart carries tins of various flavors for guests to choose from with a detailed menu. Tea choices include breakfast blends and fruity aphrodisiac infusions. Poured into a Bernardo tea pot and left to brew for awhile, class and tradition has been brought back to something so mundane.

Although it might feel strange to traipse through what is essentially a shopping mall to reach La Maison Blanche, it is a dining destination worth experiencing. Reminiscent of hip uptown New York lunch establishments, the formula is meant to attract a certain design-conscious crowd that also cares about food and dining of the highest order. Or perhaps the restaurant is vying for a clientele similar to that young crop of cosmopolitan rich Parisians who poo-pah anything substandard.

It is not implicitly pretentious, but what it strives to achieve might be. Upon entering the restaurant, patrons are met with a large Philippe Starck lightstand in the shape of a life-size horse, and such attention to detail is apparent throughout the restaurant, from the cutlery to the table linens, that it forces one to be impressed. Large screens intended for synchronized lighting displays and a sophisticated eco-friendly built-in fireplace are gimmicky and perhaps too contrived. But I will admit, it is a lovely break from the noise and bleakness that is Giza.

The restaurant’s interiors of bright colors against white and grass green are visually refreshing but lost upon those who dine at night during which the white light is slightly intense. This restaurant is most beautiful during the afternoon and an outing with a large group of friends will certainly enhance one’s experience at La Maison Blanche.

La Maison BlancheFirst Mall, GizaTel: (02) 3570 0121

Topics: Coalition

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