Pros: Great, generous food; real atmosphere
Cons: You really, really need to book ahead.
All through dinner, my date and I were kicking ourselves for not having adopted Baratin years ago. Everything about the place pleases, not least the food and wines. A co-diner, a culture minister from the Mitterrand era (one has to be discreet about these things), seemed to think so too.
Having booked late, we had to settle for the 9:30 sitting and were dreading a long wait, but we were seated in the time it took the all-seeing guy behind the bar to serve us a glass of Melon de Bourgogne apiece. Belying its name, this is a grape banished from Burgundy in the 18th century and now used in the Loire region, mostly to make Muscadet – which I didn’t know until I looked it up on Wikipedia. Pretty good, anyway, and it saw us through our first courses: perfectly grilled squid for my companion and quail in a sweetish escabeche sauce for me. A whole quail, as a starter. Whew. Overindulgence, here we come. Both were simply turned out and very comforting.
Like the service. There are about 30 covers, and one waitress covering the lot, with a bit of help from the chap behind the bar. She was friendly, efficient, and unruffled. We were very impressed. We also liked the paintings on the walls, the comfortable sound levels and the degree of space. There was none of the shouting to make yourself heard that is essential in many places, even brand-new ones, like Saturne, and the amount of space vouchsafed to you is not stingy. For which we were most grateful. That kind of generosity is the fundamental vibe of Baratin.
Like many of the wine bars in Paris today, this one has chalkboards with menus and a short list of mainly organic wines. We chose a Vin de Table from the Loire that was virtually sulfur-free – not usually my glass of pinot – but this was well made and was almost sainted in its purity.
What next? Large platefuls of “Easter Lamb” with spinach; and roast pork with spring vegetables – slivers of carrot and turnip, and tiny grenaille potatoes served with both. The lamb was packed with flavor and falling off the bone. The pork had a delicate balance of fat and lean, perfectly moist, with plenty of flavor too. That pork was from the miraculous breed of black Bigorre pigs from the Pyrenees rescued from extinction after being reduced to just 24 sows and two males in 1981!
My cheese was a 16-month old Comté, very thinly sliced. This was the owner showing off, because I wouldn’t have thought it possible to pack so much taste into such a thin slice. Brilliant. Ditto for the bitter chocolate cream dessert.
When you’ve done with dinner, walk back up the Rue de Belleville and pause a moment at number 72, on the very step in the street where Edith Piaf was born. There’s a plaque above the door to record the event. You’ll need the exercise after feasting at Baratin.
Le Baratin: 3, rue Jouye-Rouve, 75020 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 49 39 70. Métro: Pyrénées (better, it’s downhill from the station) or Belleville. Nearest Vélib stations: don’t bother, it’s halfway up a steep hill. Open Tuesday-Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner only. Closed Sunday and Monday. A la carte: around €35.
Reader Harriet Welty Rochefort writes: “Just as I was moaning about there being no decent restaurants in the 20th, where I live, Richard Hesse’s excellent and mouthwatering review on Le Baratin appeared. Actually, the name immediately rang a bell – I had read about it as being one of those restaurants frequented by those in the know and some chefs on their nights off. I’ll be reserving soon. Thanks for the reminder! And thanks in general for your unpretentious, often humorous, and informative reviews.”
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