Eat Out critic Kate Liquorish pays a visit to the newly opened branch of iconic French patisserie brand PAUL in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg.
Best for: Superb viennoiserie (pastries and baked goods usually eaten at breakfast) and afternoon tea and patisserie
Parking: There are plenty of bays in the Melrose Arch centre
Price: The average main meal costs between R74 and R170
Star ratings: Food 3, service 3, ambience 4
The restaurant menu is an interesting amalgamation of French bistro-style cuisine and a strangely eclectic selection of pastas, ‘baguette pizzas’ and hamburgers. On the authentic side you’ll find everything from Normandy-style mussels, pâtés and French onion soup served in a wondrous-looking, hollowed out loaf, to coq au vin, confit duck, Toulouse sausages and sole meunière, all paired with rich, creamy sauces and mostly served with buttery mash or potato wedges and baby veg. There’s also a selection of lighter dishes including salads, baguette sandwiches, crêpes, quiches and gratins.
As PAUL is most famed for its exceptional breads and patisserie, we feel it is imperative to concentrate our efforts on sampling the baked goods. We order the croque chèvre et miel, which is a kind of French, toasted sandwich (based on the croque monsieur) with goat’s cheese, spinach, honey and walnuts (made using PAUL’s pain de mie bread). We also order the crêpe au poulet (savoury pancakes with rosemary chicken, mushrooms and parsley covered in a béchamel sauce, mozzarella and emmenthaler) and quiche Lorraine with ham, back bacon and emmenthaler.
The chicken crêpes are sadly more melted cheese than anything else – I struggle to detect any rosemary or parsley, and the ratio of béchamel to cheese needs to be inverted. It just lacks any finesse and elegance. The same goes for the croquet: the slices of bread are just too thick, leaving you full after only a few bites with little satisfaction. The quiche, on the other hand, is lovely: rich and flavourful, with a crisp and light pastry base. All these dishes are served with ‘gourmet greens’, which translates to baby salad leaves served with a home-made vinaigrette.
Now for the good part: the patisserie, viennoiserie, tarts and breads. Everything is superb. The éclairs are as light as a feather and bursting with beautifully thick and luscious flavoured crème patisserie, the strawberry tartlets, encased in short, buttery pastry, are brimming with strawberries and filled with more delectable crème patisserie. I grab a takeaway of croissants and a baguette as a final test and they are wonderful – the baguette crisp on the exterior with a soft but slightly dense interior, and the croissant is the ideal size, light as a feather and made of 100% buttery goodness.
My honest advice would be to go for the simple things – everything sandwich, quiche and pastry related – as you won’t go wrong.
There’s a delightful selection of freshly squeezed juices (including green apple and celery, carrot, orange and ginger, and mint and cucumber), ice teas and smoothies, with great coffee to follow. A decent selection of wines and expensive craft beers appears alongside the usual SAB offerings.
After having been open for only three days, the restaurant is running remarkably well. There’s a queue of eager patrons constantly at the door, but no one seems frustrated or flustered. A highly effective waiting list system has been put into place: there’s an app into which you enter your details and, once a table is ready, sends you an SMS, giving you 10 minutes to claim it. I put my name down and go shopping and, within five minutes, receive a message, followed by a phone call from one of the hostesses, to ask if I am near. I walk back to PAUL and straight to our table.
Service is efficient and practical. It’s easy to get the attention of a waiter, and managers meander between the tables constantly to ensure customers are satisfied. The only delays occur when ordering more complex dishes from the menu, as the kitchen seems to still be finding its feet.
The place buzzes. There’s a caffeine-fuelled, heightened sense of energy in the air, which is probably also due to the customer turnover being so fast; most people stop in for a quick coffee and a pastry or a light lunch. It’s certainly not the kind of place where people linger and watch the world go by. It’s a 180-seater venue, but it feels far more intimate because of the use of several, cleverly divided seating areas. Black-and-white chequered floors appear throughout, with touches of burgundy, red and soft blue giving it an almost ‘Marie Antoinette’ feel.
Two sections of the working bakery are exposed through glass doors to give patrons a sense of the detail and workmanship needed to create the beautiful, artisanal patisserie and breads.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.