It’s an event: the opening of a new Frenchie restaurant in Paris – especially one that is not located on the Rue de Nil along with chef/owner Gregory Marchand’s four other establishments (one of them a wine shop). Frenchie Pigalle opened its doors last week.
I remember the press proclaiming the Pigalle area as Paris’s latest trendy hood a couple of decades ago, with such claims regularly reappearing over the years. It has indeed been changing, but slowly, as more and more hostess bars close and are replaced by hipster cocktail bars, cafés and restaurants (among them Lulu White, Bouillon Pigalle and Django). Now, the arrival of Frenchie in the neighborhood is sure to make it even trendier.
We went there the night after it opened. Since, like Frenchie Wine Bar, it does not take reservations, I went early and fully expected to queue up in the heat while waiting for my friends to show up (most no-reservation restaurants will not seat you until your whole party is present). But no, as soon as I arrived (around 7:15), I was ushered to a table in the blessedly air-conditioned, still empty restaurant. I ordered a refreshing glass of Splash, a sparking vin de France, and had a chat with Marchand, who was on hand to supervise the new place. (As probably every foodie already knows, Marchand worked with Jamie Oliver in the UK before starting his empire on Rue de Nil, and now has a Michelin star for his original French restaurant).
Frenchie Pigalle’s decor, unlike that of the rather funky wine bar on the Rue de Nil, is sober and elegant, with white-tiled walls, ceramic decorative elements and blond-wood tables.
As an appetizer with the aperitif, we ordered some gougères, which came with a labneh (a sort of thick yogurt) dipping sauce. They were not the usual cheesy popovers I had been expecting but had a cake-like texture. The cheesy flavor was there, however, and the labneh with sumac and za’atar was fabulous.
The menu is divided into small plates, with nine offerings, and three main courses, All shareable. One of the friendly, professional servers recommended that we order two each of the small dishes and one large one. That seemed like a lot to us, so we just ordered a total of five small ones to see how far they would go, which turned out to be a good decision.
We passed over the bacon scones, although they sounded very tempting (other intriguing options we didn’t try but I wish we had were tomatoes and cherries with fresh almonds and marigolds, and sweetbread nuggets with raw cream and caviar – next time!).
We started with a prettily presented dish of smoked ricotta, smothered in a bright-green sabayon made with chives and sumac, and decorated with tiny white flowers and chopped nuts. A great combo (and one Marchand seems to like – I remember well his salad of burrata with peaches and basil), with the sweet tartness of the apricots a great foil for the smoky flavor of the cheese.
The raw red tuna with raspberries, topped with cucumber granita, was a refreshing summer dish.
We then moved on to two hot pasta dishes. The agnolotti (small ravioli) were beautifully accompanied by summer girolles and scamorza cheese and flavored with smoky lapsang souchong tea.
The rich squid-ink tagliolini was perhaps even tastier, with surf and turf in the form of mussels and chorizo, and a Marseillais influence: bouillabaisse and aioli. Rich and satisfying.
We were full (mainly from sopping up all those delicious sauces with the lovely crusty bread) and stopped there.
We still wanted to try the desserts and waited a bit to make room. There were only three. We chose the banoffee (for banana + toffee) pie with pecans and dulce de leche, which came looking like a mysterious (meringue?) big beige ball that turned out to be lusciously creamy. Although we had been dubious about it, it was a unanimous success.
We also loved the pavlova – really meringue this time – with cherries, pistachios and verbena leaves.
The restaurant has a strange motto, written on the window and on its business card: “Eat me/like it’s hot.” What it means is a mystery. Marchand certainly learned to cook from his time with Jamie Oliver, but he seems to have forgotten his English. But who cares? We like all Frenchies, even when they mangle the English language.