At the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, the Saint-Honoré seems to be pastry chef Pierre Mathieu’s masterpiece. Having already had the pleasure of judging his Lemon Cheesecake, we hold high expectations for this unusually constructed Saint-Honoré. Let us inspect it with our inflexible rigour and decide whether it is worthy of our interest.
This dessert is composed of a flaky pastry on which lie two little eclairs filled with a vanilla pastry cream. A chou (cream puff) filled with the same cream, coated in a layer of craquelin (a sweet, crunchy glaze) and a hard caramel shell, is fixed on each eclair with a dab of caramel. Next to each choux, we find a plump scoop of light vanilla cream, topped with a cap of vanilla jelly. The deconstructed and revisited appearance of this dessert does recall the Saint-Honoré by La Pâtisserie des Rêves, but that is not to say it lacks originality or its own unique identity.
The Saint-Honoré by the Mandarin Oriental is almost cube-like in structure, with a length of 65 mm, a width of 62 mm and a height of 59 mm. The specimen we purchased weights 129 grams and costs 8 euros, when purchased to go.
A inviting aroma of butter and vanilla emanates from the dessert, and we gleefully start our tasting with one of these plump mounds of light cream, just waiting to be eaten. Though the vanilla jelly which sits atop them has no distinct flavor, it certainly brings a welcome touch of freshness in such a butter-rich dessert. The cream is lightly vanilla-flavored, slightly sweet, and has the milky tinge reminiscent of whipped cream. As expected, its texture is light and airy.
The dough with which the choux and the little eclairs are made has a delicate buttery flavor which remains on the palate, perceptible without being overbearing. Its butter content seems precisely calibrated to give it the desired taste without making it too heavy. The choux dough is evidently fresh, judging by its lack of sogginess. The two cream puffs are coated in a layer of craquelin and hard caramel. The latter, pleasantly crunchy and without a trace of bitterness, would however have benefited from being layered more thinly, so as to make it easier to break when being tasted. We also notice that the eclairs are placed upside down, with the side on which they were baked placed in contact with the choux. This offers a more steady base for the choux, which are affixed to the eclairs with a dab of caramel. The pastry cream in the eclairs is far more unctuous and slightly sweeter than the mounds of light cream found on the surface. Its sugar content indicates an expert restraint. In both types of cream, we discern with delight the vanilla seeds with which they are perfumed. Finally, the puff pastry, probably presented upside down, offers a magnificent, flawless flakiness, with a perfectly uniform baking and coloring throughout the entire thickness of the pastry. Well-cooked and dark in color, it releases smoky notes which offer a pleasant contrast with the freshness of the creams – though this is a potentially divisive choice. Its very crumbly texture nevertheless has the merit of creating a noticeable contrast with the soft choux dough.
The subject of our investigation is a very nicely textured dessert, as is the case for all well-made Saint-Honorés. This particular version, however, reaches the next level of refinement, with the restraint and understated sophistication characteristic of the french style. Equilibrium is the watchword to obtain such a result: the vanilla is distinctively present without being excessive, the sugar is well mastered and dosed with parsimony, the various elements are cooked to perfection, and the products are unmistakably fresh. Here is a dessert which rises to our expectations, in which the confidence and experience of the pastry chef are palpable.
Score : 4.4/5 Excellent
251 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris, France