Carafes filled with water, waiting to be refilled with wine.
My hopes for Amarante were high. I remembered enjoying a wonderful meal at Christophe, the previous restaurant of Amarante’s chef-owner Christophe Philippe, although both Richard Hesse (Paris Update’s former restaurant critic) and I had found the decor depressing.
Then, while trying out the fabulous new Clown Bar, a food-blogger friend and I found ourselves sitting next to Philippe, who, when he heard us wondering about the lemon tart, very kindly ordered one for us.
He also told us that he was about to close his restaurant in the fifth, which made us very sad, so we were excited to hear recently that he had opened a new place, Amarante. When my blogger friend reported that it was fantastic, I was raring to go.
I found myself there on my birthday with a different friend. My hopes that Philippe had improved his decorating skills were immediately dashed. The restaurant had been given a fresh coat of light-colored paint (Christophe had been a gloomy place) and a few unframed posters had been stuck to the walls (some of them crooked), but that was the extent of the attempts at decoration. The prettiest thing in sight was a double row of water-filled carafes on the counter next to us, but when I got thirsty and took one, I was roundly scolded by the cheery waiter for it. Turns out that they were wine carafes filled with water to – if I understood correctly – keep dust out of them while they waited to be filled with wine, a system I had never heard of before and which doesn’t make sense – wouldn’t the wine be watered down? A wine purist would never pour wine into a glass that had a just been rinsed and not dried.
Onward to the food. For the first course I ordered the croustillant de cochon basque, ground pork meat in a crispy fried pastry crust
served with a green salad. Sounds very tasty, but it was far too oily to be truly enjoyable. My friend Chris had the escargots, unappealingly
plopped onto the plate without their shells and not garlicky or buttery enough for my taste. He was not thrilled.
Nor was he thrilled by his main course, duck
served two ways (roasted and confit), which he deemed “average,” but he liked the panisses, fries made with chickpea flour, that came with it.
I, however, was quite thrilled with my superb
Limousin lamb, slow-cooked for 24 hours and served with spelt in a delicious meaty sauce. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the portion so large that I could only eat half of it. It was so good that I dared to ask for a doggy bag (and was glad I did; it was just as delicious eaten cold).
We ordered one dessert, a chocolate mousse, which, like the other dishes, was served with absolutely no concern for aesthetics: a runny blob on a plate (instead of a bowl). I appreciate the fact that it was very dark and not too sweet, but it erred in the opposite direction. Just a bit more sugar would have made all the difference – as it was, it was not very appetizing.
To all appearances, Philippe cares not at all about appearances, but cares a lot about the quality of ingredients, especially when it comes to meat (aside from those salad leaves and a first course of caramelized endives, there were no vegetables on the menu). Personally, I would have preferred a little more attention to making the food (and the dining room) look more attractive and more variety on the meat-heavy menu. This is a place for serious meat lovers who keep their eyes on the plate.
Reader Harriet Welty Rochefort writes: “I wish I had read your review of Amarante before, rather than after, choosing this restaurant for a night out with American friends who wanted something ‘different.’ On the basis of several glowing reviews by French restaurant critics, I confidently trekked over to Amarante with high hopes. I thought the food would make up for the simple décor but was very surprised to find that the escargots were, as you wrote, ‘plopped’ on the plate without the shells in an unappetizing fashion and without enough butter and garlic to make them appealing. Same for the mousse au chocolat, which was good and not too sweet but also just thrown on the plate. On the plus side, the wine was good, the service perfect, and most of the food tasty – but the lack of attention to presentation and lack of a warm ambiance means I won’t be returning anytime soon. Dashed hopes. Dommage!”
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