While I admire the modern breed of urban restaurant, all bare brick and filament bulbs, I also nurse a fondness for restaurants that are havens from the hustle, where the vexations of city life are soothed by charm and elegance.
Majorelle, the restaurant in Manhattan’s luxurious Lowell hotel, is just such an oasis. It is named after the French orientalist painter whose eponymous gardens perform a similarly tranquil function amid the hubbub of Marrakech. Bedecked with lush greenery and riotously flamboyant vases of flowers, Majorelle’s airy dining room and stylish terrace have a serenity that brings everyday life to a halt, silencing even the tetchy honks of yellow cabs.
It is the new home of restaurateur Charles Masson, formerly of nearby La Grenouille, and as in his previous post, he is also the man who arranges the extraordinary flowers. At the stove is chef Richard Brower, whose CV includes stints at the Four Seasons and Le Bernardin, and his menu adds a few Moroccan flourishes to classic French cuisine, notably in a trio of tagines: one with vegetables, another with red snapper and fennel, and a third with lamb shank and prunes.
I charted a more traditional course. To start, translucent, buttery discs of scallop were coated in a gentle vinaigrette and scattered with shards of orange zest – a dish as well-dressed as the clientele. Three supremely plump langoustines, dusted with spiced powder “au curry” and fried, were perched on a mound of frisée and green apple; somehow, my glass was topped up with Meursault throughout – the service at Majorelle is so fluent and adroit as to be almost unnoticeable.
Then, a classic steak au poivre with a glug of armagnac in the sauce, chives and a properly crunchy scattering of peppercorns adorning the meat, and a few slices of chargrilled mushrooms alongside. Next, a dish of braised oxtail, as stupendously rich as any of The Lowell’s affluent neighbours – it tasted as if the recipe for the sauce involved taking a whole ox and reducing it to about four tablespoonfuls. Three scoops of lavishly buttered pomme purée kept it company; I could almost hear my arteries hardening, but it was worth it.
By this point, and a bottle of claret later, I was putty in the waiter’s hands, and ordered pudding just so that I didn’t upset him. The result was a brilliant, booze-soaked baba au rhum (flamed at the table, naturellement) with a quenelle of vanilla cream topped, appropriately, with a tiny purple flower. I neglected to ask what species of flora, but Charles Masson would certainly have known.
Should you not be quite ready to return to the urban jungle – I certainly wasn’t – there is a rather lovely, opulently upholstered “club room” next door for coffee and digestifs. Majorelle, like life itself, is a pleasure that should not be rushed.