Les Magnolias is the restaurant of Jean Chauvel, a 33 year-old talented chef who has an exemplary and fashionable background (the Conticinis at la Table d'Anvers, Christian Constant at le Crillon), and claims to deliver a "creative version of the French gastronomic cuisine". He is abundantly talken about as he offers a clearly creative menu for 55 euros. I finally had a chance to visit the place and taste its funny-named dishes.
In a way, the amuses were very representative of the what the meal would be: there was a cylinder of beet jelly with some sparkling powder on top, and a leaf of parsley. It sure is funny when it pops in your mouth, reminiscent of childhood memory. But this bit was not interesting in any way. It came with a pumpkin a mozzarella soup yet, which was very good and very subtly made, the liquid mozzarella creating an unexpected perfect match with the sweet pumpkin soup, giving it the little oomph that it naturally misses.
I mentioned funny named dishes: take this starter of snails, the highlight of the meal. As you see, it is designed as a little walk of snails. The walk (sortie) is called "risquée" (risky), which I guess reflect on the fact that the snails are now dead. Now those snails are in a fried ball, under their shell. The shell is filled with some sort of garlicky vegetables in mayo. It is lying on a "sod": cubes of brocoli in jelly. The whole thing is "under a rain of lettuce": they come with a little watering-can and pour lettuce juice over your plate. On the side is a lettuce soup with snails inside, and an additional fried snail ball.
Now this is a funny idea. But it is mostly a very good dish, based on a now very classic recipe -- snails with green. Remember Loiseau's nettle soup? Well, that's very close. And it is well made, with very fresh, very well cooked broccoli, decent lettuce juice. So the design does not impact the quality of the food overall. That is, if you except that it is very complicated to eat (brocolis cubes to big for a bite, while you off course have to take those big snail balls in one bite), and it is so big that by the time you reach then end of it, it is cold and soggy.
Then came another example of how a funny idea, even well executed, does not necessarily make for a good dish. They call it "sandwich jambon beurre à boire", and it is served in a funny glass including a straw, on which they spectacularily grind some toast. It does taste of ham and butter, and vaguely bread. It seems to be some ham-infused cream thickened with butter. It is funny and hard to not drink entirely, especially since you have to drink the whole think before you reach the crumbs on top, since your straw comes from the bottom. But honestly, it is just disgusting.
The main was called "violent passion of a guinea fowl". No idea what is violent or passionate about this course. The main theoretical attraction is the "émulsion de gratin dauphinois", a liquid potato gratin. In effect, it is a creamy sauce with a vague potato flavour. It mostly demonstrates, a contrario, that the "Gratin dauphinois" appeal is largely about texture. But it comes on top a low-temperature cooked guinea-fowl breast. Very good meat there, maybe very slightly undercooked. The rice chip on top is a great idea, more so than the celery slice at the bottom and the citrus confit. With the "liquid gratin", the chip and the tender and juicy meat, this course has a nice balance of texture. More interesting is the second plate: the dark meat (more tasty of course, perfectly cooked) lies in a bergamot juice, the same liquid gratin and fine rice chip on top.
The whole thing is served with a very traditional, very unsurprising potato purée, with little potato bites inside. And then, as a final note, there is that green tea with spice and oranges, and finally a simply brilliant sweet macaron with mustard, finishing on a hot and sour note, bringing together two unlikely flavours.
The dessert was less interesting, if at all. Small cylinders of chocolate and passion pudding are hidden under bits of thin white and dark chocolate, with coconuts. The whole thing lies on a bed of passion fruit and a ball of very good sorbet. It's good, nothing noteworthy. Very nice, very personal wine list. The whole place is located in an unlikely suburb. All in all, it is a good restaurant, at good prices, with some uninteresting manierism.