On your way out of L'Angle du Faubourg in Paris's smart 8th arrondissement something takes place which is highly unusual yet so highly indicative of an extremely well run restaurant. Without mentioning your name or handing over a piece of paper or a plastic token you are promptly reunited with your coat.
This apparent sleight of hand is not of course operationally that difficult - it merely requires an attentive receptionist and sufficient, clearly defined, cloakroom space for each table - but it does reveal an important facet about a restaurateur's sense of hospitality. When you invite friends to your house for dinner you do not hand over tickets for their coats and Jean-Claude Vrinat, L'Angle du Faubourg's proprietor, wants to extend the same sense of hospitality even though he and his staff are welcoming in complete strangers.
In executing these principles, Vrinat, the most highly respected restaurateur in France if not the world, is continuing the traditions learnt from his father and honed over 39 years at Taillevent, his three-star Michelin restaurant a few blocks away. But what is most exciting is that in opening this second restaurant Vrinat is allowing a much younger team to benefit from his experience (L'Angle's entire management team is under 33) and a less wealthy crowd to enjoy the fruits of his palate and wine cellar.
All of which still takes place under his beady eye. When I explained to the manager after our dinner why I wanted to take away a copy of the menu and wine list I was promptly offered a tour which took in the wine-tasting room (which seats 10 for a private dinner), the spotless vegetable and fish preparation areas and finally the main kitchen where I bumped into Vrinat, immaculate as ever in a double-breasted suit with the ribbon of the Légion d'Honneur in his lapel, hovering by the hot plate at 10.30pm.
Momentarily off-guard at encountering a journalist in his kitchen, Vrinat immediately recovered his sang froid and explained why at the age of 65 he has decided to double his exposure to the vagaries of the public. 'It is above all,' he explained,' the challenge. The necessity I believe today, is to offer unprecedented value for money.'
L'Angle's menu and wine list certainly offer these but what is also exceptional about its bistro prices is that they are set in a room where conversation is a pleasure thanks to noise absorbant wall and chair coverings and ample space between tables covered in linen. For Londoners and our guest from San Francisco this came as an additional bonus; for restaurant designers everywhere it should be an object lesson.
There was initially a certain nervousness about the service and one of the first courses, a salad of marinated chicons, a particular kind of small endive grown in the north of France, was surprisingly lacklustre but the rest of the meal was very well executed.
In particular, a creamy risotto using spelt rather than arborio rice, a dish initially created by Michel del Burgo, Taillevent's head chef; a cold beetroot soup with balsamic vinegar; and two succulent main courses, a shoulder of lamb slowly cooked with black olives and lip-smacking braised veal cheeks with a gratin of macaroni stuffed with artichokes. The fish chef has a deft touch with cod and sea bream whilst the pastry section is equally dextrous with chocolate, a crispy quince tart and an old-fashioned rice pudding. But sharpest of all are the prices: 230 francs (35.06 Euros) for the set lunch, (290 francs (44.21 Euros) in the evening) and 300 francs (45.74 Euros) à la carte inclusive of service.
Which leaves spending money for the wine list, about which Vrinat is passionate and knowledgeable in equal measure. With top New Zealand Te Mata Chardonnay and Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon available by the glass next to their French counterparts there is a challenge to Gallic chauvinism; there is a special section on the Languedoc-Roussillon, a region Vrinat has long championed and another simply entitled The Unfindable, wines from around the world Vrinat has been laying down since they were initially released.
Whilst Vrinat's wine prices are reasonable particularly for the quality of service which accompanies them, they and those of other wine-orientated Parisian restaurateurs seem on the expensive side when compared to those in the eight restaurants around Paris run by Francois Clerc.
Entitled Les Bouchons, or the corks, of their respective arrondissement, these restaurants offer wines at exceptional prices, particularly non-vintage champagne, on sale at less than £20 (32.60 Euros) a bottle in the restaurant, and some great bargains on white burgundy and Rhônes. We drank a creamy Chassagne Montrachet from Jean-Noel Gagnard for £25 (40.68 Euros), less than it appears on the list of its British importer. Not all the wines, particularly the clarets, are of such quality or good value but our meal at Les Bouchons in the fifth arrondissement (tel 01 43 54 15 34) close to Nôtre Dame was highly enjoyable and, at 168 francs for two courses, good value.
When I asked Mark Williamson of Willi's Wine Bar, which has just celebrated 20 years of serving extremely keenly priced wine, for the secrets of M Clerc's pricing he was uncharacteristically quiet. But anyone who just wants to find out where to enjoy what are unquestionably the the cheapest wine lists in France should log on to www.lesbouchonsdefrancoisclerc.com
L'Angle du Faubourg, 195 rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris
(tel 01 40 74 20 20, email: email@example.com). Closed Saturday and Sunday.
Willi's Wine Bar, 13 rue des Petits Champs, Paris (tel 01 42 61 05 09).