If you just happened to be walking past the restaurant Le Hérisson in Belleville, it might not occur to you to go in for something to eat. The smashed glass on the partition separating the terrace from the sidewalk does not make a good impression, and neither does the sight of the interior, decorated with rather garish colored neon lights.
So, while I had read a couple of positive reviews of it, I wasn’t expecting much when I took a seat at a table on the terrace. Things quickly started looking up, however. The tall trees along the boulevard were a soothing sight, a pleasant breeze was blowing on that warm evening, the aforementioned glass wall provided some protection from the passing traffic, and the waiter had a nice personality and seemed eager to please. By the time my friends arrived, I felt quite at home.
After a tasty bite-sized appetizer of grilled maigre (meagre), a fish that seems to be everywhere these days (probably because it is now being farmed in France), we moved on to the starters. Both of my friends had the gazpacho made with fresh peas and mint, poured from a small bottle over fresh goat cheese topped with beads of balsamic vinegar. It was sparkling fresh and delicious. “Tastes like the barnyard,” said one friend, referring to the fragrant goat cheese. “It’s the perfect balance of fresh peas, mint and goat cheese,” said the other, not to be outdone.
Meanwhile, I was more than happy with my flavorful and unusual meagre tartare with mango, pastis, wasabi, passion fruit, fennel and peanuts. To paraphrase my friend, it was the perfect balance of fish fruit, veg and a few other things. Obviously, the chef here goes to a lot of trouble with each dish here.
The main courses, while very good, were not quite as successful. I think I had the best one, the Montellos beef fillet served with cauliflower prepared in different ways, from purée to charred flowerets.
Hidden underneath the cod, topped with curry-flavored foam, was a pile of Thai-style stir-fried vegetables. The vegetables were deemed perfect, but the fish described as rather bland.
The other friend’s turbot had the same blandness problem, even though it came dolled up with all kinds of things, including new onions and cockles and saffron flavoring. He found it “respectable.”
Of the three desserts, the best was definitely the dôme Nocciolata, sablé à la fleur de sel de Normandie. What could go wrong when you combine good chocolate and hazelnuts and cream, put them on a cookie base and add caramel sauce and peanuts?
The other two desserts were also very fine. One was a melon soup with lemongrass and caramelized almonds, and the other a deconstructed pavlova with cherries marinated in Earl Grey tea.
I don’t know why Le Hérisson is named after the hedgehog, but like its namesake, it may look prickly on the outside but has a sweet nature. Have no fear!