The new Le Gaigne’s decor is a big improvement over the original restaurant’s.Bigger is not always better when it comes to restaurants. A case in point is Le Gaigne, which used to be a tiny bistro run by a young couple on a funky street in the Marais. After closing for a year, it has now reopened in a much larger, more elegant setting in the eighth arrondissement. Unfortunately, this move upscale does not seem to have been matched by an improvement in the kitchen.
The food-blogger friend I went with for lunch last week had been a huge fan and a regular client of the original restaurant. Looking back at former Paris Update restaurant critic Richard Hesse’s review of the original, however, I remembered that I had been less taken with the first Le Gaigne. I was with Richard on that visit and agreed with him that it was an underwhelming experience in drab surroundings with distantly polite service. Richard ended his article with the hope that Chef Mikaël Gaignon and his wife would “get the necessary ancillaries of restaurant eating – such as personal comfort and pleasant decor – right, at which point his culinary skills will be able to come into their own…”
Gaignon certainly took that advice as to comfort and decor. The new place is eminently comfortable, with an elegant, low-key interior all in pale shades of green and milk-chocolate brown, with crisp white tablecloths and napkins, obviously the work of a professional decorator. An antique column entwined with wrought iron grapevines holds pride of place in the center of the front room. The service is also vastly improved, provided by two highly professional waiters who were all smiles, winks and charm.
Sadly, the same improvement did not show in the cooking that day. As in the former restaurant, it is hard to put your finger on what is wrong. The food is good and made with quality ingredients, but there is no spark of originality, nothing to get you excited. The
lettuce soup was bland, with an unpleasant underlying bitterness. The aile de raie (skate)
was rather overcooked and hence chewy, although we quite liked the dish of vinegar-enhanced lentils that came with it. The guinea fowl with Swiss chard was fine but no more.
The best of the four savory courses was the starter of a crispy soft-boiled egg on a bed of
fried mushrooms in a creamy sauce.
Things really went downhill with the desserts: the crêpes Suzette – not prepared and flambéed at the table as they should have been – were no better than what you would get in a run-of-the-mill café, and the fruit samosas were heavy, soggy and greasy, and served with a mirabelle sorbet that was lacking in flavor.
We left most of both desserts on the plate. The sweets served with the coffee were much better.
There were some good points – the vegetables were tasty, the coffee excellent, the tableware very attractive, the wine pretty good and not too expensive (€23 for a 2004 Saint Jacques de Siran Bordeaux Supérieur), etc. – but we weren’t happy. My friend was deeply disappointed; he had lost one of his favorite restaurants.
We were rather embarrassed when the chef came out to greet us as we left, and sad that we weren’t able to rave over his new place (only half full that day), especially since a good deal of cash has obviously been invested. If Gaignon is bucking for a Michelin star, which seems to be the case, more of an effort will be needed in the kitchen, especially at these elevated prices.