I left you yesterday on Monday evening, so to speak, leaving Septime La Cave following a few glasses and some rather good Comté (see previous article, below), heading for a bar/restaurant which was completely new to us. We had walked past Le Mary Celeste several times in our few days in Paris and it looked lively and busy on each occasion. After realising it was on the Raisin app for natural wine we decided to book. I should mention that everything I’ve read suggests booking here is essential (online booking only, no phone). Walk-ins are possible but apparently you are likely to end up in the basement. I’ll also point out that more like London than Paris, we were given a two-hour slot for the table, though excellent service didn’t make that an issue.
LE MARY CELESTE
Le Mary Celeste has been around for at least six years, I think, but although we must have passed it before on our way to the Marché des Enfants Rouge and one of our favourite bookshops on the Rue de Bretagne, that has probably been in the daytime. At night, with the floor-to-ceiling glass opened out, the buzz of the place spills onto the trottoir, and there are tables outside too. This is perhaps a bar more than a restaurant. It’s famous for cocktails as well as that natural wine list, and the food tends to be based on small plates, in a style that some reviews call “fusion”, whatever that really means. I find myself for the second article in a row quoting Aaron Ayscough, because a quote from his blog, Not Drinking Poison in Paris, appears on the Paris by Mouth web site. Back in 2013 he called this place “the flagship of Paris’ re-invented bar scene…”.
We ate a mix of vegetarian dishes and a couple (for me) with meat/fish. Courgettes with black rice, lemon confit and nori was really good, but the aubergine rôtie with romanesco sauce and lots of sage was even better. Ris d’agneu frit (with mayo, tarragon and airelles, aka cranberries) was excellent bar food, with a fresh breadcrumb coating reminding me of the best scampi of a distant past. The lamb melted in the mouth. Pommes de terre grenailles d’Île de Ré are “pommes de terre primeurs” from the isle of that name. Imagine a Jersey new potato, and just as good. They were served with smoked herring, red onion, crumbled hard boiled egg, Crème d’Issigny and fennel top.
The wine list was pretty good, but after Septime we were always only going to drink one bottle. The choice was difficult but made easier by the presence, near the top of the list, of Domaine Belluard “Les Perles de Mont Blanc” (55€). I’m sure Belluard is well known to many of you. Their wines are sure to be even harder to source once Wink Lorch’s book on the Wines of the French Alps comes out this year, but this méthode traditional sparkler is pretty much impossible to find in the UK in any event.
Domaine Belluard is based in Ayze, a tiny sub-appellation in the valley of the River Arve, near Bonneville and the town of a similar spelling, Ayse. It is coincidentally the closest top Savoie producer to Wink’s Alpine base. Dominique Belluard farms around ten hectares of very old vines, and something of a speciality here is the wonderful and unsung Gringet variety. Those lucky enough to try this rare grape will probably have done so in its still wine iterations, Les Alpes and Le Feu. Interestingly, Gringet has always been a traditional variety in this part of Savoie for sparkling wine, and this is a cracker.
Grown on chalky scree with glacial deposits, at approaching 500 metres altitude, this 100% Gringet sees two years on lees before disgorging. The bouquet starts out quite floral before a touch of biscuity autolysis character pops up. The palate is crisply mineral, so as the wine broadens out in the glass it retains the freshness you want. This was thoughtfully (I presume) served in a tall, and thin-glass, wine stem rather than a flute. Initially the bubbles were quite prominent, meaning you just wanted to sip it. As the bubbles diminished the vinous character of the Gringet came through, and I thought it was a good match with every element of the meal, even including the desserts.
We were pretty stuffed full after the four savoury plats, but the dessert menu was irresistible. I’m a sucker for anything with green tea in it, so I enjoyed matcha meringue sabayon with large dark cherries and cassis, but this was probably marginally eclipsed by a choux croquant au chocolate with noix de muscade (nutmeg) and white peach (and boy were the white peaches from the markets amazing this year).
Le Mary Celeste is at 1 Rue des Commines (which is the westward extension of Rue Oberkampf). Nearest Métro – Filles de Calvaire (or Oberkampf for a seven minute walk).
We were taken to Le Tagine by friends last year, and we weren’t going to miss a chance to go back. There are plenty of North African/couscous restaurants in the area, especially up towards the Rue de Bretagne around the Enfants Rouge market, which itself has plenty of stalls where you can feed two for 15€ take away (or eat in). Le Tagine has one advantage over a cheaper meal at the market – not merely Aesop liquid soap in the loo, it also has a small but good, mainly natural, wine list (Foillard and Arena are regulars). It’s also on the Raisin app.
I don’t need to go through the menu. It’s just worth bearing in mind that the tagines are served without couscous, and the couscous dishes are in a separate section. The couscous “speciale” comes with four meats (koftas, lamb, merguez and chicken). The lamb is elsewhere on the menu described as agneau de lait des Pyrénées. With that you get a veritable mountain of fine grain couscous, a bowl of large vegetables in stock, fresh harissa, and small sides of chick peas and raisins, and harissa-infused carrot. It comes with a warning that you’ll need carrying home. It was certainly the most I ate at any meal this time, but then I didn’t have to finish it. Nor needed I indulge in Moroccan pastries with the post-prandial caffeine shot, but I saw the edge and jumped anyway.
