Tracing back his first steps in Paris, our food writer experiences a wonderful dinner alone in an aptly named and newly opened Parisian restaurant.
One of the pleasures of having an intimate ongoing relationship with a great city like Paris is watching it evolve as time goes by. The city also becomes a mirror of how your own life has changed, too, of course, by offering a mellow reflection of your present mated to your past. This was what I was thinking when I turned off the Boulevard Saint-Germain into the Rue Saint-Guillaume, which I first remember from the frosty January day that I got out of a taxi from the Gare du Nord with a huge, ugly suitcase to walk down the street to the Hôtel Lenox, at the corner of the Rue du Pré aux Clercs and the Rue Jacob where I’d live for a month. I’d just moved from London to Paris to start a job as a journalist at Fairchild Publications, a group of New York-based publications that were then the most influential arbiters of fashion and lifestyle for Americans who cared about such things.
Personally, these subjects were of rather little interest to me, but I’d taken the job as my flying-carpet to Paris. Fairchild paid well and would take care of my papers, and it pampered its employees with unquestioned expense accounts as compensation for its murderous deadlines and catty office politics. One way or another, though, I loved my room with its cameo view of the Eiffel Tower, as well as the neighbourhood, which was the epitome of nonchalant Parisian chic and as such a very good school for a wet-behind-the-ears newcomer to the capital like me.
As much as I loved the Lenox, it lacked a restaurant, which was a very serious problem for someone who had absolutely no experience whatsoever of dining out alone in a public setting. At least in a hotel dining room, a solo diner was framed by the obvious explanation of being a traveller. It will come as no surprise that my first attempts at going out to dine solo in this neighbourhood were humiliating catastrophes. At Brasserie Lipp, I was seated near the malodorous toilettes, and how was I to know that it was risible for me to turn up at Le Voltaire, one of the chicest bistros in Paris both then and now, without a reservation? Eventually, I found an inexpensive Chinese restaurant in the Rue Gozlin and made it my canteen.
This reel of memories played in my head before I reached the doors of Les Parisiens, a new restaurant in the Hôtel Pavillon Faubourg Saint-Germain, a much remodelled version of the Hôtel Lenox. Stepping inside, I fell in love with this restaurant immediately: the lighting was film-set perfect, the globe lamps and leather-covered banquettes had a graphic Gallic chic, and the crowd was animated, diverse and stylish. I explained to the maîtresse d’hôtel that I’d be on my own for dinner, because the friend I was supposed to be meeting had been taken ill at the last minute.
“Well, then you’ll be in very good company,” she said with a smile and showed me to a corner table that was the perfect spot from which to enjoy the spectacle of a busy dining room.
Though I was looking forward to seeing my friend, it was a real pleasure to relax into the muddle of a nerve-dulling amber cocktail made with a tincture of tobacco, and study the menu.
The problem was that I wanted everything, especially since I’ve long been a big fan of chef Thibault Sombardier, whose cooking I first discovered at Mensae in Belleville in the 19th arrondissement. An exceptionally talented chef, he trained with the late Marc Meneau and Yannick Alléno, among others, a CV that explains the flawless technicity of his cooking, which is also appealingly delicate and light but full of flavour and subtly witty in terms of garnishes and unexpected tweaks of seasoning.
Finally, I settled on the langoustine quenelles and the ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) in a coulis of capers, onions and tomatoes. Pillowy lozenges tucked into a thick shallow sea of cauliflower velouté, the langoustine quenelles were ecstatically good, as were the sweetbreads, lightly crusted outside and custardy within, with their suave Mediterranean-inflected sauce and a garnish of tiny battered onions rings, which were welcome, because, well, onion rings always are. A silky potato purée, doubtless made with a vast amount of butter, brought out the carpe diem in me, and wilted baby spinach was the joyous compunction for the cholesterol-bomb spuds.
During this wonderful meal, I noticed something else to bear in mind when you’re dining out alone, which is the happier and more cheerful you seem, the friendlier and more solicitous your servers become, since they take their cues from you. This is doubtless why my waiter returned to my table after serving my baba au rhum with the bottle to see if I’d like to make the rum-imbibed cake, with its huge cloud of whipped cream and fine sprinkling of lime zest, even higher proof.
I’ve always believed that a really good meal should leave you feeling slightly humble, and indeed I was when I went back out into the night, musing yet again on the beauty of Paris and making a mental note to come back to Les Parisiens some time soon for the whole turbot for two roasted in shellfish butter and served with a sabayon cardinale.
Les Parisiens, Hôtel Pavillon Faubourg Saint-Germain,
5 Rue du Pré aux Clercs, 7th arrondissement, Tel. +33 (0)1 42 61 01 51,
Lunch menus €39, €43, average à la carte €65.
From France Today Magazine
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Lead photo credit : ©les parisiens official site
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