Since coming to France I have enjoyed lots of crêpes, baguettes and various pastries, however until last week I had not yet really tried any real French cuisine. As a vegetarian, eating à la française is particularly difficult – the French love their steaks, and usually very rare and very bloody. Having visited France many times in the past, I find that my vegetarianism is usually quite hard for the French to grasp. When here on a language course a few years ago, this often resulted in the youth hostel canteen attempting to serve me chicken, or just giving me a hamburger without the burger (so two slices of bread with a slice of cheese…) Needless to say, vegetarianism is far from as common as it is in England, and especially London.
Despite this, I was determined to taste a real French meal, so I made a reservation for one evening during my mum’s visit at a local bistrot which I had noticed when I first moved in. My dad and I had tried to eat there at the time, however we were informed that it was reservation only. In my eyes, this meant it had to be good! In fact, it did nothing but surpass my expectations. The café was small and cosy, decorated in a retro style reminiscent of the 1930s with wooden framework and a collection of antique coffee machines displayed. It was clear that the places was more focused on providing a first class service for its customers rather than filling up tables, as people without reservations were turned away throughout the evening. To start, our waiter recommended us an apéritif called Pommeau de Normandie, a mixture of apple juice and Cavados (apple brandy), which was particularly warming. After finishing our complementary nibbles and browsing the menu, we chose our main dishes and our wine for the meal. I had of course chosen the assiette végétarienne, and waited with anticipation to see what exactly would arrive. The other time I have asked for this in a restaurant here, I ended up with a plate of salad. However, this was an assiette végétarienne and then some. My eyes lit my as my dish arrived, mainly because I was so thankful to see a vegetarian option that was a bit more adventurous than just lettuce leaves. My meal was an assortment of hot and cold vegetables with several rather mouth-watering garnishes, which was absolutely delicious. The cuisine was most definitely French, but had an intriguing modern twist and was all so beautifully presented. The menu catered for everyone’s tastes – my mum had some fish whilst her friend had a typical French steak. Everyone was more than satisfied with their meals, though we still had room for dessert of course!
Whilst my company decided that they couldn’t leave France without having some French cheese, my sweet tooth was in need. I had been eyeing up our neighbours’ dessert earlier and was informed by the waiter that it was a pain perdu. Its simple name does not do it justice – glazed with summer fruits with a sprinkle of pistachios and accompanied with a frozen yogurt, it was certainly much more. I melted with every mouthful.
So my first experience of a real French meal was nothing but positive. In fact, it was possibly one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Our waiter was miles away from the typical grumpy Parisian stereotype that would spit in your coffee – he was absolutely charming and was more than willing to give us advice and chat away about the restaurant’s history. To top off an amazing evening, we discovered that the chef is an award winner, and, much to the excitement of my mum and I, has written a Spéculoos recipe book. This is a type of Belgian shortbread biscuit, which I have now seen is sold as a spread and a yogurt flavour over here. The cherry on top was getting a personalised signed copy from the author himself! An exquisite meal with absolutely delicious food and impeccable service – I cannot fault the evening at all. I was gutted to find out when leaving that the restaurant is closing down at the end of December and relocating to Cannes, so a return visit will definitely be needed before then. It goes without saying that when in search of true French cuisine at its best, you definitely need to venture away from touristy areas and off the beaten track. This quirky and unique bistrot was such a find, and is funnily enough only a stone’s throw away from my front door!
15 rue saint blaise
Métro: Porte de Bagnolet or Alexandre Dumas
Lunchtime: Tuesday-Friday 12h-14h
Evenings: Tuesday-Friday 19h30-23h