Pros: Excellent food
Cons: Grossly overcrowded space, unpleasant staff, rushed service
L’Ami Jean is one of those places that gets talked about a great deal, which is why I have held off going there. When yet another glowing review popped onto my desk recently, I finally phoned for a booking. I should have known what to expect when we were offered a 7pm reservation (the slot for Americans). Still, one has to suffer for one’s art, and boy, did we suffer.
Chef Stéphane Jégo does inventive things with Basque cuisine, and I have no complaints at all about the food. The soup with old parmesan was delicious, as were the shavings of Basque ham served with irresistible bread and butter, followed up by main courses of woodpigeon (as bloody as it should be), truly rich hare à la royale (with a large hunk of foie gras), and roasted free-range guinea fowl, all served with creamy mashed potatoes.
What it is about Basque restaurants? Not only do you usually have to put up with strings of espelette peppers and plastic hams hanging from the rafters, but you also have to put up with the weirdness of the staff. The same phenomenon is on show at Au Bascou and Wadja. Except that at L’Ami Jean, the male servers are not just weird, but downright unpleasant.
The role of the numerous female attendants was to hover over us and clear our table as soon as we had finished, slosh wine in our glass, and generally interrupt the conversation. The obvious aim here was to get rid of us as fast as possible, which goes against all that restaurant dining is supposed to be about.
Jégo has more than a few nods to the legendary Yves Cambdeborde on the menu, and the operation is set up to resemble Camdeborde’s La Régalade. My experience at La Régalade a couple of years ago, when it was run by Bruno Doucet, was similar in some respects to L’Ami Jean, where, despite having a reservation, you queue in a madhouse (unless you have no choice but to reserve for 7pm), standing over the other diners until a table comes free.
But the big difference was that at La Régalade, we did not have to put up with the unpleasant staff, who, at L’Ami Jean, make not the slightest attempt to engage with their clients. They bashed down dishes on the table without a word or even any eye contact and used our table as a sideboard when setting up the table next to ours, without the slightest by your leave – an unforgiveable lapse in manners. In terms of restaurant experiences, this was up there with Chez Michel.
If you want a meal in a Basque restaurant with weird rather than unpleasant staff, Au Bascou and Wadja will be an infinitely more comfortable experience. Not for all the delicious woodpigeons in the Basque country could I ever be prevailed upon to return to L’Ami Jean.
Chez L’Ami Jean: 27, rue Malar, 75007 Paris. Tel.: 01 47 05 86 89. Métro: Invalides or La Tour Maubourg. Nearest Vélib stations: 3, avenue Bousquet; 37 avenue Bousquet (take a cab). Open Tuesday-Saturday. Fixed-price menu: €35. A la carte: around €60.
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