The wines are available by the glass or bottle, but also in 50cl carafe, useful for two people lunching who fancy a white and a red, though we were meeting friends mid-afternoon and so had to stay awake. We drank Syrah du Maroc “Tandem”, AOG Zenata 2016, Alain Graillot, a smooth and fruity red from one of Crozes-Hermitage’s finest, which didn’t suffer from the increasing spoonfuls of harissa I kept adding to my vegetable stock (well, some people are addicted to nutmeg, and I like my harissa). Yapp Brothers is Graillot’s UK importer, who generally have this available.
Le Tagine is at 13 Rue de Crussol, also in Paris 11 (same Métros as Le Mary Celeste). We didn’t book, and it was fairly quiet on Bastille Day, but I understand they do prefer you to reserve a table. It’s just half a kilometre from the Picasso Museum, where we had just seen the excellent Calder-Picasso Exhibition (on until 25 August). I’m a big fan of Alexander Calder.
LE POTAGER DU MARAIS
This restaurant is a treat for vegans visiting Paris, but I’d also suggest it’s just as much a treat for non-vegans dining with vegans. Le Potager has apparently been here since 2003, but I’d never been here until a friend of our daughter took us on our first night. The restaurant aims to adapt traditional French cuisine to “the vegan style…[to make] a bridge between the two cultures.” This it does remarkably well.
I ate a vegan “bourguignon” which frankly tasted just like a boeuf version, with chunks of seitan, carrot and onion, marinaded and cooked in red wine. The only difference lay in the texture of the seitan. Seitan does take on some of the texture of meat when cooked, so the difference isn’t as big as you might expect, but no one would think they were eating beef. For dessert I ate a vegan tarte-tatin. I’ll give a plug to my wife, who I think does vegan tarte-tatin even better, but this was pretty good. Other vegan versions of classic French cuisine that sounded tempting included cassoulet and crèpe sarrasin. That crème brûlée, which others on our table chose for dessert, tasted amazing.
We drank a biologique Pinot Noir from the Pays d’Arles of all places, produced by Domaine Attilon. This is a large (90 ha) estate run by Renaud and Odile de Roux, between Craux and the Rhône. I know very little about it, except that they grow their vines organically. This was an enjoyable, medium-bodied, Pinot with light cherry and raspberry fruit. Not pointing to greatness, but more than serviceable. Also pretty cheap, if I recall.
Le Potager du Marais is definitely my favourite vegan restaurant in Paris now. It’s at 24 Rue Rambuteau in the heart of the Marais (Paris 3). It’s also highly rated on veganfoodandliving.com.
What else did we do in our four nights/three-and-a-half days in Paris? A visit to my favourite Parisian wine shop, La Cave des Papilles (35 Rue Daguerre, corner of Rue Lalande, Paris 14, Métro – Denfert-Rochereau) is always de rigueur. They stock an excellent range of natural wines, and this time I came out with a couple of bottles of Emmanuel Lassaigne‘s Champagnes and some Domaine L’Octavin from Jura. They stock a good selection of Lassaigne’s cuvées from his Montgueux vineyards (he makes the Papilles own-label Champagne and has become one of my favourite Growers over the past few years), and they have an even more impressive Jura selection.
We also went to several Parisian café-bars, whether for food, an early evening beer, or a morning coffee. I suppose people tend to think of them as expensive, possibly touristy, and I guess by London standards 4,50€ for a small black coffee is expensive. Especially as coffee is not always Paris’ strong point. But you are paying for the right to sit and watch life go by. The food is, however, usually pretty good value in these places so long as you stay away from the real tourist centres. We had lunch with “the band” near the Saint-Paul Métro and perfectly enjoyable onglet with salade and frites was just 13€. Where can you find steak and chips in London for £13?
Probably the most touristy thing we did was after a visit to the Marché St-Pierre, the concentration of fabric shops near the foot of Sacré-Coeur. The steps up the road on the left hand side of the multi-floor “empire of fabric” called Dreyfus leads to a small square, around half way up. We had a long and relaxing two-hour lunch sitting outside at a café called L’Eté en Pente Douce (8 Rue Paul Albert). We ate typical Parisian fare (duck salad in my case), and drank Kirs and Viognier. It’s not so much the food you go for in these places, but the atmosphere, a buzzing throng of all Parisian life and, in this case, no cars. Montmartre may be tourist central, but it has enough atmosphere to make it worth a nostalgic visit every couple of years, for me at least. The views from the terrace below the church are half the reason for climbing up to the top, although you almost need to queue for a spot at the balustrade.
Anvers is the closest Métro for the Marché St-Pierre, which is worth a look even if making clothes is not your forté (that’s me, but I appreciate the skill of those who do it). Barbès-Rochechouart, being on a different line, is also close enough (and better if you are staying out east).
“The band”? Nepal’s finest Death Metal Band, Ugra Karma were in town for the final date of their French Tour, after playing the Obscene Extreme festival in the Czech Republic. The gig was at Le Klub (14 Rue St-Denis) on Bastille Day, and was naturally the highlight of our trip.
Himalayan Death Metal at Le Klub – “as their frosty death [metal] comes near, laughter on the winds they hear”
Alexander Calder – Musée Picasso (5 Rue de Thorigny, Paris 3) until August 25th
Place des Vosges, traditional picnic venue