This article was also published in the Financial Times.
Enrico Bernardo crossed the floor of Goust, his new restaurant that opened on 1 February on the first floor of a building that dates back to the era of Napoleon III, with the determination that has characterised his years as a cook, sommelier and finally as a restaurateur.
In his hands were plates of red mullet with smoked eel and sea bass with courgettes that he placed carefully in front of a young couple. Having explained the two dishes, he put his hand on the top of the original fireplace that is a striking feature of the larger of the two dining rooms, detailed the charms of the two different red wines he had chosen to accompany each dish, showed them the bottles that he had left on top of the fireplace, smiled and moved on. Moments later, he was putting on the same performance for a table of six, far more loquacious Parisians.
This is the role Bernardo now adopts more skilfully and effortlessly than anyone else I have come across. He has the ease of manner that is quintessentially Italian while his unparalleled knowledge of food and wine - Bernardo trained as cook before falling in love with wine and becoming the Best Sommelier of the World in 2004 - give him a unique perspective into the matching of food with wine.
Buoyed by the success of his ground-breaking restaurant Il Vino, which he opened in Paris's 7th arrondissement in 2007, Bernardo has the confidence not just to lead from the front but also to inspire his young and enthusiastic team. As my Parisian restaurateur friend opined, 'Watching Enrico in action is like watching a circus master leading a first-class performance.'
But experience alone does not explain Bernardo's style and professionalism. A steely ambition has also driven him over the past decade and this is accentuated at the moment as he faces every restaurateur's biggest challenge: how to open successfully that critically important second restaurant.
Over a glass of Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt 2007 Riesling Bernardo explained how Goust had emerged, far more slowly than Il Vino. 'At the outset, I wanted to give wine far more importance so the idea for Il Vino, where we create the menu after the customer has chosen the wines, was obvious even if quite risky. But I knew I didn't want to do precisely the same in another location so while the idea for Il Vino took two months, the idea for Goust has been germinating inside me for two years.'
Goust takes its name from the old French word for taste but its final character emanates from the building it now sits so charmingly within.
Bernardo was introduced to the family who have converted this 19th-century building into an arts centre with a gallery on the ground floor and a dance studio upstairs and was invited to install a restaurant that would knit the building together both vertically and horizontally. He recognised that located between the Place Vendôme and L'Opéra, the restaurant would attract a business clientele at lunch and those who live close by and those staying in the nearby hotels in the evening.
But what attracted Bernardo most was the intimate scale of the two rooms. 'We can seat only a maximum of 36 so what this allows me to do is create a restaurant where the customer feels completely at home, where they are enjoying our food and wine but as though they were in their own apartment.'
This approach is extended to the extremely comfortable chairs and cushions, the thick carpets and curtains and the absence of any obtrusive artwork. The shelves on either side of the pass from the kitchen are purposefully lined with wine glasses of every description. The acoustics are excellent and this rather domestic approach is carried into the wine service as, when we specifically ordered three different dishes so that we would be served three different wines, these and the bottles were brought to our table on a silver tray almost as though by a butler.
Bernardo's courage in seeking to broaden his customers' enjoyment of the flavours of food and wine got the break it deserves when, via a mutual friend, he was introduced to Spanish-born chef José Manuel Miguel. Miguel brings with him not just his years in top restaurants in Spain and France but also an obviously very relaxed approach. The intimate nature of Goust means there is no room for histrionics.
And with the relaxed approach comes very accomplished cooking. A first course of a firm gazpacho of cucumber across the bottom of a bowl overlaid with two slices of lobster, fromage frais, Spanish caviar topped with coconut milk was refreshing, attractive to look at and well matched with a dry Muscat d'Alsace 2011 from Loew. There was a very Spanish combination of Miguel's interpretation of a small circle of paella, lightened by a hefty citrus infusion, with a glass of Albariño 2011 from Pazo de Señorans and then a return to France for a classic ballotine of sole with a sea-urchin sauce and a glass of Meursault 2010 Les Criots from François Buisson.
As I paid the bill for 230 euros for the food for three, I recalled the words of Danny Meyer, the New York restaurateur. In his opinion, the ultimate goal is 'to serve the customer food and wine that they cannot get at home but with the same comfort as though they were at home'. Bernardo delivers this most elusive combination.
10 rue Volney, 75002 Paris; tel +33 1 40 15 20 30www.enricobernardo.com