The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
Bistronomy by Jane Sigal
So why are we reviewing a book about Bistronomy in Paris and claiming that it deserves a place in our “best books” list? Apart from the fact that our general preference is to eat bistro fare rather than tricked up, contorted food in Michelin-starred restaurants there is a connection to bistronomy through wine. Almost every restaurant that features in this book has a wine list that is either completely based on natural wines (nearly all of them) or else is heavily weighted towards them.
That is not to say that we haven’t done our fair share of Michelin restaurants in Paris. In the nineties and in the early noughties we enjoyed meals at places such as Alain Ducasse, l’Arpege, Taillevent, Le Bristol, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon and more. However as the decade progressed we found ourselves less willing to submit ourselves to the Ferris Wheel as often. By this we mean that once you enter the portals of a three star Michelin restaurant it is the dining equivalent of getting on a Ferris Wheel ride. You submit yourself to the whole experience of amuse bouche, maybe many tasting plates (we had over twenty at one restaurant), and then maybe one or more pre-desserts and then dessert and then mignardises (regularly topped up at some restaurants) before you are able to exit the ride.
We therefore found ourselves gravitating to the newly opened bistros such as La Régelade or L’Ami Jean or Les Papilles where we could have a three course meal at a very reasonable price and also enjoy a bottle of natural wine.
Next, our regular visits to Paris always began with a visit to James Henry’s Bones, a place which featured strongly in the book. We would go to Bones both for the sublime food and the very strong list of natural-only wines. Unfortunately James closed Bones in August so we have had to change our habits!
Now we have to make a decision. Will it be one of the newer offerings such as Le Servan, Clamato, Ellsworth, Clown Bar and Martin or will we go to an old favourite such as Le Dauphin, Le Baratin, Le Verre Volé, l’Ami Jean and Saturne? Notice that we haven’t mentioned our favourite Parisian restaurant Septime – we always try to go there on our last day in France because it ensures a fitting finale to the trip. All of these restaurants have a strong natural wine program and all are in the book except for Le Baratin.
In Bistronomy, Jane Sigal has assembled a book of recipes from this new-wave restaurants in Paris that have had such a positive effect on the dining experience in that city and re-established Paris as one of the great dining destinations of the world.
However, it is not just a book of recipes. The author chronicles the rise of restaurants serving bistro food with a gastronomic sensibility (from where the word is derived). But there is another layer in the information provided which is important.
She also chronicles where the chefs worked before they opened their restaurants. Almost without exception the chefs have impeccable credentials from serious restaurants such as l’Arpege, La Meurice, Louis XV, l’Atelier du Joël Robuchon, Troisgros and Pierre Gagnaire.
They all bring much of the precision and love of great ingredients to their new ventures, as well as the discipline that’s required to run a great kitchen. What is missing are the most expensive ingredients and the frippery and the high price tags. It is possible to eat in many of the restaurants mentioned in the book for around 30 to 40 Euros and considerably less at lunch time.
The book would not be complete, of course, without paying due respect to Yves Camdeborde who set up La Régelade in 1992 after leaving his prestigious position at the Hôtel de Crillon. His new restaurant was a bare bones affair always with a queue out the door. However the food he served was a different matter. The waiting staff passed around large terrines from which the diners cut their own tranche. Offal was ever present. Cheaper offcuts of meats that were shunned by high-end restaurants were embraced by the chefs such as Camdebourde and equally embraced by their customers. Desserts were not fussy, but were delicious.
Camdeborde’s success saw other high-end chefs follow his lead and open similar establishments such as l’Ami Jean (home of the best rice pudding on the planet) and Café Constant.
At the same time as Camdeborde was enjoying such success at La Régelade another less-than-reverential contributor to the movement quietly slipped onto the scene aided by the rapidly emerging World Wide Web. Le Fooding restaurant guide emerged to review the new bistros and to ignore the high end places. As Le Figaro commented on the tenth anniversary of this important guide about the two ‘families’ of reviewers that now dominate the restaurant review space:
“On the one side, Michelin, with its century of cultural expertise; on the other the Fooding guide, born ten years ago in an attempt to break the codes and finally offer real change to a gastronomy that its authors judge to be outdated.”
They have approached their tasks with cheerfulness and irreverence but with skill and cleverness. When you read a Le Fooding review you know exactly whether you would want to pay a visit. They eschew the personal ego-driven commentary adopted by so many Western reviewers, instead concentrating on sending out signals about the place they are reviewing. Within two or three tight paragraphs they have captured the place, letting you know about the vibe, the food and, an area where most restaurant reviewers are hopelessly inadequate, the wine. They have adopted a clever strategy of always mentioning about three or four bottles on the list that are chosen to encapsulate the wine program on offer. And this became very important because a wine revolution was also occurring in these bistros.
Pioneers of the natural wine movement such as Jean-Pierre Robinot (l’Angevin), Nicolas Carmarans (Café de la Nouvelle Mairie) and Pierre Jancou (La Crèmerie) were opening wine bars featuring natural wines and staying open late. There was a natural synergy between these late night bars and the chefs who were beginning the neo-bistro revolution, so they started stocking these interesting new wines that were taking hold in Paris.
When Jancou later opened his own restaurant, Racines, he not only brought with him the natural wines that he had served at his previous bars, but also the very best produce for the kitchen. We still fondly remember the quality of the Colonnata lardo that we always started with and the quality of the organic vegetables that he sourced from Alain Passard’s garden.
And now fast forward to the present where cosy bistros serving natural wine are in every arrondissement of Paris with the epicentre being the 11th. Here Septime, Le Chateaubriand, Le Dauphin, Le Servan, La Buvette, Aux Deux Amis, Clown Bar, Au Passage, Martin, Pierre Sang, 6036, Le 6 Paul Bert and Yard all make their contributions to the vibrant dining scene.
A Beautiful clam dish at Le Servan
So, try out some of the recipes such as the green lentil soup from Camdeborde with his trademark tapioca or the leeks vinaigrette with vin jaune sabayon from Frenchie or tuna with raspberries and shaved golden beets from Clown Bar, charred squid with boudin noir, peas and herb oil from Australian Shaun Kelly who used to cook at Au Passage and Yard or the amazing dish of cashew-stuffed guinea hen with cauliflower steaks that Le Servan chef Tatiana Levha cooks in a single skillet.
There are over 100 recipes, making this book an excellent purchase. It is also an extremely useful book for planning a trip to Paris!
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