Le Cigale Récamier

February 3, 2009By Richard HesseArchive

Busy, Busy, Busy

le cigale recamier
The rack of lamb was succulent and perfectly cooked.

Things got off to a slightly difficult start at Le Cigale Récamier, when the meeter-and-greeter (!) bluntly told me that I was an hour late for my reservation and that the table had gone. When I reacted with my celebrated Brit cool (seen as a sign of weakness and that I was suitably cowed), she relented, and said that she would, out of the goodness of her heart, give me a table. There was no doubt in her mind that I was in the wrong, even though I had turned up at 9 p.m. on the dot, which was the time of our booking.

I was put on the naughty step anyway, and there was no suggestion that they should take my coat for safekeeping, nor was there anywhere to put it, except on the banquette my date would be sitting on when she arrived. After I stood in the cramped space between tables holding the two coats at arm’s length for what seemed a considerable time, however, someone finally relented and came and took them away.

As I said, things started badly. In fact, I found everything about this restaurant, except the food, detestable. The staff are too busy – White Rabbit busy, rushing around, to joyfully mix metaphors, like headless chickens. Our waitress seemed to have graduated from reception duties at an Orwellian state-run clinic for shameful diseases. The male staff were more clued-in, but they, too, were very, very, busy. The place was heaving, it is true, with locals, and better service seemed to be vouchsafed to regulars. But a full restaurant should be good news and make happy staff in these difficult times, non?

The overall impression was of a place that exists for the sake of its personnel, not the customer, who is a necessary evil. It’s a very Anglo-Saxon failing, I know, to carp about levels of service, as my French countrymen don’t seem to mind being on the receiving end of generally poor treatment. The most striking evidence of this treatment was revealed when I went to check out the toilets later in the evening: I had to step through piles of tablecloths and napkins to get where I was going. For the convenience of the staff, these had been piled up in the space leading to the facilities. The staff clearly had things to do that diners could like or lump.

And then there was the sheer incomprehension that greeted our request for proper wine glasses, like those on the adjacent table, rather than lumpy ballons. We were finally given tasting glasses with the name of a wine négociant elegantly etched on them…

But enough of this beefing, because the food is really quite decent, and there was a warm buzz of otherwise happy diners.

The house makes a specialty of savory and sweet soufflés. Those for starters can be had in small and larger sizes, of which we took the former. One was flavored with shrimp, the other with wild mushrooms, and each came with a little ramekin of similarly flavored sauce on the side. The sauces, we both agreed, while excellent, rather defeated the purpose of the delicate soufflés, which came to the table straight from the oven – quite a feat in a place seating at least 60.

From the good selection of traditional meat and fish dishes, I chose a veal kidney, which was creditably turned out on a plate dotted with tasty roast potatoes. My date had the rack of lamb, one of the day’s specials: good-quality meat, cooked as requested, and served with delicious vegetables. So no complaints there, either.

And then on to more soufflés for dessert. The signature Grand Marnier version comes to the table with the bottle of Grand Marnier. I got the distinct impression, when checking out what the other diners were getting, that these were “service” bottles, brought to the table with an inch of the liqueur in the bottom, to make sure you did not go wild. The evidence was the much-used state of the bottles themselves, and the odd fact that no bottle seemed to have more than the apparently statutory inch.

That said, the soufflé was light and a pleasure on the taste buds, as was my salted caramel soufflé, cooked to perfection and served with a little pot of caramel sauce on the side. Sadly, our waitress neglected to bring the glass of Coteaux de Layon we had ordered to go with our dessert until reminded, by which time we were nearly through. Still in White Rabbit mode. Late for a very important date?

In the summer you can eat outside, and as the restaurant is located on an impasse, it must be a very pleasant venue for a quiet meal. I shall keep it up my sleeve for al fresco eating. And I’ll make sure that we agree on the booking time.

Richard Hesse

Le Cigale Récamier: 4, rue Récamier, 75007 Paris. Tel.: 01 45 48 86 58. Métro: Sèvres-Babylone. Nearest Vélib stations: 28. bd Raspail; 15, rue du Vieux Colombier.
Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. A la carte: around €45*.

* three courses, not including wine

© 2009 Paris Update

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