The state-of-the-art box that is La Maison Blanche sits atop the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The building is a remarkable edifice – the first construction in Paris to be made entirely of reinforced concrete – designed by a group that includes architects Henry van de Velde and Auguste Perret, sculptor Antoine Bourdelle and iconic glass designer René Lalique. Completed in 1913, the theatre scandalised le tout Paris with the world premiere production of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and choreographed by Nijinsky.
La Maison Blanche is reached by lift to reveal a floor-to-ceiling Paris panorama that takes my breath away – from Les Invalides in the distance to the Eiffel Tower, always imposing, and the River Seine flowing beneath. I have come to meet my friend, the author and gastro-guru Albert Nahmias, for lunch and find him at the bar (reading a magazine featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the cover). Inside, the minimal contemporary decor is by Imaad Rahmoui (ex-Philippe Starck), but it’s a beautiful day so we sit on the terrace overlooking Avenue Montaigne, where the restaurant’s second patio (first picture) looks towards the Hôtel George V and the steeple of the 11th-century Saint-Pierre-de-Chaillot church.
The light’s bright and I’ve forgotten my sunglasses. The restaurant’s director-general Bruno Franck (second picture, right) notices and loans me a pair of Ray-Bans, which means I can watch head sommelier David Desplanche work the terrace with his daily wine selection (from €10 a glass), delivered in a chic steel basket, before concentrating on the menu (three-course lunch, €58 plus wine; tasting menu €95-€125). Chef Fabrice Giraud’s (second picture, left) culinary inspirations are a nod and a wink to his home village of Ciotat, near St Tropez, combined with memories of former posts in Nice, Saint-Emilion, Shanghai and Turkey.
The food is sunshine on a plate. I choose a delicate fresh goat’s cheese from Monsieur Dominique Fabre, a fourth-generation cheesemaker in the Saint-Maure region, with tiny artichokes “poivrade” and grated bottarga – an ancient, sunbaked mullet roe from the Mediterranean coastline. And for Albert, tartare of herb-marinated bass and sea-urchin mousse. The menus are market-driven and change frequently – Bruno suggests the filet of flash-fried black Angus steak with Málaga sauce and mashed, caramelised cauliflower; and, for me, grilled river trout with a sudachi lemon sauce, fennel and pan-sautéed shimeji mushrooms. To finish, we have Araguani chocolate cake “Maison Blanche” – the secret recipe of pastry chef Paul Donore.
As I leave, I find it difficult to come back down to earth, although Avenue Montaigne and retail therapy beckon seductively. I reflect on La Maison Blanche’s superb location – a must for any Paris address book.