I don’t much like booking weeks ahead for a restaurant. Necessary perhaps when there’s a special occasion or a group of people to get together, but otherwise, to have to plan at least 4 weeks ahead to eat some food seems excessive. And somehow the build up is bound to end in disappointment. One advantage of a no bookings policy is that, as long as you are prepared to put in some waiting time, you will probably get a table at some point on the night, although the debate about this system rumbles on.
Restaurant consultants worth their salt should make a point of eating out at the best (not necessarily the most expensive) places. How else can you inspire your clients, if you’re not absolutely up to date with what is dans le vent? The problem is that business trips are often arranged with a week’s notice, so how to get a table in one of these popular places? The trick I adopt when I’m on my own is to dress up smartly and arrive on the point of opening, full of expectation and smiles. From my experience as a restaurateur, a single diner in person arriving at the start of service is almost irresistible. They can usually be served quickly, and be in and out before the main service time, or failing that, set up on a stool at the bar. I would stress, however, that you have to turn up in person. Timidly ringing up and asking for a table for one will get you nowhere.
Septime is a fair schlep from the centre of Paris, in the 11th arondissement, but a restaurant I had wanted to experience since it opened last year. At 12 noon the front of house partner, Théo Pourriat and his dishy-looking male team were putting the last touches to the preparations for lunch. I was promised a seat at the bar at 12.15. However, at the appointed time, with some jiggling around I was seated at a table in the main body opposite where the chef partner and his four female assistants were cooking.
The lunch formule consists of 3 starters, 2 main course choices, and then dessert or cheese (shown on the left). My oeuf de poule was extraordinary. I should have asked how the soft texture of the cooked egg white was achieved, and am now on a quest to find out. The jambon de Paris which wrapped it was so meltingly thin that the Econome steel knife provided as part of the dining cutlery was redundant – it cut through like butter with just a fork – and was only needed for the chunks of ceps bathing in the tasty mushroom bouillon.
The translucent hake which followed was delicately cooked, surrounded by steamed cauliflower and strewn with pieces of deeply-veined cabbage which were lightly charred. Burnt cabbage is not usually the most attractive thing which comes to mind, but this was prettily done and the singed quality added just the right savoury flavour. It all worked perfectly with the soft and slightly sweet shallot sauce. The intense chocolate mousse to finish was elegantly cut with pureed wild quince.
The young chef partner, Bertrand Grébaut is a man who clearly loves being at the centre of his restaurant. His previous training at l’Arpège with Alain Passard instilled in him a love of vegetables, and a subsequent stint in l’Agapé earned him a Michelin star and complete focus on the quality of the raw materials. As a result of his talent Grébaut was awarded a grant from Evian-Badoit of €10,000 which was a welcome contribution to the opening of the new venture.
The pleasure of being there as a customer was not only in eating the exceptional food, but watching a well-oiled operation function like clockwork, and without undue technology. The orders were taken on paper pads and a copy manually transferred to a spike on the bar kitchen counter. When an order was ready, Grébaut lightly pressed an old-fashioned brass reception bell to which the ears of the waiting staff were tuned.
The rough plaster finishes on the walls are matched with rough hewn tables but offset by sleek Danish style chairs. The rough recycled look only goes so far, as does the relaxed service which belies its total professionalism. There are no unnecessary approaches but any requesting glance gets immediate attention. A soft light emanates from the pillar candles on all the tables, even at lunchtime, indicative of yet more thoughtful attention to detail.
This is a restaurant you could visit often, especially for lunch. The bill for my feast was 34 euros which included a glass of VDF ’11 Benoit Courault at 6 euros. Well worth the detour and a good excuse for a Eurostar trip from London.
80 Rue de Charonne
Tel: 0033 1 43 67 38 29