One of the friends I dined with recently at Auberge Flora proclaimed it the best restaurant meal she’d had in the 10 years she’s lived in Paris. For me that vote would still go to Spring, which is admittedly more expensive, but Flora’s place would have to rank among my top five medium-priced restaurants (let’s leave the three stars out of this discussion) in Paris.
First impressions count, and here the pleasure started as soon as we walked in and saw the refreshingly colorful and witty decor of Flora Mikula’s new restaurant, with walls painted a handsome shade of deep blue and hung with artfully arranged white plates. The tables have distressed-wood tops, and the chairs, though made of metal, are surprisingly comfortable. On the left, the entrance to the hotel upstairs is decorated with contrasting bright-red neo-Baroque furniture.
What a change from Mikula’s former one-Michelin-star place, which was all done up like a pink boudoir and located on the posh Avenue George V. The new place, which will have to earn its own star, is near the Place de la Bastille on the nearly restaurant-free Boulevard Richard Lenoir, where ordinary Parisians live.
After pleasant greetings, we were led to our table not far from the kitchen window, through which we could see a younger lookalike of the blond Mikula, backed by several assistants, plating dishes. Occasionally, the real Flora would make an appearance in the window, correcting a dish before it went out.
A nice touch: the short list of apéritifs includes a “coupette” of Champagne for only €5, which we indulged in while studying the menu.
We had to ask our friendly waitress (also blond, though apparently it is not a house rule, as one of the several waitresses was a brunette) to explain the overcomplicated house concept to us. There are two fixed-price options, both at €45: a tasting menu (with a starter, choice of two main courses, cheese and dessert) and a tapas menu. The problem is that if one person orders one of these menus, everyone at the table is obliged to order it, too. In our case, that was impossible, since one of our group of three was a vegetarian who doesn’t eat meat or fish, both of which were, of course, included in the set menus. Luckily, it was also possible to order à la carte from the long list of tapas and from a choice of three main courses: lobster, saddle of lamb and the daily special, which happened to be sweetbreads.
Greig the vegetarian happily selected several meat- and fish-free choices from the tapas menu, noting that the vegetables were supplied by Joël Thiébault, the Parisian king of organic vegetables. Greig ordered cold tomato soup with burrata and pistou; grilled vegetables with
melted burrata and thyme-flavored biscuits; Greek-style baby vegetables; guacamole with crunchy vegetables; and caviar d’aubergines (baba ganoush). Not a word of complaint issued from his mouth, which was too busy devouring these tasty morsels, signs of a newfound respect for the vegetable kingdom in France.
Meanwhile, his wife Jean and I were very busy ourselves inhaling the two starters and main courses we had decided to share. The delicious duck samossa was perfectly crisped up and
complemented by a tartar sauce, while the delicate, thinly sliced mi-cuit (half-cooked)
sausage was served on a wooden cutting board with a cup of excellent Nyons olives.
The main courses really showed off Mikula’s talents with their rich, complex sauces. The day after I can still vividly recall the intense flavor of the shellfish-infused sauce that came with
the lobster and its risotto of “wheat” (pasta), along with a few stuffed cockles, peas and girolles. The saddle of lamb had a lovely meaty
sauce studded with broadbeans, peas, girolles and olives—a wonderful complement to the lamb, which was slightly overcooked, to Jean’s satisfaction but not mine.
If there is a theme at Auberge Flora, it is olives and olive oil—and who can argue with that? Of the two types of bread in the basket, the darker one was permeated with olive oil in the center while retaining a nice crispy crust—to die for, and a meal in itself. We quickly asked for more, snubbing the other type, excellent as it was. On the tasting menu, Mikula lists a different olive oil with each dish, including the cheese (Picodon with AOC olive oil from Nîmes—her hometown).
It’s hard to find a restaurant where the same high level of quality is maintained in every course—some chefs excel at starters, others at main courses or desserts—but this is one of them. The desserts, reluctantly ordered because we were so full, were sheer delight, especially the peach melba with raspberries and a gorgeously light chantilly, although the extremely refreshing melon “soup” and the gourmandises—freshly baked madeleine, cookie and cake—were also delicious.
Our wine was a fine, inexpensive (€22) 2011 Bourgeuil by the wonderfully reliable winemakers Catherine and Pierre Breton.
When the kitchen rush was over, Mikula—a former acolyte of that great yet humble chef Christian Constant—came out and greeted the happy diners who were finishing their meals.
It was a terrific all-round dining experience, which will certainly be repeated very soon.Favorite