Yes, going to a restaurant can still be a treat! The proof? La Bigarrade, a restaurant small in size but big on talent, which opened in December 2007 in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. The price of success is that there is an average three-week wait for a table…
One star 2009
At 39 years of age, Christophe Pelé is one of the young chefs who have climbed the ladder one rung at a time before fulfilling his potential alongside a charismatic master: “For me, this mentor was Bruno Cirino, chef of the Royal Monceau*. Before him, I had learned the ropes with Ledoyen, Lasserre and Gagnaire, among others… But it was really Bruno who made me become aware of the vital energy that was lying dormant in me – what aikido enthusiasts call the Ki!”…This energy, both physical and mental, mysteriously inspires each of Christophe’s dishes.
Appointed chef of the Royal Monceau in the place of Cirino from 2004 until it closed in 2007 (the luxury hotel is scheduled to reopen in September 2009), Christophe Pelé therefore set up last winter between the Square des Batignolles and the Marché des Batignolles, a district once bourgeois and working class but today exclusively “bobo.” As soon as you enter, the sober, refined dining room appeals for its soothing whiteness; small glass candles are suspended from the ceiling like so many scintillating ideas; the open kitchen, for its part, allows you to see the chef and his brilliant second-in-command, Giuliano Sperandio, at work.
Only two chefs for over 20 covers! This constraint means that Christophe has to cook every day with no “safety net” – he must always get it right first time. With a perfect tempo, the single market menu thus offers 4 or 5 dishes preceded by plain, straightforward appetisers – such as raw fillets of bass with radish and herring roe or delicious Italian brioche bread to dip into a little artichoke-flavoured olive oil…In July, since it was hot on the day of our visit, Christophe had a lovely lemon squash served to all the customers as an aperitif.
Christophe Pelé produces a cuisine of our time with pure, intense flavours. His work is of such precision that the products retain their identity and intrinsic flavour, as illustrated by the raw langoustines presented with a few broad beans and peas of absolute freshness… The flesh of the langoustine thus tastes fruity, justifying the common French expression “fruits de mer” (“fruits of the sea”)…
Then come small cuttlefish cooked in their ink and trimmed with real cherry tomatoes, a cébette (a new white onion from the southeast) and basil: a marvel of simplicity whose speed of execution brings to mind the vivacity of old Chinese watercolours.
As for the mackerel with Japanese turnip seasoned with a dash of yuzu with pepper and lime, it illustrates the chef’s taste for combining flavours (sour, sweet and bitter) but also textures (cooked, raw and oily). A brilliant, lively dish, which, from one table to the next, fills with enthusiasm… or disconcerts!
A million miles from the luxury products flaunted in luxury hotels, Christophe Pelé likes to work with simple products such as cod, his favourite fish, which is now an endangered species (a cod purchased from the fisherman for 4 euros a kilo now sells for around 30 euros a kilo at the fishmonger’s). His is served with tuna poutargue (dried and salted roe), sorrel jus, grated cauliflower, capers and olives. A magnificently iodine-rich dish that transports you to the seaside, somewhere between Belle-Île and Cancale!
Before the succulent chocolate marble cake (a hymn to the authentic bitterness of the great cacao beans), you can enjoy organic cheeses from Batignolles market.
The other reason for going to La Bigarrade is that here you can drink excellent vins de vignerons at perfectly affordable prices. I thus recommend Jean-Hugues Goisot’s delicious Sauvignon de Saint-Bris “Fié Gris”: an old-style Sauvignon from Burgundy which appeals for its dense fruit, richness and fullness as well as for its amazing rose aromas, usually peculiar to the Muscats and Gewurztraminers of Alsace…(35 euros a bottle)**
At La Bigarrade, as soon as you have finished your meal, there’s only one thing you want to do: start all over again!
106, rue Nollet 75017 Paris
Tel: + 33 (0)1 42 26 01 02 – Brochant metro station
Lunch menus from 35 euros (3 courses) to 45 euros (4 courses), and dinner from 45 euros (4 courses) to 65 euros (5 courses). For dinner, I recommend booking 2 or 3 weeks in advance.
*Bruno Cirino is now chef at L’Hostellerie Jérôme at La Turbie, above Monaco (2 stars in the Michelin Guide).
**The Fié Gris is an “archaic” and “wild” Sauvignon Gris (according to its etymology), which contrasts strongly with the usual Chardonnay from Burgundy. The Saint-Bris vineyard is situated about six miles southeast of Auxerre and received a specific AOC in 2003.