It’s well-known gastronomic French restaurant culture in Paris is not typically very accommodating to vegetarians. Those who either eschew meat altogether or wish to cut back have come to expect an omelette, salad, or raw vegetable platter at most traditional tables in the capital, even though vegetarian dining in Paris has evolved significantly over the past few years.
Macéo, near the Palais Royal, is one of the few more traditional culinary spots working to nudge the Parisian “meat-as-centerpiece” culture into the twenty-first century.
The brainchild of Mark Williamson, a British South African who was once a chef himself and owns the adjoining Willi’s Wine Bar, Macéo is now headed by Williamson’s son Adrian.
It offers seasonal gastronomic menus that always include one or several vegetarian options. For those who love fish and meat, these are still very much present on the menu as well, but, as Williamson explained to me when I dined there, the concept is to try to put vegetables at the center of the sensory and culinary experience.
Chef Nathan Pascual brings his own touch to the fusion-style seasonal menu that still manages to balance beautiful presentation with a surprisingly subtle, creative use of flavors. Dishes such as grilled squid with Iberican chorizo and gourmet peas, vegetable tartlet with candied and grilled vegetables, onion confit and mustard, and mackerel with coriander, avocado and fresh mint stand alongside more familiar staples (shoulder of Auvergne lamb, wild duckling with honey, etc.) (Note that these are examples from a recent seasonal menu and may or may not be available when you dine at this restaurant).
In all cases, though, creative, fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced primarily from local markets bring something a bit different to the table, even in the case of the more “traditional” dishes.
Macéo’s substantial cave (cellar) holds an impressive 10,000 bottles of wine, including varieties from the wine-enthusiast owner’s own vineyards. With its reasonable fixed-price menus, inventive fare and impeccable service, I came away straining to find something to critique about Macéo.
The bright, sparsely but tastefully decorated dining room at Macéo, housed within an eighteenth-century, stone-walled building typical of the area, was nearly empty when we arrived. Luckily, it soon began to fill up, undoubtedly with some of the theatre-goers coming out from late afternoon shows at the nearby Comédie Française and other venues.
Featuring sober white tablecloths and colorful flowers on all the tables, set against the large windows looking out toward the Palais-Royal and mirrored, wood-panelled walls, the ambiance here is airy but traditional. This, perhaps, is meant to point back to the balance the kitchen attempts to strike between reverence for the codes of French gastronomy and innovative risk-taking. Upstairs, a spacious but less bright banquet area seats larger parties.
A Beautiful Start
(Note: This review was completed when the menu was substantially different, and the restaurant has since hired a different chef. The notes below do not reflect the current menu, but can give you an idea of the sorts of dishes and cuisine you might expect– as well as their overall quality).
While the a la carte menu was hard to peel our eyes away from, we quickly settled on the fixed-price dinner menu. We were offered– and gladly tried– an Oregon pinot noir from owner Williamson’s own Evening Land Vineyard.
We both chose the vegetarian entrée (starter): Cream of parsnip soup with fresh coriander and orange blossom oil. Perfectly executed, with just the right balance of flavors and not too much of what could have been an overpowering orange blossom note, it was ideal as a winter dish hinting at the coming spring. It was accompanied by crusty, delicious bread and salted butter with crystals that crack under the teeth (always a favorite of mine).
The Main Course
For the main course, my spouse opted once again for the vegetarian item: the aforementioned quinoa galette with basil and curry oil. I ordered a delicate white fish called “Maigre Breton” (ostensibly from the Brittany region), accompanied with green peas and prawns.
Put the beautiful presentation of both dishes aside for a moment: the flavors and textures were top-notch in both dishes. The fish, buttery and fresh, was perfectly complemented by the green peas, which were left firm. The sauce was a marvel I couldn’t decrypt, but thoroughly enjoyed. I’d worried the result would be boring, but it certainly wasn’t.
As for the quinoa galette, which I tasted, the chef blended flavors and textures in ways that most vegetarian/health food restaurants fail at with comparable dishes. It didn’t feel like “hippie” fare; it tasted (and looked) like haute cuisine.
The last course can leave a final impression, but in this case didn’t disappoint. We shared a vanilla ile flottante (largely comprising meringue and creme anglaise) and an exotic fruit tatin with fromage blanc sorbet (whose flavor is close to yogurt’s). Both were delicious, and again, beautifully executed.
We had admittedly hoped for a note of chocolate to finish off an amazing meal, so were delighted when individual chocolate ganaches were served to us with our coffee. My Belgian spouse, a self-described chocolate snob, was impressed; as we left, the restaurant confirmed that the ganaches were made onsite by the dedicated dessert chef.
As mentioned, I’ve been hard-pressed to find anything aside from praise for Macéo. The impeccable service, presentation, and flawlessly executed dishes make this one of my new favorite places for an above-average dinner out in Paris. Vegetarians will not be disappointed with the experience, either.
In short, my humble opinion is that this is a true find, and one of the best restaurants around the Palais-Royal and Bourse district.
Getting There & Practical Info
- Address: 15 rue des Petits-Champs, 1st arrondissement
- Metro: Pyramides; Palais-Royale Musee du Louvre (lines 1, 7, 14)
- Tel.: +33 (0)1 85 15 22 56
- Reservations: It’s recommended that you reserve several days in advance
- Languages spoken: English spoken by staff
- Cuisine: Traditional French/fusion, with several vegetarian options. Daily seasonal fixed-price menus (lunch and dinner); a la carte.
- Payment Options: All major credit cards accepted
- Dress code: None enforced, but I suggest business casual to formal (avoid the jeans and t-shirt look)
- Visit the Official Website
More Gourmet Experiences in the Capital
For more culinary adventures in the capital, take a look at our guide to the best vegetarian and vegan restaurants Paris has to offer for more ideas on veggie-friendly dining in the city.
Also consult our full guide to navigating typical French restaurants for more on what to expect from different dining experiences there– whether you’re enjoying a meal in a bistro, brasserie, “restaurant gastronomique” or “table d’hôte”.
And finally, see my guide to some of the most beautiful restaurants in Paris for a dining experience that melds delicious food with rarefied, opulent settings.
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, the writer received complimentary services for the purposes of this review. While it has not affected the content, Paris Unlocked is committed to disclosing all potential conflicts of interest. This review originally appeared on About.com Paris Travel.