We rose early on our final day in Paris, cramming in trips to cookware emporiums Mora and E.Dehillerin, as well as a flying stop at Eric Kayser for financiers and canelés. Lugging our stash of kitchen bounty, we arrived at the capital’s oldest covered passageway, the Passage des Panaromas, just off Boulevard Montmartre. The narrow walkway lined with quirky shops selling curios and trinkets is an unexpected location for the 1 Michelin-starred Passage 53, a barely one-year-old restaurant serving the modern French cusine by chef Shinichi Sato (who previously held stints at Gagnaire, L’Astrance and Aida).
We were seated by the floor to ceiling glass shopfront, affording us full view of both the passing throng and the restaurant interiors – an eclectic mix of old (low ceilings, wooden beams, ornate floor tiles) and new (metallic leather seats, modern fittings and a fresh lick of paint). There’s a choice of two menus – a €85 menu dégustation, as well as a thriftier 3-course option (menu déjeuner) at €45. We opted for the former, ordered a couple of glasses of bubbly and left the wine choice (by the glass) to manager Guillaume Guedj. The engaging Guedj is part owner of the restaurant and happens to be the son-in-law of renowned butcher Hugo Desnoyer (who supplies meat to an impressive roster of top-tier Parisian restaurants).
Our coupes of Jacquesson (NV) arrived with a trio of amuse bouche. The Pea Velouté with Pea Ice Cream was an intense hit of summer – delightful bursts of freshness from the petit pois, and an impeccably seasoned soup that was not too sweet, allowing the peas to shine through. Really superb.
The pairing of Onion Tart and Herring Roe Sandwich was a nice play on flavours, with the dainty tart being both sweet and sour from the lightly-pickled onions and lemon caviar, and the miniscule sandwich providing a touch of salt with the rich herring roe butter.
The small bites whet our appetites, paving the way for the first starter of Tempura Baby Violet Artichokes with Green Apples, Oysters and a Sea Onion Foam. I adored the subtle briny taste of the sea and the crispness of the tempura with the plump creamy oysters, although the artichoke was quite substantial and a more delicate vegetable may have made a better pairing.
Guillaume introduced the next minimalist plate as the house speciality – Grilled Squid and Cauliflower. The squid was still pale, having only been briefly kissed by the flames, and its tender, slightly bouncy texture provided contrast to the fine shavings of sweet crunchy raw cauliflower and soft yielding purée. A beautifully refined dish with elegant flavours.
The Asparagus and Morels was another wonderfully understated dish that displayed a real respect for the ingredients, leaving them to speak for themselves. It featured simply blanched white and wild asparagus which were sweet with a bitter edge, played down by the woody mushrooms and airy morel foam.
A pretty Barbue with Carrot Powder and Seasonal Vegetables followed – delicate flaky white fish with sweet spring cabbage and baby turnips, resting in a pool of yuzu-spiked vegetable emulsion. Once again, Sato combines simple clean flavours to great effect.
The velvety Roasted Foie Gras served with Strawberry and a Rhubarb Soup, was surprisingly light and the refreshing fruit liquor (described to us as a Trou Normand, or palate cleanser) was the perfect foil to the buttery rich liver, being both tart and sweet in equal measure.
The first meat course was a Roasted and Confit Poulet de Bresse with slow-cooked Egg, Onions, Green Asparagus and Shitake. For the uninitiated, the Poulet de Bresse is no ordinary chicken; a special breed reared in the Bresse region, it is revered for the tenderness of the meat, good amount of evenly-distribution fat and an unrivaled depth of flavour. And this quality specimen, supplied by Desnoyer (naturally), was juicy and succulent, with a crisp caramelised skin and bags of flavour. The scrambled egg and onion mixture was an inspired ‘sauce’, and the vegetable components were well-executed (although the mushroom quenelle wasn’t really needed).
I wasn’t as taken by the Roast Pigeon Breast with Fondant Potatoes, Fine Beans, Choi Sim, Broad Beans, Bread Sauce and Smoked Aubergine Purée, but then the previous dish was a tough act to follow (and I do have a soft spot for Poulet de Bresse). Having said that it was highly palatable, my only real complaint being that the Asian greens didn’t combine harmoniously with the other items on the plate.
The arrival of desserts transformed me into a child in a sweetshop – we were presented with not one, but five, and all together so we had a mini buffet set in front of us. Guillaume instructed us to eat from left to right, so we did. The first, a sharp Rhubarb Jelly with Rhubarb Sorbet and Diced Raw Rhubarb (top), was mellowed by the sweet and comforting Lychee Panna Cotta with Strawberries (bottom). Both were nice, but I especially enjoyed the latter.
Next in line was the Mango and Sago with Pineapple and Passionfruit Foam. Bright tropical flavours, that slowly revealed themselves on the palate. Lovely.
The fragrant strawberry number of Fresh Strawberries, Strawberry Sorbet, Fresh Almonds, Crumble and Strawberry Tuile, was a successful (and delicious) deconstruction of a strawberry tart.
It was a great transition of desserts, ending with an expertly-made Chocolate Tart with Raspberry Coulis, that was deep and rich but not cloyingly so. After popping upstairs on the steep winding iron staircase for a quick visit to the restrooms (and a peak into the cramped bustling kitchen), we unwound with a soothing pot of vervaine before reluctantly stepping back out into the hustle and bustle, to make our way to the Gare du Nord for our return journey to London.
We couldn’t have picked a better meal to end our weekend break – everything from the finesse of Sato’s creations to Guillaume’s knowledgeable and personal service was a joy. It was a little disconcerting when pedestrians stopped to peek in and scrutinise what we were eating, but that, coupled with the small eclectic space made us feel like we’ve stumbled on a hidden treasure. And indeed, what a find it is. I predict great things and more stars for Passage 53, and if you’re ever Paris-bound, I strongly urge you to sample it for yourself (it was easily our favourite of the lot).
53 Passage des Panoramas
75002 Paris, France
t: +33 (0)1 42 33 04 35