Au Petit Riche has been around since 1854.
Pros: Fabulous list of Loire wines; quirky layout; pleasant atmosphere
Cons: Cooking seems stuck in a rut
The last time I set foot in the Petit Riche was about two decades ago, and I remember being fascinated at the time by what seemed like a warren of small dining rooms. As ours was a business dinner, we were given one of the upstairs rooms, which seemed very posh. This time round, we were seated in the first downstairs parlor as you go in, which, if the selection of neighbors was anything to go by, is where the foreign tourists are corralled. The best room is the one right at the far end, which simultaneously manages to be both bigger and cozier than the others.
The benefit of the small rooms is lowish noise levels (although an American woman at a nearby table found the front room rather noisy). Another attraction is a sense of being in something of a time capsule. Au Petit Riche has been around since 1854, if we are to believe the PR, and it doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to see the great and the good of days of old sweeping in for a spot of supper. Photos of some of its famous (and, today, less famous) patrons line the staircase walls.
The service is highly professional – this is a well-oiled machine – and the food is competent. Neither nouvelle cuisine nor the more recent bistronomy movement seem to have impinged on the timeless bourgeois cuisine dished up here. We had snails, obligingly removed from their shells (a great labor saving device for both kitchen and diner), and rillons – chunks of slow-cooked pig, served on a bed of lentils. The whole idea of rillons, though, is that they are poor folks’ food, made from fatty belly pork, and should be meltingly tender. The “should” says it all. This was pork without a pedigree (despite the “Maison Hardouin” label), which hadn’t been properly fattened, while the lentils had been neglected in the pot for too long.
I was luckier with my main dish, which was smoked haddock with white butter, a poached egg and tiny grenaille potatoes, their skins left on for added flavor. That was done properly, although here again, the bum note was the fact that the egg was not quite lukewarm. My date ate a fillet of seasonal sandre (pike-perch) sitting atop a dollop of shredded red cabbage, an interesting pairing that would have been more worthwhile had the chef had taken the trouble to present it with more panache.
We finished off with cheese and a millefeuille. The cheese was of good quality but the millefeuille lacked distinction. In fact, now I come to think of it, that was the general tenor of the meal. Pleasant staff, but short on style. The setting could be fabulous if just a bit more pizzaz were injected, and the food could easily up its game with a stickler for quality in the kitchen. That said, there’s none of the hushed silence of the great temples of gastronomy, and the general ambiance is laid back.
And then there’s the wine list
This is what you should go for. It boasts 68 appellations from the Loire valley with prices ranging from the very affordable to the very pricey (cock of the roost was a 1937 Vouvray Le Haut Lieu at €800). We settled for a sparkling Montlouis served in a carafe (we were going easy after a couple of martinis at Harry’s Bar…), which was a great value for €17. And there was a glass of a dessert Montlouis to finish off. That’s the stuff of memories, not the relatively forgettable food.
Thumbs up or down for Au Petit Riche? I’d certainly go back with friends from out of town who are not food fanatics, partly for the atmosphere and the sense of tradition, but more especially to try more of those Loire wines.
Au Petit Riche: 25, rue Le Pelletier, 75009 Paris. Tel.: 01 47 70 68 68. Métro: Richelieu-Drouot or Le Pelletier. Nearest Vélib stations: 19, rue Rossini; 20, rue de la Grange Batelière. Fixed-price menu: €29.20. A la carte: around €40. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
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