While the financial crisis has strongly affected the gourmet restaurant sector, the best ‘bistrots gourmands’ of the French capital are still booked solid. This divergence is not simply a question of economics; it is also a question of vogue. After so many years of complex culinary emulsions, the latest ‘thing’ is a plate of well-roasted chicken washed down with a swig of wine whose only claim to fame is its great taste! In Paris, many of the Bib Gourmand bistros personify this new tendency, starting with the famous La Régalade lost in the hinterlands of the 14th arrondissement near the Porte de Chatillon…
Founded by the effervescent Yves Camdeborde in the early 1990s, La Régalade was long considered the prototype of the new ‘bistrot gourmand’ (‘fine dining bistro’, loosely translated) which looked to offer an alternative to the increasingly cerebral and sophisticated gastronomic scene. It was rather ironic that those who sought to bring ‘haute cuisine’ down from its pedestal turned the confident chef from Béarn into something of an untouchable idol, though things have since calmed down a bit. In any case, top-of-the-line bistros are becoming more and more widespread. In 2004 La Régalade changed hands and became the fiefdom of Bruno Doucet, who brought a genuine personal touch to the establishment.
‘My dream has always been to have my own place.’
Despite the media pressure that surrounded him as soon as it became clear that an ‘odd duck’ from Tours dared take over from the iconic Camdeborde, this 35-year-old who trained with Charles Barrier, Pierre Gagnaire and Jean-Pierre Vigato wasn’t particularly ruffled. ‘I didn’t take on La Régalade as some kind of challenge; I simply wanted to have a place to call my own...’
Granted, 70% of La Régalade’s customers immediately jumped ship, convinced that ‘La Régalade sans Camdeborde wouldn’t be La Régalade’, but others soon replaced them, and they were as enthusiastic and loyal as their predecessors!
Prudent, Bruno Doucet began by working with the old guard before calling in his own team. And, most importantly, he kept the bistro’s genetic code intact by continuing with the weekly market menu at € 32, the homemade pâté offered while you wait, the wooden serviette rings, zinc counter, appealing waitresses, and two evening seatings.
La Régalade in a nutshell
The place: the south of Paris’s 14tharrondissement, a stone’s throw from the Porte de Chatillon; Alésia métro station.
The decor: wood, old-fashioned floor tiles, striped tablecloths, bistro tables…
The bread: comes from Jean-Luc Poujauran (the baker for the finest Parisian bistros).
A starter: foie gras and venison pâté; gravy vinaigrette with black truffles.
A main course: caramelised farm-raised pork belly and delicately mashed potatoes with old-style mustard.
A sweet: rice pudding with vanilla ‘like my grandmother’s’.
A bottle: L’Oratoire Saint-Martin’s Vacqueyras (€ 26).
Advice: call to reserve at least one month ahead!
The ‘imprint’ of a grand chef
It may look like nothing has changed, but the chef certainly leaves a noticeable imprint on the food! Bruno Doucet’s first task was to relieve La Régalade of its Basque-Béarn roots and bring fish and seafood back to the forefront: note his BretonCoquilles Saint-Jacques roasted with herbed butter and the salmon and sea bream tartar with oysters and chives. Bruno Doucet’s signature creation is undoubtedly his caramelised farm-raised pork belly served with black pudding and delicately mashed potatoes with mustard: a rich, crisp dish accompanied by salad greens in a lightly vinegary dressing for a touch of freshness.
Like his friend and mentor Jean-Pierre Vigato, Bruno Doucet is a hunter and he harbours a fondness for game meat, which he prepares perfectly. His roasted mallard with foie gras and quince is a case in point. For starters, I suggest you try the delicious wild hare ravioles à la royale topped with a white truffled emulsion and the venison pâté with foie gras and port wine…
Generally speaking, the desserts served in Parisian bistros can be rather disappointing. Here – you may as well be prepared so you can save room – the traditional desserts (which we’d love to see on the menus of more fine restaurants) on offer are positively delectable. The recipe for rice pudding with vanilla was Bruno Doucet’s grandmother’s; it is so chock-full of pleasant emotions that it might advantageously replace any ordinary anti-depressant... The petit pot de crème à la vanille is served with homemade madeleines baked twice daily (for lunch and dinner). The warm Grand Marnier soufflé, a classic, oft-forgotten star of French cuisine, has a place on La Régalade’s menu year-round.
A ‘neutral’ but affordable wine list
Bruno Doucet’s wine list is radically different from that which Christophe Piquet-Boisson (former sommelier for Taillevent and advocate of ‘natural wines’) created for Yves Camdeborde. Yes, you will still find Marcel Lapierre’s Morgon, Pierre and Catherine Breton’s Bourgueil and the legendary ‘old lady’ of the Domaine de Gramenon; nonetheless, as a whole, the list doesn’t do much for aficionados of organic wines. On the other hand, Bruno Doucet has made a point of choosing reasonably priced bottles, with a penchant for vintages from the Vallée du Rhône and Provence; I heartily recommend a marvellous Vacqueyras – either from the Domaine de La Monardière or L’Oratoire Saint Martin (only € 25 and € 26 per bottle).
49, Avenue Jean Moulin
Tel: 01 45 45 68 58