True, during daytime hours, the grates are open to reveal tiny shops where those in the know can purchase fruits, vegetables, fish and meat – the sorts of foods they may have eaten in one of Paris’ foodie hotspots. But in the evening the grills are shut and as one queues at 7pm for Frenchie to open its doors, the street belies what awaits.
It reminded me of entering an aircraft – those with a reservation turn left into Frenchie Restaurant and the rest go right into the wine bar. Having tried unsuccessfully to get a restaurant table and practically begged for a non-existent cancellation, we turned right.
Perched on bar stools, we perused the menu of small plates, tapas style. We asked the waiter’s advice in choosing from the long wine list. After ascertaining that we enjoy a full bodied red, he brought us a magnum of his suggested wine which we drank by the glass.
We chose from a range of dishes to cover as many bases as we could, tasting pork, quail, calamari and trout which are sold at around 12 – 16 euros a plate.
I appreciated the spacing of the food – one dish at a time and a well-judged break between dishes – as these tastes deserve to be pondered over. First up was the tete de cochon, compote de pommes roties, choucroute maison. Unctuously melting meat topped with choucroute with a roasted apple compote. Perched on top were two tiny discs of impossibly thin apple. These tiny morsels of food fascinate me. I realise there is an instrument for creating these lilliputian titbits but I don’t have one in my kitchen. This dish was a joy in the mouth with the sweet meat offset by the slightly sour choucroute which provided the additional popping sensation of mustard seeds.
A few night’s before we ate superb pig’s trotter at Le Comptoir du Relais – also in the hands of a superb chef. I am slowly being converted to the superiority of the head and trotters over the main body of the pig.
Next dish to grace the table was the tagliatelli d’encornet, chorizo mexicain maison, ail des ours. I had not expected the calamari itself to be cut into tagliatelli, another piece of equipment I lack, no doubt. Such a delicate sight and taste, spiced up with tiny nuggets of homemade chorizo. The leaf garlic looked pretty but I can’t say I could taste its delicate flavour through the heat of the chorizo.
The Vanilla Confit Banka Trout with carrot, kumquat and black garlic was one of the tastiest dishes I can recall eating. It was magnificent. The trout lightly smoked with a smoky foam – I generally do not go in for foams but this one worked – a bed of wilted spinach, a cooked baton of carrot and a slick of black garlic puree. I missed the kumquat although perhaps it was in one of the sauces. If there is a better fish dish in Paris I would love to taste it.
Finally, we were treated to a tender, deboned quail which lay on a deeply rich jus that was plate lickingly wonderful. This was served with a side dish of gossamer light potato puree with drops of Jerusalem artichoke emulsion. Addictively good.
By now we were very happy diners, but the queue was getting longer – allowed inside perhaps because of the icy weather but probably so that they could begin to drink their way through the long wine list. We ordered two desserts which arrived in a flash. The chocolate pot with olive oil and fleur de sel had us divided. We all loved the silky smooth chocolate but were unconvinced about the olive oil that lay on top. To my taste this added an unwelcome layer of oiliness to an already very rich dish. I recalled that the chef trained with Jamie Oliver amongst others. Years ago I came across a Jamie Oliver ice cream dish where vanilla ice cream was served with a slick of olive oil. I tried it at home with a top notch olive oil and resolved to not repeat the experience. It came to mind eating this dish.
The rhubarb fool was perhaps the low point – relatively speaking – of the meal. I am a great lover of rhubarb so look forward to it in any incarnation. While the rhubarb itself was fine, if unexciting – I prefer mine pepped up a little with a touch of stem ginger – the creamy foam did not add to the whole. This is a great British dish that to my mind does not improve with fancification.
I noticed that the cheese selection consisted of three Neal’s Yard cheeses. I asked the waiter about this and he told me that they try to give their diners an experience beyond the French shores. Having easy access to Neal’s Yard back home we gave that course a miss. We are still busy eating our way through the French farmyard.
Taking our kids to Frenchie was an unusual choice perhaps. The long wait for the food was great for parents enjoying their wine and out for an evening of edible entertainment. These very qualities strain the patience of those of tender years. But that is hardly the fault of the restaurant. In fact we appreciated that no pressure was put on us to leave despite the long queue for tables. Still feeling hungry when we left – small sharing plates are not the natural habitat of the teenage male – my son quipped ‘no wonder there is a Subway at the end of the street’. My younger son observed that it was all very well all this talk about pork belly but what about his which felt empty.
When we returned to our apartment it was cheese on toast for them but, this being Paris, it was 36 month old Comte on Poilane. It’s a tough old life.
Frenchie Restaurant and Bar a Vins
5 – 6 rue du Nil, Paris
01 40 39 96 19