Paris Restaurants: Papillon, Chef Christophe Saintagne’s New Bistro

Paris Restaurants: Papillon, Chef Christophe Saintagne’s New Bistro

Chef Christophe Saintagne’s lively new bistro in a very bourgeois neighbourhood of the 17th arrondissement signals the on-going ascendency of western Paris in terms of good eating. For almost 20 years, the drill for young chefs has been to seek a cheap shop-front space in affordable, formerly working-class, eastern Paris when they wanted to set up on their own. Now, the tough economics of making a go of it with a restaurant in a country with labour laws as onerous as France is starting to favour western Paris again, for the simple reason that these districts provide the well-heeled lunch crowd that nourishes the bottom line.

Saintagne was the chef at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the Hôtel Le Meurice, but after some chicanery – Ducasse learned this table would be demoted from three stars to two in the 2016 France Michelin Guide – it was decided that he would move on, a decision that may have been mutual. In any event, the name references the 1973 film in which Steve McQueen plays a convict who escapes the Devil’s Island penitentiary off French Guiana…

Saintagne’s new place brings some refreshing modernity to a stuffy neighbourhood with its suspender-wearing young waiters and Nordic looking dining room with parquet floors and suspension lamps. His evolving menu is market-driven and rather modish, with winks at many of the world’s most important food trends right now, including locavorism, sustainable dining – grains, pulses, vegetables and non-endangered seafood, and a guiding minimalism.

Papillon restaurant in Paris

Papillon restaurant in Paris. © Pierre Monetta

Most of it is very good, too, but not everything works. Dining here as part of a quartet, the others enjoyed their starter of cracked wheat with seasonal vegetables in a light vinaigrette, while I was let down by an odd preparation of tiny, lukewarm oysters buried under dull croutons. Happily, my main course put the meal on the rails again – a succulent shoulder of lamb smoked in hay and then roasted, so that it had a beautiful pastoral perfume that was released when its crusted exterior was sliced. Other good main courses included grilled Bigorre pork belly with a garnish of Utah Beach oysters (Saintagne’s puckish nod at his Norman origins) and whiting on toast with black-olive tapenade, with a sauté of baby spinach. Don’t miss the cheese course here either, and bravo for a wine list with so many good vins naturels (unsulfured wines).

Papillon, 8 rue Meissonier, Paris 17th, +33 01 56 79 81 88. Lunch menus: €28, €36. Average price à la carte dinner €65.

From France Today magazine

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Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine from 1999 until its closing, and has written about food and travel for Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Travel & Leisure, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications in the United States and the United Kingdom. He is the author of HUNGRY FOR PARIS, 2nd Edition (Random House, 4/2014), HUNGRY FOR FRANCE (Rizzoli, 4/2014), and MY PLACE AT THE TABLE, newly published in June 2021.

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