Paris! I went, I ate and I ate even more. Reporting back with all the action from the weekend of excess, we start with this truly French Bistro located in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Bonjour peeps. Coming back to London is urghh, sobering. The weekend away in Paris was astonishingly good, indeed, the French can cook. I stuffed myself silly incredulously and also managed an eye opening trip to the photographers museum at MEP. Anyway, let’s get down to the food – it’s ParisEater, all week long baby. Oui, Oui.
A big thank you to everyone who sent me recommendations for places to eat, wasn’t easy deciding on them, but I think I managed ok. Tikichris and Epicurienne both swear by La Fontaine de Mars and a swift google search informed me that Fontaine also recently hosted a very Presidential Dinner for the Obamas. Indeed, this had to be the first Parisian restaurant to try out.
I got off at the RER for the Eiffel Tower and walked toward the gardens at Champs de Mars (I hope I’m getting this right) before making a detour toward Rue St Dominique, where Fontaine is located. One will easily spot the restaurant, what with its red and white checkers wrapped around wood and brass. I have read that Fontaine is the epitome of the Parisian bistro. Its also pretty tourist friendly… that means a menu in English, and staff who speak near perfect English too.
The bistro is atmospheric, with all the vintage furnishings, it was utterly surreal. Everything in London suddenly felt like mere imitation; as you can probably tell, I was completely enamoured with the whole affair. I learnt that bistros typically feature faithful regional cooking; Fontaine specialises in Southwestern French cuisine. Boasting Bordeaux wines, the menu also had stuff from other regions such as Lyon sausages and snails from Burgundy, in addition to country terrines, foie gras and chicken. Never a stickler for conformity, the only gauge for me, is that things taste good.
With the customary exposition out of the way, let’s now talk about the food.
The service was impeccable; they were warm, zippy, never stopped smiling and accommodated my deficiencies with the French language. We started things off with a complimentary plate of saucisson, before diving into one of their specialty dishes: two eggs, in red wine and shallots (10 euros).
Served in a hot plate, the red wine gravy was thick and very aromatic. The mere sight of it had me salivating. The eggs looked as if it were broken on top of the piping hot red wine soup, and the residual heat left to do the cooking; the result was a creamy texture which was just cooked on the bottom, but still runny on the top. My oh my, words are failing me as this dish was absolutely divine. The gravy was fully infused with rich flavours – the red wine provided robustness, while the shallots spiced things up and there were bits of, what tasted like pork belly that enhanced the flavours further. It was so rich, that it felt like an entire beast was put through the strainer to make the sauce. It tasted classical, a seemingly simple and heartwarming dish, but deftly executed. I wiped the dish clean with the equally able sourdough baguette.
Our waiter also lugged the big chalk board of daily specials to our table. I wanted to try the snails from burgundy, but he told me to try the daily special instead: sea snails with celeriac salad (7.50 euros) , to which I gladly obliged.
An open palette with zesty lemons leading the velvety salad cream that coated the crunchy celeriac with a fresh and mineral quality. With a juiciness not unlike biting into a watermelon, I had noticed my mouth was dancing with pepper. The chewy bounciness of the sea snails was welcomingly mild, and on the whole, yet another appetizing start; the salad cream was a real winner, it was nearly perfect.
So far, so very good. The style of cooking was open ended, simple and the robustness of the flavours was inspiring. Perhaps most importantly of all, the chef clearly understood what umami was, and while flavours were big and bigger, nothing was allowed to dominate, and I found the balancing act to be very good indeed.
Alright so that was on my first visit. Yes, I’m declaring it mid-review, it was so good, we went back for a second visit. Lobster with green beans salad (32 euros).
This time, the salad dressing was a little sweeter and heavier, perhaps to compliment the dominating lobster. The shellfish wasn’t particularly exciting tasting as if it were simply steamed, but again, that fresh and zingy salad was divine; crunchy beans on top on crunchy iceberg lettuce, it was a refreshing change from the butter richness of all the other dishes. If this was priced at 16 euros, I would have said bravo, but at 32 euros, that’s equivalent to 14 Pierre Herme macarons.. and it wasn’t worth 14 Pierre Herme macarons in my opinion.
Phew, the food is very rich and heavy; after the starters, I actually felt quite full, we pressed on in anycase, the first of the main courses is a daily special: Pigs Cheeks with Mushrooms (25 euros).
The cheeks melted in my mouth, it was so airy, it melted away like cotton candy – an absolutely buttery texture. I witnessed a return of that rich red wine stew, this time it imparted a slight sourness to it – perhaps due to the juices from the mushrooms. The pig’s cheeks natural mellowness was complimented by the sauce penetrating deep into the meat, the stew also featured equally buttery artichokes. Another seemingly classical dish, perfectly executed.
Ah, finally we get to the duck, a classic that I’ve been wanting to try out: Confit de Canard (21 euros)
Deep saltiness and a crispy exterior, with a wonderful oilyness spewing out from the duck. The meat was again, so very soft, the pillow-like texture was heaven. The best part of the dish though, were the fatty bits just under the crusty skin, my my, this duck was fat. In this fat, was where all the deep-fried oily flavours were hiding, it was pretty special and those flavours were exploding in my mouth. The full flavoured duck fat seeped through into the potatoes, which equally had a crispy outside, and creamy smooth insides. On the whole, I couldn’t help but compare this to fast food, well, ok maybe ‘premium fast food’. The resultant dish was a juicy, dripping meat that was the best confit I had ever eaten.
Why can’t this place exist in London?
I was stuffed silly. The portions looked deceptively small, but really, it wasn’t. With everything being so rich, every bite was a real mouthful.
We wanted to end on a lighter note, and so we opted for ‘The Floating Island’ (9 euros)
A light meringue, like an overblown marshmallow filled with air; the sugared vanilla cloud was completely decadent in a caramel spiked custard soup that was concentrated with heavy vanilla bean flavours.
The meal was absolutely stunning, everything was perfectly cooked and everything was the perfect embodiment of an established recipe. I have used this several times: the meal was rich. Butter and cream and red wine, it really felt like I was sampling the excesses, and yet, the wholesome food did not overpower, as the dominating flavours were balanced well with one another. I was bowled over with the softness of the meat, in the dishes I had; and the eggs might be one of the best things I’ve eaten so far. If this was a restaurant in London, it would be close to the very top of my list of favourites, and I guess that kind of sums it up.
The Gist of It
La Fontaine de Mars official site
129, Rue Saint-Dominique
75007 PARIS 7ème
Tel: 01 47 05 46 44
Metro: Ecole Militaire
50 euros per person for three courses plus a verre
Verdict: Completely formidable, classical styles cooked to absolute perfection. ‘The’ Parisian Bistro.