Watch this Space
The picturesque Canal Saint Martin mirrored inside Garance.
If music be the food of love…it’s poison in a restaurant. I know that sounds a bit grumpy, but I was brought up in a time before iPods (almost before Walkmans) and so do not have damaged hearing. What I do have is damaged vocal chords due to heavy-duty use in noisy restaurants. I once asked the maître d’ in a brasserie to take me to the diner who had requested that the music be played at full volume so that I could see if we could come to an amicable arrangement. Amazingly, it turned out that none of the customers had ordered a side dish of Johnny Halliday with their boeuf bourguignon.
I’m actually a mild-mannered sort and am generally polite, so I don’t get into trouble in such places. But I have a dining companion who is annoyed by even a whisper of heavy metal and becomes very abusive towards the staff, which upsets his delicate digestion and spoils my meal with someone who is otherwise a delightful companion. So much so that I always swear it’s the last time we break bread together in a public place.
This train of thought was prompted by the wall of noise that hit another friend and me when we walked into Garance the other evening. Luckily, Luisa, the maître d’, is a darling and turned it down to the point where we could just about hear ourselves talk.
With that beef out of the way, I can say that this is a restaurant to watch in the coming months. It opened hardly two weeks ago on the trendy shores of the Canal Saint Martin, two spits from the celebrated Hôtel du Nord, and given the high standard of the food and wine, and the value-for-money factor, it should become a busy fixture in no time at all once word gets out.
Ludwig, the young chef, has an inventive way about him and turns out some very pretty platefuls of tasty food. His tartare of daurade (gilthead bream) melts deliciously in the mouth, complemented by just a touch of acidity in the leafy topping. The latter contains beetroot shoots – tiny threads of deep purple that have you thrashing about trying to name the taste when you don’t know what they are (you read it here first). Apparently, they’re all the rage in London.
Rich chunks of marinated salmon were served with fresh herbs and a dollop of creamy sauce containing Thai lime zest (possibly the most brilliantly addictive flavor in the world – in my book, at least). A crunchy guacamole was served with shredded crabmeat and poppadom chips, with the crunch coming from raw onion with the heat soaked out of it.
On my first trip to the restaurant the day before, I had perfect calf’s liver served with perfect fries, but I suspect that Garance does surf better than turf. Other fish dishes on the menu include lightly cooked red tuna steak with black sesame seeds, and tournedos de saumon à la coriandre (salmon steak with cilantro) in a perfect cylinder, seared at both ends, as moist as you could wish. And the rouget (red mullet) on the lunch menu was exactly what it should have been. But the rib steak I tried on my second visit lacked the aristocratic lineage of the one I recently enjoyed at Le Severo, and the steak tartare could have had more bite. The main courses were served with quite a few garnishes, including an interesting mix of quinoa and grilled sweet peppers.
Desserts are dominated by chocolate, with a chocolate crème brûlée flavored with Earl Grey tea, and a dark chocolate fondant cake served with a sorbet you can select from quite a long list.
The tipples on the short wine list, like everything else, are reasonably priced. You can crack open a bottle of Pommery champagne for 56 euros, by far the most expensive item on the list. Or try a pleasant California chardonnay at 18 euros.
Garance is clearly targeting a younger crowd, further evidence of which is the cozy little lounge bar in another room. The waiters and waitresses are young, decorative and have had a good dose of service culture instilled in them by owner Marc Lory, a long-time resident of the United States who fell in love with the venue and pestered the previous owners for a whole year before they sold it to him. He’s also refurbishing the upper floors for an economy boutique hotel. A space to watch, as I said, but try it before it gets too crowded.
Garance: 96 quai de Jemappes, 75010 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 02 87 95. Closed Monday. A la carte: around €35. Nearest Vélib’ stations: Rue de Beaurepaire or Rue Alibert. Métro: Jacques Bonsergent.
© 2007 Paris Update
Heather Jarman of Sapori e Saperi Adventures Ltd. in Lucca, Italy, writes: “Richard Hesse might like to know about a UK organisation called Pipedown, formed to counter one of the under-recognised scourges of contemporary life: piped music. It aims to protest: legally, courteously, preferably wittily but always persistently. Its website is:
“Restaurants aren’t the worst of it, but for us eaters, it can put us right off our food.“
Carol Clark of Los Angeles writes: “Please start a drumbeat of objection to loud music in restaurants! It’s horrible. There is no place to eat and have a conversation anymore! Who likes all that racket?
“Another pet peeve, at least in Los Angeles: The staff in restaurants, shops, fast food places, Starbucks, etc., talk so loudly to each other and laugh so loudly that it’s irritating. I’m glad they are having such a good time working together, but what about the customers sipping their coffee and reading the paper or working on a laptop or trying to have a conversation?
“I’ll be going to Paris soon, where in the past, it has been much quieter in eating places.“
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