Most visitors who come to Paris in search of fine food probably imagine they will find it in a grand dining room with a glass-domed ceiling, starched tablecloth and vast chandeliers. But today the city’s resident foodies are more likely to get excited about a new breed of restaurants which are relaxed, simply furnished – and absolutely tiny.
These places have as few as six tables, with diners crammed in together and the chef in full view, cooking away at the end of the room. With low overheads, fewer staff and none of the usual frills that accompany gourmet dining, here up-and-coming chefs can concentrate on inventing creative dishes, using excellent produce and at more affordable prices. And, unlike many restaurants in the city, some of them even stay open in August.
This summer’s hottest address is Spring, opened three weeks ago by American chef Daniel Rose in a chic, minimalist space, with six tables. Cooking in an open atelier-style kitchen, Rose and his enthusiastic team describe their light, market-based cuisine as a “work in progress”, with new recipes being tested every day, and lunch dishes based around different delicious broths. Like many of these tiny restaurants, there isn’t an à la carte offering, just a set menu, which here costs €38 at midday, rising to €64 at night.
Earlier in the year young Italian chef Giovanni Passerini opened Rino, not far from the trendy Bastille quarter, for which he has been getting rave reviews from numerous French food critics. Passerini previously worked with the influential Swedish chef, Petter Nilsson at La Gazzetta, in the 12th arrondissement, and his 20-seat diner will definitely be one of the most fashionable spots to book a table come the September rentrée when Parisians get back from their summer holidays. Don’t expect classic Italian cuisine though, as the chef, working with just a single assistant in a cramped open kitchen, creates his own fantasy dishes, such as a barley risotto with anchovies, preserved lemon and fish eggs, or ravioli stuffed with calf’s head and served with a dandelion salad and parsnip consommé. Lunch is a good deal, with two set courses costing only €18, while at night, tasting menus are priced at €38 and €50.
It may be hard to get a reservation at Rino, but this is nothing compared to yam’Tcha, situated a stone’s throw from the Louvre. Its chef Adeline Grattard is the new cherie of Parisian gourmets, consecrated in March with her first Michelin star scarcely a year after opening. Even before the Michelin announcement, the waiting list was six weeks for a table in the minuscule dining room which seats a maximum of 20 people. After working with one of France’s greatest chefs, Pascal Barbot at L’Astrance, she moved to Hong Kong to cook alongside Alvin Leung at his Bo Innovation restaurant.
Back in Paris, finally in her own restaurant, she is creating sensational dishes that are a genuine marriage between French and Chinese products, flavours and cooking techniques. Working in a tiny open kitchen, she wows customers with her use of the wok, and her husband, Chi Wa, theatrically handles tea tastings to accompany the food – although there is also an excellent choice of wines, particularly from Grattard’s native Burgundy. If you can get in, the lunch menu is a steal at €30, while at night, the price rises to €65.
Mystery Cuisine, off the rue de Rivoli, has space for just 14 diners and only opens at night. The concept is what the self-trained chefs and owners – Frenchman Edouard Desrousseaux de Vandières and Thu Ha from Vietnam – call “four-handed cuisine”, meaning imaginative dishes that they have created together. Desrousseaux de Vandières loves fresh foie gras, which he presents lightly seared with strawberries, spices and black truffle, while Ha prepares a delicious pho ga soup of rice noodles, beef, chicken and a raw egg yolk, which accompanies each of the main dishes.
Dining out here is something of a splurge – the two-course mystery menu costs €59, while the menu gastronomique, which includes cheeses and desserts, is a hefty €99. There is a fine wine list, and the chefs find the time to mix a great mojito.
In a friendly restaurant called Le Timbre (The Postage Stamp), owned by Chris Wright, even the waitress has difficulty balancing dishes between the dozen tables. One of the few British chefs to have made a name for himself in the city, Wright draws not expats, but a loyal clientele of chic Parisians and offers his own interpretation of classic French cuisine.
Girolle mushrooms are lightly fried with cured ham; a simple pea soup is flavoured with tangy anchovies, while a chunky cod steak is served with pimiento peppers from the Basque country, stuffed with creamy goat’s cheese. Wright somehow manages to do all the cooking alone, in an open gallery, and customers even have to dodge through the kitchen to get to the loo out back in a courtyard. Le Timbre is tucked down a side street in the heart of the Rive Gauche, not far from legendary dining institutions like La Coupole and Le Dôme, but with a three-course set lunch at €26, is far better value.
Unlike Spring or yam’Tcha, Les Crocs remains well under the radar of the Paris gourmet blogosphere – and all the better because you don’t always have to book in advance at this cosy 18-seat restaurant, right by one of Paris’s finest food markets, the Marché d’Aligre. The menu reflects what the chef, Luc Paget, has found there that morning: tuna steak with baby artichokes, perhaps, or wild boar, marinated in red wine and served with freshly-made pasta. Better still, if you are a group of at least 14, you can reserve the whole restaurant – so for a special occasion, why not forget the pomp of the Meurice or the Plaza Athénée, and celebrate in your own private, if petite, Parisian restaurant.
Spring, 6 rue Bailleul, tel: +33 1 45 96 05 72, www.springparis.fr
Rino, 46 rue Trousseau, tel: +33 1 48 06 95 85, www.rinorestaurant.com
yam’Tcha, 4 rue Sauval, tel: +33 1 40 26 08 07
Mystery Cuisine, 37 rue Montpensier, tel: +33 1 40 20 03 02
Le Timbre, 3 rue Sainte Beuve, tel: +33 1 45 49 10 40, www.restaurantletimbre.com
Les Crocs, 14 rue de Cotte, tel: +33 1 43 46 63 63
yam’Tcha and Mystery Cuisine are closed during August, Rino and Le Timbre reopen on 24 August