September 23, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

Magical Mystery Meal

The cooks fashion their mystery menus from unlikely looking ingredients.


There’s an almost Biblical simplicity about the first moves in a meal at Bigarrade. One of the two waiters approaches with a rectangular piece of slate bearing a one-inch cube of bread and a tiny white Japanese sauce bowl containing a bright yellow liquid. The bread is the house focaccia, salted. The yellow liquid is a stunning olive oil. Let’s leave aside the fact that the waiter unnecessarily suggests you dip the solid into the liquid and put it into your mouth (was I going to put it in my ear?). Bread. Salt. Oil. Ringing any symbolic bells? Food for the gods? Temple offerings? Traditional hospitality? I can think of nothing better to put you in the right mood for fabulous food, which is what chef Christophe Pelé serves up. Not in Rabelaisian abundance, but with god-like, ambrosial restraint.

There was the mandatory amuse-bouche (a demeaning term for such a heavenly combination), here featuring slices of paper-thin raw beef, topped with slivers of salty poutargue (mullet roe) and herring roe with a dab of soy, sesame and lime-juice sauce (the only three ingredients that my mortal taste buds could identify).

A tiny scoop of saffron risotto, as yellow as the olive oil, was decorated with two tarragon leaves and a few threads of scarlet saffron (or was it red chili? – they were too small and thin to identify with certainty). I wanted to eat it with a tiny spoon from a doll’s tea set to eke out the pleasure indefinitely.

A section of slow-cooked boned mackerel was filled with raw, finely chopped purple (and I do mean purple) cauliflower and a suspicion of seaweed. And nothing else.

A mini-fillet of John Dory was camouflaged beneath wafer-thin slices of almost raw, stripy beetroot (the Tonda di Chioggia variety, I believe).

The cheese course included a small (at any other point in the meal it might have been called niggardly) slice of Tomme du Jura and a little wedge of nearly runny, unimprovable goat’s milk cheese, served at room temperature with cube of savory jelly. Personally, I prefer my cheese with bread.

All the while I was watching the balletic performance of the chef and his two partners in the open kitchen, quietly putting all it together for the 20 or so fortunates who had gathered for this banquet. The cooks were opening and closing drawers full of unlikely looking ingredients from which they fashioned their mystery menus. A lot of discreet, unflashy assembly was going on, but scant cooking, it seemed to me.

So fascinated was I that I hardly noticed the decor of ironic upturned plastic electric candles, the understated walls with lime-green highlights or the comfortable seating arrangements. A table of noisy female office workers celebrating a birthday impinged on the peace from time to time, but no matter, for then the desserts arrived.

A lemon cream sealed in a small pot with a film of yuzu jelly. A white chocolate mousse in an eggcup, with a layer of minuscule pineapple cubes, super-sexed-up with a floret of fresh thyme. A caramel crême brûlée with a single roast fig and its sauce – the epitome of balance. A sort of honey cheesecake with an emulsion of calvados.

And would you believe that the chef was still stuffing madeleines, dry-roasted apple slices and mini chocolate tarts straight out of the oven into our mouths even as we tried to leave…

It couldn’t have been the white 2007 Bandol Domaine de Terrebrune, which got better and better. It was magic, I swear.

Richard Hesse

Bigarrade: 106, rue Nolet, 75017 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 26 01 02. Métro: Brochant. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 3, rue Brochant and 109, rue Lemercier. Closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday lunchtime. Fixed-price menus*: €35 (“gourmet”) and €45 (“gourmand”).

* three courses, not including wine

© 2008 Paris Update

More reviews of Paris restaurants.

Reader Reaction
Click here to respond to this article (your response may be published on this page and is subject to editing).


What do you think? Send a comment:

Your comment is subject to editing. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for free!

The Paris Update newsletter will arrive in your inbox every Wednesday, full of the latest Paris news, reviews and insider tips.