February 8, 2010By Richard HesseArchive

Life After (Electoral) Death

alfred restaurant, paris
The cheerful dining room has a clubby feel.

Q: What do you do when you get bumped off the European Parliament gravy train after losing an election? A: Open your own restaurant. This is exactly what William Abitbol has done. An erstwhile Eurosceptic Member of the European Parliament and a translator who rendered the first part of the so-far defunct European constitution into the text messaging language used by many youngsters, he opened Alfred about a year ago.

Alfred is in one of my favorite bits of Paris, on the edge of the Palais Royal garden. It has two addresses. because it’s on two levels: a lower level entered from Rue de Montpensier and an upper level entered through a short passageway off the Rue de Richelieu. The atmosphere “upstairs” is intimately clubby yet bright and cheerful, with red banquettes and space between the tables. Downstairs, which looks something like an Italian bar that serves food, probably gets pretty lively at lunchtime.

William/Alfred (his middle name) clearly likes his food, and it’s something he is only too willing to share with his customers. Our meal was a succession of serious pleasures, from the wacky white St. Joseph served as an aperitif that had “biodynamic” written all over it, through the various courses, to a superbly complex Laberdolive Armagnac sipped with coffee.

I started with some tiny poivrade artichoke hearts that had been poached in lemon, herbs and olive oil, and melted fragrantly in the mouth. My companion had the cream of celery soup with ventrèche – that’s crispy bacon to you and me – a superb accompaniment to a soup (served absolutely piping hot) that had a beautifully liquid, not overly creamy consistency.

Meat next. With a traditional, hearty vibe that is utterly French. My haricot d’agneau (stewed lamb with beans) came in one of those fashionable cast-iron casseroles. The beans – possibly cocos de Paimpol, but the menu wasn’t telling – and a few carrots and potatoes nestled under three generous portions of well-aged lamb that had real taste. My companion had the belle côte de veau – a slab of roast veal nearly two inches thick, pinkly sapid inside and lip-smacking just to behold. Reclining alongside it was some braised endive. This must have been lightly poached before being seared in some vealy juices, as the leaves still had a lot of crunch in them. I can honestly say that these were the best endives I have ever eaten.

Cheese: thin slices of a 2005 Beaufort d’Alpage, a hard mountain cheese made from the milk of a breed of cows poetically named “Abondance.” It left us almost speechless with admiration. We were informed that it’s sold by “Chèvres de Saint Vrain,” the name of a market stall that sets up in several places around town throughout the week (Boulevard de Grenelle on Wednesdays and Sundays, Place Maubert on Tuesdays, and Boulevard Wilson on Wednesays and Saturdays). This information was kindly conveyed by the waiter and I pass it on to you, my readers, because I am concerned about your welfare.

Nor should we forget the shared tarte fine aux pommes, whose melt-in-the-mouth pastry and thinly sliced apples topped with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream formed a satisfying end to the meal.

That waiter, be it recorded here, was a total sweetie, who looked after us as if we were family. Some of the other diners seemed to be blood or political relations, as the chef-owner spent quite a lot of the evening chatting with them.

I can’t imagine why Alfred doesn’t get talked about more. Perhaps I haven’t been following the news closely enough. Don’t miss it. It’s not cheap, but for such outstandingly sourced ingredients prepared with such a sure touch, it’s a small price to pay.

Richard Hesse

Alfred: 52 rue de Richelieu or 47 rue Monpensier, 75001 Paris. Tel: 01 42 97 54 40. Métro: Pyramides or Bourse. Nearest Vélib stations: 1 rue Chabanais; 71 rue de Richelieu. A la carte: €50-€60*.

* three courses, not including wine

© 2009 Paris Update

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