Nanashi is so achingly hip, it’s almost painful. But all good for the owner, Lionel Bensemoun, also of Le Baron and La Fidelité, who must be relishing the success of the new concept now in two venues. The influence of Rose Bakery where the Japanese chef Kaori Endo was an employee is evident: the crates of apples by the entrance, the emphasis on salads, teas and freshly squeezed juices, the visible cooking behind the bar.
There are two branches: the original in the Rue de Paradis in the 10th arondissement; the second in the more trendy Rue de Charlot in the 3eme. The latter I visited first. It was 1.30, so lunch time peak, and there was a blockage at the narrow entrance which also held the takeaway counter. You had to be an habitué to know that the seating area was at the back, and therefore to push through down the narrow passage between the bar kitchen on one side and an unfortunate girl on the window side trying to do some baking in full view of passers-by.
The canteen-like layout of the restaurant is intentional. In most situations it would be drab and uniform: nothing on the walls save a long scrappily written menu. But this is where the scene is currently at, so the buzz of customers is constant and provides the atmosphere.
After five minutes of standing at the entrance to the seating section, I was seated by one of the harassed-looking staff with a nod in the direction of an empty table. At no time was a menu offered, and so I opted for a choice from the blackboard: a freshly squeezed carrot apple and ginger juice €5.50, a miso soup with petites legumes €6, and Onigri (a kind of giant sushi) with salmon and sun-dried tomatoes. Like the service, the soup was perfunctory: the “little vegetables” were a few cabbage leaves and some strands of rocket, presumably what was to hand by the overworked kitchen staff. But the unlikely combination in the Onigri worked surprisingly well, and the juice was, well, as that cocktail always is, fine. The bill was €14.
So why return for some more punishment? As a consultant, I am interested in why places don’t work, as well as those which do. In contrast, the layout at the rue de Paradis, is ideal: a broad rectangle in a new building. At 12.30, it was empty, but well prepared for the lunch rush, with menus laid out on the tables. A half litre of tap water complete with lemon was brought without asking. Un bon point.
I watched as the pace hotted up towards one o’clock. The 10eme in Paris is clearly an area for the working lunch hour, but is also rapidly becoming gentrified. This time the regimented layout was attractive, enlivened by the theatre produced by the kitchen, paper shades and wall decorations installed by Confetti System, with Clarisse Demory supervising the decor. The waiting staff had easy access to the food and drink orders and got happily powered up on adrenalin while the tables filled.
The most popular menu item is the bento, which looks like a kind of Japanese healthy TV dinner, the components of which are rectangular dishes on a tray. It works equally well to take out. The vegetarian bento I had was delicious: warm roast sweet potatoes with a tofu sauce and coriander pesto set on carefully flavoured quinoa, with a well dressed salad of interesting raw and cooked green vegetables alongside.
The Japanese, like the Indians, don’t seem to be able to master pastry*, which needs a calm cool place in which to relax during the making process. And the accomplished baking skills of the Rose Bakery were not in evidence here. The pastry base of the green tea cheesecake was tough, and inedible at €5.50. My half-eaten portion was unquestioned. The staff were only too pleased to see a table vacated for the waiting queue. The bill with un café was €21.
The energy at Nanashi is reminiscent of the early days of Wagamama in London but without enough capital investment spent in the right places. Alan Yau would never have allowed the scruffy toilets, and the inadequate ordering and payment systems. Nanashi is a combination of many elements making a whole which has hit the right nerve with the trendy Parisians and others who go to see what all the fuss is about. The concept is attractive, and there is clearly a need for a new alternative to the tired sandwich cafe format in the casual eating sector. A third branch would provide an opportunity to improve layout and systems for the staff who are trying their best to cope.
* with the exception of the Patisserie Sudaharu Aoki which is one of the best in Paris
31 Rue de Paradis
0033 1 40 22 05 55
57 Rue Charlot
0033 1 44 61 45 49
Check for exact opening hours
but most days lunch plus evenings Thurs to Sat
Closed lunch: Rue de Paradis (Sun)
Rue Charlot (Mon)