Vantage points aren’t in short supply in Paris. But one of the least obvious places – and perhaps my new favourite – to get a sweeping view of the city is the rooftop of the rather austere Jean Nouvel-designed Institut du Monde Arabe. At the far east end of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the river-facing structure, with its Arabian latticework-inspired façade, houses a museum, library, bookshop, offices and auditorium, as well as Le Zyriab, its ninth-floor restaurant and terrace – with it newly poignant close-up of Notre-Dame.
I was lured to the rooftop a few years ago by the view, but my meal was disappointing – the restaurant was stuffy, the cuisine stodgy and the service lethargic, at best. But at the beginning of this year, Michelin-starred chef Guy Martin was given the task of shaking up Le Zyriab and I was keen to have another look. I’m heartily glad I did. The new team has brought a zing of lightness and creativity to the cuisine and made the whole experience altogether more agréable, with a level of service that was friendly and attentive, but still relaxed.
If the decor, all high ceilings and glass walls, remains neutral, the assiettes are full of colour in the form of a new “modern Mediterranean” menu (from €39 for two courses) that features a seasonal rotation of classics from Arab League countries, including Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. My entrée of homemade hummus was followed by a main of roast bar, served on a delectable bed of lentils and freekeh with cumin, pomegranate seeds and crushed walnuts. The latter was a definite winner. My dinner date, meanwhile, went for the mechouia (€5 supplement), its deliciously fresh langoustines and crab regrettably overpowered by the roast red peppers, then pondered the tagine of halal poulet de Bresse with confit of lemon, black olives and saffron fennel, before finally selecting the vegetarian couscous, enlivened with a tasty chutney of lightly curried, caramelised onions with raisins. A crisp, chilled Pouilly Fumé (€43) by Michel Redde, with pleasantly mineral notes, was the perfect accompaniment.
We finished with Le Zyriab’s millefeuille, its sesame and chocolate layers accompanied by a mandarin orange sorbet demonstrating Martin’s successful injection of creativity. I’ll be back to see how how it evolves with the seasons. Sipping thé à la menthe (the fresh mint leaves plucked from the vertical garden) while watching the bateaux-mouches gliding along the Seine under a canopy of stars is, after all, an ideal end to an evening.