Our second afternoon in Paris was mostly spent wandering the streets near our lunch venue, in the 7th arrondissement. We browsed the well-stocked aisles of La Grande Epicerie, dipped in (and out) of Le Bon Marché and marvelled at the gorgeous displays in La Pâtisserie des Rêves. We then returned to the hotel for a kip (I desperately needed it after a restless night’s sleep – we had unwittingly booked a hotel opposite a club) before stepping out to our dinner destination.
We headed to Le Chateaubriand, which despite having no Michelin stars to speak of, is held in high regard in foodie circles. A new entry into the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant List restaurant last year, it climbed an impressive 29 places to rank 11th in the awards this year.
The rustic, pared-down bistro is unpolished but has a lovely laid-back vibe. There is a single 5-course menu that changes daily, which the waiter brought over on a sheet of A4 to explain at the table. This utilitarian approach to the menu (priced at a very affordable €45), is how chef-patron Iñaki Aizpitarte keeps his costs down without sacrificing creativity in both cooking and ingredients. After translating the menu, our friendly waiter brought over the cheerful bottle of Rhône (I was finally well enough for some booze!) that we chose from the reasonably-priced list, together with a small bowl of warm fluffy gougères which we happily tucked into.
The amuse bouche for the evening was shavings of Frozen Foie Gras with Rhubarb Granita and Baby Radishes. Now I know I’ve said that I’m usually less than enthused by goose liver, but this preparation was light as a feather and coupled with the refreshingly fruit ice, made an excellent palate teaser. The only thing it lacked perhaps, was a touch of sweetness to soften the tartness of the fruit.
What followed was a surprise, not shown on the menu. The unusual crustacean, called Pousse-Pied, did not look particularly appetising (or even edible), but never one to shy away from something new, we got stuck in, pulling off the claw-like shells to eat the meaty flesh. It turned out to be a pleasant culinary discovery – it had the elastic texture of whelks and the sweetness of clams.
Next was a starter of Grilled Baby Squid, which we both knew we would love on sight. The smoke-tinged flesh was sweet and tender, and delicious eaten with the comforting onion emulsion and sprightly vegetable elements. A streak of orange sauce looked striking on the plate, but also lent a subtle floral element which countered any sharpness from the blanched shallot and spring onion.
The Barbue (a local fish from Brittany similar to sea bass) with Cucumber Cream, Petits Pois and Elderflowers was pretty as a picture, and the crisp-skinned fish fillet was roasted to flaky perfection but failed to deliver in taste, being somewhat bland.
Aizpitarte likes to re-work classics in unexpected ways and the Choucroute Printanniere (Spring) was a perfect example of this. All the components (sausage, a mix of cured and smoked meats, potatoes and cabbage) of the winter-time favourite are there, but revamped as a salad, to be appropriately lighter for this time of year. A slab of slow-cooked confit pork belly (cured meat) was topped with slices of sausage from Champagne, boiled baby new potatoes, cubes of smoked eel (smoked ‘meat’) and a heap of shredded raw cabbage leaves tossed whole-grain mustard dressing (in place of sauerkraut). It was a good idea, but a misstep in seasoning meant it was blindingly salty.
A pair of lovely desserts brought our meal to a close. The Spiced Meringue with Strawberries and Mousse Vervaine was like a super-charged version of eton mess – the meringue had a subtle chilli and ginger kick and the airy lemon-scented mousse had specks of popping candy (a tired addition, but still effective). The Lemon Curd sprinkled with fresh Mint and dotted with freeze-dried Raspberries was topped with shards of Potato Chips – a unique clash of Tarte au Citron and Millefeuille that was exemplary.
Le Chateaubriand totally embodies the spirit of “Le Fooding“, offering thought-provoking cuisine to the masses in a relaxed unpretentious setting, at prices that won’t make you wince. Sure the waiters are so chilled out that they take minutes rather than seconds to respond, and yes, the walls are bare and the wooden furnishing has seen better days, but that is all part of the charm. The eclectic clientele clearly agrees, as when we left just before 10pm there were twenty odd people still milling around the bar in hopes of getting a table. All in all we found Aizpitarte’s place a real breath of fresh air, and will most certainly be back when next in town.
129 Avenue Parmentier
75011 Paris, France
t. 33 (0)1 43 57 45 95