During my first year at college in London – the place that William Cobbett called “The Great Wen” (a boil, not an apple) – I dated the daughter of a rather forbidding Scottish customs and excise officer. On one of our first dates, we went to a concert at the Albert Hall, and then dined at the Spaghetti House, just off the Tottenham Court Road. It’s still there to this day, and I occasionally pass it, never failing to remember that first meal in a restaurant with a desirable college girl. We were such young sophisticates that we took the Chianti bottle home to make into a lamp. Older, but not much wiser now, I’ve just come across a place that in many ways seems perfect for a first date, provided you’ve considerably more cash in your pocket than I had back then.
Goumard is an avatar of the Maison Prunier, once an expensive fish restaurant that another friend remembers fondly being taken to for an expensive treat by a doting godfather when she was a rookie psychologist in Paris long ago. It changed hands fairly recently and has now had a flash refurb.
The menu, too, has been re-jigged and offers a cheaper selection of both meat and fish dishes, which is partly why it would be ideal for a first date, since, unless he or she is a rabid vegetarian, you are not likely to face the disaster of an uneatable menu. Nor is there anything to frighten the horses (metaphorically speaking) on the menu: the dishes on offer are pretty mainstream and nicely turned out, with no effort to throw you with anything unfamiliar.
My date began with slivers of perch-pike in a dill marinade, accompanied by sweet-and-sour strips of cucumber enlivened by a touch of wasabi. I had a little ramekin of dressed crab with chanterelle mushroom cream sauce and a salad of fresh herbs. Everything was attractively presented and went down well, but nothing sent our hearts soaring.
We followed on with an anonymous fillet of sea bass (presumably not line-caught), beautifully seared, perched on a pile of string beans and more chanterelles – whole baby ones this time. It was perfectly cooked, as were my scallops in a bean casserole – I haven’t had such sweet and juicy ones in a long while. The little coco beans were an unusual pairing for me, but very tasty: a tad on the crunchy side, which was all to the good.
The aged Comté cheese we followed up with was nothing to write home about, but the dessert, délice de vanille et noix de coco, brought the meal to a satisfying close.
The interesting wine list aims toward the high end, with a couple of wines around the €25 mark, but you can easily head up to the stratospheric (the top wine being a 1956 Yquem at €3,000 euros). We put away a bottle of a biodynamic white Anjou, Les Pépinières, by Jo Pithon, which was good but rather overpriced at €40.
What makes Goumard especially interesting is the setting: the dining room is clubby, comfortable, and (except for the mindless disco music) quiet. The service is discreet and efficient, which is exactly what you need on a first date.
You may have a time traveler moment when you go to the restrooms: you step through a door from 2009 straight into the most gorgeous, almost pristine Art Nouveau facilities I have ever come across: it’s worth stopping by for a glass of wine and oysters in the downstairs bar just to see this. Smokers are offered a very comfortable indoor smoking room with a world-class extraction system – our particularly sensitive noses didn’t catch a single whiff of Havana smoke.
All in all, a very enjoyable meal that was high on quality if not on originality.
Goumard: 9, rue Duphot, 75001 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 60 36 07. Métro: Madeleine. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m. A la carte: around €50*. www.goumard.com
* three courses, not including wine
© 2009 Paris Update
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