It's become safe to assume that gastronomic French restaurant culture in Paris is anything but accommodating to vegetarians. Those who stay away from meat have come to expect either uninspired, dully presented plates of seitan and lentils at the few 1970s-style establishments that cater exclusively to them; at a typical French restaurant in the capital, an omelette, salad, or raw vegetable platter is perhaps all one can hope for.
Enter Macéo, a restaurant near the Palais Royale, 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 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 had dinner there recently, the concept is to try to put vegetables at the center of the sensory and culinary experience. Since Japanese-born chef Taka, once a protege of the famous Joel Robuchon, came on board in 2012, he has brought 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 risotto with morel mushrooms and white asparagus, Breton sardines with clementine compote, or quinoa galette with basil and curry oil stand alongside French staples (escargots, magret de canard, etc.)
The restaurant's substantial cave holds an impressive 10,000 bottles of wine, including varieties from the wine-enthusiast owner's own vineyards. With its reasonable fixed-price menus, marvelously inventive fare and impeccable service, I came away straining to find something to critique about Macéo.
A true find.
The Restaurant At a Glance:
- Gastronomic French cuisine of very high quality
- Daily options for vegetarians alongside meat and fish dishes
- Very good value for money: fixed-price three-course menus are reasonable, especially at lunch
- Elegant setting near the Palais Royale
- Warm, attentive staff
- Menu items are not necessarily suitable for vegans
- Only one location in the city: reserve ahead to avoid disappointment
- Not open on Sundays or on Saturday for lunch
Location and Contact Information:
- Address: 15 rue des Petits-Champs, 1st arrondissement
- Metro: Pyramides; Palais-Royale Musee du Louvre (lines 1, 7, 14)
- Tel.: +33 (0)1 42 97 53 85
- 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
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 Royale, 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.
The Menu and the Fare
While the a la carte menu was hard to peel our eyes away from, we quickly settled on the fixed-price menu for €39 (pictured-- double-click to see it in full-size). We were offered-- and gladly tried-- an Oregon pinot noir from owner Mark Williamson's own Evening Land Vineyard.
A Beautiful Start
We both chose the vegetarian entrée: 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 might have been an overpowering orange blossom note, it was ideal as a winter dish hinting at the coming spring. It was accompanied by crusty, warm bread and salted butter with crystals that crack under the teeth (always a favorite of mine).
The Main Course
For the main course, my companion 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 companion, a self-described chocolate snob, was impressed; as we left, Williamson confirmed that the ganaches were made onsite by the restaurant's own dessert chef.
Read related: Best Chocolate Makers in Paris
As mentioned, I've been hard-pressed to find anything aside from praise for Macéo. I'm admittedly no seasoned gastronome, and I've only visited a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants, but I'd venture to say this is an establishment that deserves at least a single star. 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.
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 complete guide to eating out, drinking and dining in Paris for gaggles of tips on where to head on an empty stomach.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.