My wish list over four days in Paris included: 1 x ambitious Bistronomy; 1 or 2 x casual modern Paris; 1 x not dog turd classic bistro; and copious brilliant Viennoiserie. Not too much to ask, surely?…
Technically all the above were ticked, yet I sat on the Eurostar home feeling non-plussed, and certainly less enthralled than I’d hoped to be relative to how bloated I was.
On reflection, we didn’t do things right this time round. The trip missed a gold standard, overly rich, belly busting, eye-rolling classic bistro – a Paul Bert, Benoit, Chez Georges, or Chez L’Ami Jean moment. I was probably guilty at the planning stage of ignoring what Paris does best; of chasing the modern, just because it’s new. What’s the old proverb: “When in Rome, don’t eat as if you’re in Copenhagen”, or something like that?
For what it’s worth, some of our weekend eats are noted below. Though imperfect, they’re worth consideration and better than falling aimlessly into any old restaurant with a prominent position and a slightly less grotty awning than the one next to it – only to get a stale slice of quiche Lorraine, a bitter coffee and a cigarette in the eye.
The ambitious one: Restaurant A.T.
Septime and Le Chateaubriand (still) seem to be the top choices for Parisian ‘bistronomy’. Annoyingly, even if you have destination restaurant planner OCD, they are pretty much impossible to get a weekend dinner reservation for – bookings are advertised as opening 21 days in advance of whichever date you are after, yet at the relevant turn of midnight all seats immediately appear to be taken.
If not those two, then where? We ate at Restaurant A.T. which, to cut to the chase, was two thirds of the way to being superb, but tailed off towards the end of the meal. Service, effort and ingenuity couldn’t be faulted, and the plating is really quite stunning. But it’s a quiet, serious, 18 seater restaurant and much of the eating left me cold. Roots, grains, powders and broths need to satisfy and intrigue, and (for me at least) need the context of a buzzing room – otherwise an evening spent picking at them comes dangerously close to scrolling through slides of 1980’s nouvelle cuisine.
That said, two thirds of our 12 course taster menu was ace. Gnarly, frazzled, deep fried whole salsify roots were dotted with honey and turnip top flowers and presented as a finger snack. The usual mineral, earthy, and oyster notes were present, but frying added a sweetness – highlighted by the honey – and the crispness was mighty satisfying. A bowl of creamy broth, sudachi oil and lightly poached oyster wrapped in softened, cooling kohlrabi was beautifully balanced. One dish of very lightly seared salmon hidden underneath horseradish ‘snow’ and crisp, ethereally light crackers made from parsley, juniper and charcoal was stunning in every sense of the word. Whelks with a mix of raw and silken puréed Jerusalem artichoke couldn’t have been more comforting, nor has a brown food ever been prettier.
From then things tailed off. Though the menu appeared to be peaking in terms of course size, successive pollack and lamb cutlet courses failed to ignite or inspire (and were probably too big), sweet courses made from a Japanese cyprus tree, blueberry and Jamaican pepper, and another out of carrot and kumquat were visually arresting, but a bore to eat.
The chef proprietor Atsushi Tanaka is Japanese and the food takes influences from his homeland, Brooklyn, Scandinavia and of course Paris. He’s quite the artist, but the balance of the menu and rhythm of the meal didn’t work. Moreover, you need to be a studious foodie to love to eat in such a stale room. In another environment I might’ve walked out on a high – a meal’s always more than just the food.
Restaurant A.T. by Atsushi Tanaka in 3 words
Earnest, modern art
12 course taster menu = 95 Euros. There are 2 wine pairing options (45 and 65 Euros)
atsushitanaka.com – 4 Rue du Cardinel Lemoine, 5eme.
Casual modern: Clamato and Ellsworth
No need to worry about 21 day booking lead times at Septime’s mostly raw seafood focused sibling – because Clamato is a no reservations kind of place.
It’s a cracking room. Not unusual in it has sleek long bar at the front (zinc? marble? can’t remember), a few banquets and various mismatched small tables; but the mix of vibrant green, pale wooden ceiling and a bay window the back ensure it feels both calming and on trend.
We went late on a Sunday afternoon. Good things included a coriander heavy pollack ceviche and ponzu loaded raw scallops. A wedge of steamed cauliflower with mint and whipped feta grew on me. Raw, vinegar soused mushrooms, topped with bottarga and chives was too sour – interesting at best, but most probably a fail. The signature maple syrup tart and Chantilly cream is good, but have an espresso on the side.
I really enjoyed the stunning, smooth clam velouté, which was flawless, really … save that on the menu it was described as a chowder and quite patently wasn’t one. Chowders are hearty, gutsy, comforting and never-ending. This came in a dramatically oversized cast iron pot (clearly not the cooking vessel), which was then scraped out awkwardly at our table by a waitress using a minuscule ladle (3 small scoops per person). Silly – and at 19 euros quite punchy.
Clamato is open on a Sunday evening and a good place to head to. Though probably best if you’re in the mood for rounds and rounds of oysters, fizzy natural wine, a few plates of raw, marinated fish. And then a kebab on the way home.
septime-charonne.fr 80 Rue de Charonne, 11eme
This is a modern US influenced bar-restaurant in the First. Opened last year, it’s from the team behind Verjus, and if you’re in the area needing a break from steak haché and duck gizzards it’s worth a look – decent room, decent food, affordable, decent wine.
From the outside you expect beats, tattoos and beards, but it appears to be deliberately low key and chilled. Quite refreshing, really.
The food was fine. Small plates including: a very good mix of charred and pickled broccoli on cauliflower and tahini purée; zippy kale salad; excellent ricotta cappelletti; a not very subtle duck and kimchi tartare; dry buttermilk chicken in a dirty, overdone batter; and a (tasty) clementine and poppy cake custard mess. Basically, low-mid level Hackney, dressed up in stylish Parisian clothes.
ellsworthparis.com – 34 rue de Richelieu, 1eme
Viennoiserie: Au pain des idées
Two things are certain in Paris: (1) you will step in dog shit; and (2) good croissants are readily available.
I pounded the streets in search of renowned croissants and Viennoiserie, thereby ensuring the first certainty was realised quite early on. To the amusement of my wife, none were better than those available in our hotel, where she enjoyed a more leisurely breakfast whilst proving point (2).
Bottom line being: if you’re staying nearby a well known boulangerie, take advantage of it. But don’t bother crossing town for another.
With that in mind, if you happen to be hanging out in the Tenth on a Monday to Friday, tuck into the Escargot pastries at Au Pain des Idées. The pistachio and chocolate option is king. Bread is excellent too – in particularly their well crusted sourdough.
34 Rue Yves Toudic, 10eme