Perhaps the Bible of gastronomy, the Guide Michelin, is a little less subjective, since restaurants are visited several times so that the inspectors can get a better all-round idea of each one. Even so, the three restaurants (L’Arome, ETC and Agapé) I tipped for stardom in the past year duly received their reward in the new edition released this week, as did Bigarrade, which knocked my socks off when I ate there. So subjective isn’t as worrying as my friend seems to think it is. She would like to see ratings done scientifically. Fine. “Just do it,” as a famous shoemaker once said.
Another house courting stars, I reckon, is the recently installed Chamarré Montmartre, which stands in the shadow of Sacré Coeur. Mauritian Chef Antoine Heerah used to run a starred restaurant called Chamarré in the seventh arrondissement, which he has since closed. Now settled in Montmartre, he has taken over not one, but two restaurants – the other being the celebrated Moulin de la Galette.
When you walk into Chamarré, it’s like entering a lounge. Low easy chairs, stripy banquettes (did they have the same decorator as Goumard?) and split levels. A fishbowl kitchen inhabited by any number of East Asian cooks. It’s all very cozy, with subdued lighting and warm colors. A shoo-in for a Michelin star, on that measure at least. The seating is comfortable, too, making it an agreeable venue to dine with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen in too long a while.
We took the basic evening menu at €52 euros for three courses – the prices are already in star territory, too. We were brought the mandatory amuse-bouche in the now mandatory little spoons, the main ingredient of which (my attention was distracted by the conversation) was a sliver of raw fish – perhaps mackerel. Subtle flavors, very good.
I’ll spare you the French names of the dishes. They are complicated – too complicated for some of the people whose comments I’ve seen in the blogs – with a lot of spices and flavors from exotic places: Mauritius is a fascinating blend of people of Indian, African and Chinese origins, and their influence shows in the spice mixtures.
My oysters “two ways” – cold, in a seawater jelly, and warm, in an emulsion of borage – were super, especially the latter, with the oysters in a green soup, not just froth. Just as successful was the soup of tuberous rooted chervil with puffs of parsley-root gougère pastry and a lemony marmelade. The trilogy of octopus (prepared three ways: as vindaye, carpaccio and tempura) seemed to leave my friend Dominique somewhat perplexed, but he rated the tempura very highly.
My main dish was crispy suckling pig with a round of Jerusalem artichoke purée, delicate enough not to detract from the meat, which would have proved rather insipid if the outside hadn’t been crisped up – but that’s very young meat for you. I wasn’t expecting it to be packed with old hog flavor. Françoise’s duck came roasted and confit, spiced up with bois d’Inde, aka West Indian bay , and served with braised quince and baby turnips. I heard no complaints. Dominique had the gurnard (grondin) and scallops with winter vegetables and a mace bouillon, but found the gurnard a tad overdone. He was not overwhelmed.
I had cheese for dessert, while the others had confections of apple and quince, and of mango with citron (cédrat) and sorbet. Our bottle of unoaked Chablis made with natural yeasts by Jean-Claude Oudin (€33) paired superbly with everything, except the duck, for which a glass of Bordeaux was bespoken.
What is missing at Chamarré is punch: the food punches below its weight, leaving you a little underwhelmed by what could and should be totally memorable – the chef and his crew are certainly capable of it. And I’m not alone in thinking this, as a look through the blogs will show (all subjective, of course).
But these are minor carps if what you’re after is a cool place to catch up with friends. The surroundings are pleasant, the noise levels low, the staff attentive and the buzz comfortable. I would go back, certainly, but perhaps at lunchtime, and with lower expectations.
Chamarré Montmartre: 52, rue Lamarck 75018 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 55 05 42. Métro: Château Rouge or Lamarck Caulaincourt. Nearest Vélib stations: 1, rue Francoeur ; 93, rue Caulaincourt. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price menus* €29 and €35 (lunch); €52 and €65 (dinner). www.chamarre-montmartre.com
* three courses, not including wine
© 2009 Paris Update
Click here to respond to this article (your response may be published on this page and is subject to editing).Favorite