Nick highlights a bolthole for wine lovers in Paris – during the week.
In his recently published and well-reviewed book, the Anglo-French writer turned editor Andrew Gallix explores a fascinating theme.
He quotes Oscar Wilde from The Picture of Dorian Grey: ‘When good Americans die, they move to Paris’.
Gallix’s collection of contributions from over 70 authors is entitled We’ll Never Have Paris. Published by Repeater in the US and Penguin Random House in the UK, his book seeks to explore the myths that surround this wonderfully attractive and romantic city. His thesis is that Paris can just as easily be disappointing as fulfilling.
It is a shame that among all the well-known contributors there is no one whose speciality is writing about restaurants, the phenomenon which Paris at the turn of the 19th century gave to the world, and a common reason why visitors to this website also visit The City of Light.
Beauvilliers, Lavenne and Veron et Baron were three of the most prestigious restaurants in the early 1800s in Paris. As well as the good food and wine they offered, they were also able to provide a further reason for the many British then in Paris to visit them: they offered a rare opportunity to watch the French at play.
Had I been asked to contribute, I am afraid that I would have had to end any paean of praise to Paris and its restaurants on a disappointed note. There are so many good places to eat, so many that evoke happy memories of my times in the city, but I am always at a loss to answer the following question: why are so many open only Monday to Friday and closed at the weekend when most tourists are there?
There are several contributory factors. There is the fact that so many wealthy Parisians have a second home in the country to which they retreat at the weekends. There are also the very high labour costs as well as the relatively recent cap on the number of hours kitchen staff can work, a cap that has been somewhat loosened since its introduction in 2000, I am relieved to report.
But at the end of our excellent meal at Vantre in Paris’s 11th arrondissement between République and the Gare de Lyon, I was to hear another reason: that Mondays, despite their reputation for being the quietest day of the week in other cities, can here actually bring in higher takings for the restaurateur. If, of course, the restaurant has the appropriate appeal.
That is the opinion of Marco Pelletier, the wine-minded co-proprietor of this restaurant – an opinion he gave us as he helped us out with our suitcases at the end of an excellent lunch there, a meal that was cooked for us by its chef and co-proprietor, Iacopo Chomel.
They first met when they were both working together at Le Bristol hotel, before Chomel went off to open his highly regarded Le Passage restaurant, where Pelletier helped him with the wine list. Over the years they held a lot of blind tastings together and became friends before opening Vantre in 2016. Pelletier, obviously not a man to stand still, also lists the following credentials at the end of his email: CEO Wineted; Vigneron Domaine de Galouchy; Partner Champagne Michel Gonet; Partner Veritas Imports; and finally CEO Crew Distribution. Phew!
Vantre works so well because it meets all the necessary requirements for an eminently successful bistro. The sparsely decorated room has long been a restaurant (it was known as Les Fernandises for so many years before Vantre that Pelletier told me it took them two weeks to clean the walls and the kitchen of the duck odours!). This means that physically everything is in the right place: the bar is off to the right; the tiny kitchen is off in the left-hand far corner; and there are plenty of empty shelves for their obviously growing and impressive collection of empty wine bottles. The tables are no closer together than in any other similarly priced restaurant in this city while the music that they play is much, much better – from Sinatra to Dylan during the lunch we were there.
The restaurant also possesses a simple and easily remembered name. Not to be confused with ventre, the French for 'belly' as in ventre du thon (the tastiest part of the tuna in my opinion), vantre is actually a name which in the Middle Ages meant ‘a place of enjoyment’ – which today this place has become, for both body and soul.
Chomel adopts a very modern approach to writing his menu. Down the left hand side he lists the three starters, two main courses and three desserts that constitute his set lunch menu (€17 for two courses, €21 for three) while down the right he lists, in staccato style, his range of five first courses, four main courses and four desserts that constitute his à la carte menu.
We ate extremely well from the latter. A dish described as ‘gnocchi, butter and sage’ was just that, perfect parcels of light potato into which sage and butter in equal measure had been integrated. Then on to a main course whose description intrigued me, ‘lamb with peas, celery and cherries’. I am continually fascinated by savoury dishes that incorporate fruit as an additional ingredient – not always successfully. Here the combination really worked as the sweetness of the cherries matched the sweetness of the lamb. I finished with a rum baba with rhubarb, Jancis with a plate of cheese, one coffee and a bill for €147.
This included a personally recommended bottle of Domaine Andrée Les Mines 2015 Anjou Rouge made by Stéphane Erissé from a fascinating and wide-ranging wine list that comprises bottles from Italy and Australia as well as from Pelletier’s friend Raj Parr in southern California. Backing up this wine list is Pelletier himself; his charming young associate on the floor; and so many wines that they have to be stored in four cellars around the city.
Because of his considerable experience, Pelletier wears his wine knowledge lightly. He brought us a glass of 1976 Chablis Premier Cru, Montée de Tonnerre, whose golden colour and vivacity belied its 43 years of age, an occasion that allowed him to wag his finger at the finger-wagger in chief (see below). More influentially, he had when working at Taillevent brought a glass of Jura Chardonnay blind to Guillaume d’Angerville, a glass that was to lead d’Angerville to invest there and to start making the Domaine du Pélican wines. See A famous new name in Jura and Dom du Pélican's polished Jura diamonds.
And backing up the appeal of this restaurant is a combination of professionalism and friendliness that permeates everything that Chomel and Pelletier offer – a friendliness that is not that common in this city. But Vantre is definitely located in Paris, as anyone who will try and book there over the weekend will sadly discover.
Vantre 19 rue de la Fontaine au Roi, 75011 Paris; tel +33 (0)1 48 06 16 96. Monday to Friday lunch and dinner.