It all began with Yannick Alléno’s Terroir Parisien menu devoted to locally sourced produce and meat at the dining room of Paris Hotel, Le Meurice. A native of Ile de France, son to parents who ran bistros in France, it’s no surprise that Yannick wanted revive classical Parisian cooking. He wanted to do something different, to stand out, and wanted to showcase French produce, primarily within a 50 kilometre radius of the city. The 3-starred Michelin chef wrote Terroir Parisien and the Latin Quarter bistro soon followed.
It’s here you can sample some of Alléno’s work without the price tag of his three starred food at Le Meurice but don’t expect copycat cuisine. This restaurant isn’t here to replicate dishes but to produce food that were once the mainstay of Parisian cuisine.
When you arrive at the entrance to the Art-Deco building, a huge velvet curtain sweeps across the door and when it’s drawn back, reveals a modern, airy restaurant with a bar counter at its heart. It’s Saturday night and the atmosphere is crackling, people keep arriving in the hope they can snag a table but it’s pre-booked only tonight. The only seats free are around the square bar and that fills up very quickly. The space is open plan with a semi-glazed kitchen is at the rear.
One of Yannick’s speciality dishes is a chien chaud (well it’s a veau chaud) – hot veal – his take on the hot dog. A slender 9″ sausage is made from all the edible parts of a cooked calf head, or tête de veau. He leaves the brains, eyes and fat out but adds egg white and threads of veal to the mixture to keep its shape. From there it’s wrapped in a casing and boiled in a vegetable stock. The casing peeled away and the sausage placed into – you’ve guessed it – a French baguette. You then squirt Gribiche sauce on it – a vinaigrette with capers, cornichons, hard boiled egg, herbs and mustard – which arrives in a diner-style sauce bottle. Unfortunately we missed it on the menu, but Jamie Cameron, the Restaurant manager, is happy to explain what we should have ordered. Diners come here for this haute cuisine ‘dog’ – it’s even served in a hot dog box – and there were plenty of people sitting up at the bar eating this designer dog but I’m not surprised at a bargain 9 Euros.
We’ve missed Alléno cooking by a day, but I’m delighted to hear that Eric Castandet is Chef de cuisine, although, I almost blind him on the pass because I forget to turn off my camera flash. He waves and smiles and I mime a really sorry face. He laughs. Eric was, until recently, second to Alleno at Le Meurice, Paris so we are in fabulous hands. I apologise in advance for the pictures, they aren’t a true representation of the food we’re served, but you get an idea.
We had wine from the Private Bin – a recommendation from the talented and knowledgeable Jamie. A bottle of Domaine de la Grange des Pères 2008. This is a wine from THE star producer in the Languedoc – Laurent Vaillé. Monsieur Vaillé has planted vines on the vale of Gassac, near Aniane which is now one of the most sought after and regarded as one of the finest terroirs in the area. Low yields from young vines have catapulted this man’s wine to almost cult status.
The wine is a rich blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre which produces (with some feat of balancing) a jammy, dark berry taste – a big boy glass of red but managing to exude elegance and class at the same time. This was a very special bottle of red and went well with what was to follow.
So there were four of us eating, me, Mr, Toby and Sarah – we all love Paris and we all love our food. We were here on my recommendation so I was slightly worried that they may not like the dishes but as soon as the menu arrived, my worries disappeared.
For a table sharing dish we choose the Radis-beurre (6E) and a bowl of bright red globes arrive with a pot of peppered butter. We merrily dip and chomp but we all thought the dish could have done with a little rock salt, however, this didn’t really deviate. At the end of the day it’s a bowl of organic peppery flavoured radish scrubbed and served with butter – what’s not to like?
To begin we chose Museau a la vinaigrette (8E), Poireaux a la vinaigrette (9E), Gratinee des Halles (10E) and a Salade Pieds de Cochons (9E).
The Gratinee des Halles, or Onion Soup to you and me, takes its name from the soup served at Les Halles – the former market district in the city. Yannick has daintily reworked it with a clear flavourful salty broth which packs a meaty punch, probably due to the added bone marrow. Cheese which is normally found floating like a top-heavy island on most French onion soups is cleverly disguised in breaded cubes. Added theatre is always welcome at my table and the steaming broth is poured in front of me.
The Museau a la vinaigrette is basically pig’s snout and no, a plate with an upturned snout did not arrive (thankfully). The meat is deconstructed and pounded thin, it’s served with a light vinaigrette and simply melts in your mouth.
The Salade Pieds de Cochons was very pretty – there was no tied pig trotter here. Again, a delicately pressed meat was rolled and thinly slice – impressive.
Sarah chose the leeks and wasn’t disappointed – Poireaux a la vinaigrette. A traditional French dish had been given the Alleno treatment and proved to be one of the best of the night. Baby leeks were cut and blanched, a delicious dressing drizzled on top of these and hard-boiled egg crumbled on top.
Next up the mains and me and Toby opt for the veal, Sarah goes for the chicken and Mr choses the hare.
The Cote de Veau (32) was asked for and served pink and took up the majority of the plate. It came with white beans that had been stewed, although Toby opted for French fries. The fries would have been fabulous had they arrived remotely hot but we fear they had waited under a lamp for some time. Served in a cone, they were well fried and perfectly salted but were soggy and limp. The veal was sublime, deeply crusted with a well seasoned breadcrumb with a hint of cheese. It was good to see that whilst Toby swapped his accompanying beans we were not charged for the fries as so often happens.
The spectacular dish of the evening, although way too rich for me, was Mister’s Lievre a la Royale (35E) . Hare is marinated for three days, cooked, shredded, then wrapped around a filling of foie gras. It’s then sliced and served in a near-black sauce. The accompaniment, massive homemade pasta shells and Mister absolutely adored this dish.
Sarah opted for a very modest poulet au vinaigre (16E) and a cocotte arrived with breast, leg, tomatoes and mushrooms in a rich sauce. She too had ordered the pommel allumettes (4E) as I’ve said were disappointing, but Sarah still enjoyed her dish.
A pause for some kitchen-watching action and then on to desserts. We were all so very full but just had to try a little of what was on offer. Mister does not do puddings so had a Calvados instead. We chose the Madeleines (7E) and Quatre Coins aux Pommes (7E).
The apple tart was stunning. A steam rolled pastry lent itself to aromatic apple slices, which were layered beautifully on top. A generous curl of salted caramel ice cream, really added to this dish. The Madeleines came on top a bed of herbs, the flavours of which were subtly tasted in the light honeyed sponge.
Capuccinos ended the meal (4.80E) and the thickly whipped froth has to be worth of note – almost meringue like and totally delicious.
We will definitely return to the restaurant next time we’re in Paris. I’m saving hard for a meal and a stay at Le Meurice (could be some while).
The bill (excluding our added 35E tip) was 257 Euros. This included 1 litre of Perrier (8E) Jack Daniels and Diet Coke (14.60E), Tanqueray (8E) Calvados 8 Year old (13E), Port (9.50E), a glass of Cairanne (8.50E), a Galia Parisienne Beer (8E). Mr treated us to the wine and paid for it separately – sorry I didn’t see the price.
Pictures aren’t the best, I know. This is not the kind of restaurant you wave your SLR around in and I do respect other diners so I used a discrete camera phone (once I’d turned off the flash!)