Les Diables au Thym

December 4, 2007By Richard HesseArchive

Lessons from Across the Channel

diables au thym restaurant, paris
The meltingly tender pork.

The Seven Stars pub in London’s Bloomsbury, just off Lincoln’s Inn Fields and facing the forbidding rear of the Central Law Courts, was founded when the first Queen Elizabeth was still on the throne of England and is today run with a firm hand from the upstairs kitchen by the intriguingly named Roxy Beaujolais and her large black cat, who lords it on the bar in a white cotton ruff, looking for all the world like a photographic negative of a portly Pierrot Lunaire.

At lunchtime last Sunday, in a scene that could have come straight from Dickens or Mervyn Peake, Ms. Beaujolais herself, with her bright red gash of a mouth and flaming red hair, looked like a reincarnation of Toulouse Lautrec’s Yvette Guilbert as she ignored her early customers and dictated the day’s fare to a female helper kneeling on the bar and writing it up on the chalkboard.

We were served two terrific pints of beer and sat down in the snug at one of the small tables covered in green-checkered oilcloth while we waited until Ms. Beaujolais had finished her prep and was ready to take orders for food. When that happy moment arrived, my girlfriend plumped for the plump clams and chorizo in a soupy saffron-chili sauce, while I had three links of a rotund Napoli sausage and onion mash, each dish at around 15 euros a shot.

As we waited and then downed the excellent food and beer, we gossiped about the regulars wandering in for a drink and a bite, marveling at the unique vibe of a good British pub.

I mention all this to point up the lack of vibe at Les Diables au Thym, a Paris restaurant located in a fairly lively part of town (the Folies Bergères and the Drouot auction rooms are just around the corner). It might have had something to do with the shape of the room or the humdrum decor or the intrusive end-to-end Bach on the mini-stereo or the collection of nondescript lamps on shelves not quite high enough on the wall to hide the tangles of electric cords. It might simply have been that no single personality had left his or her stamp on the place: where was the restaurant’s Roxy Beaujolais?

All this can detract from your dining pleasure, even if the food is good. At Les Diables au Thym, that food is in the still-trendy mold cast by Yves Camdeborde 15 years ago at La Régalade, but the mold here is a little time-worn, and the food fell generally short of the excellence that can easily be had at these prices. There was nothing wrong with the ravioli au petits gris (snail ravioli in broth), and the tiny pat of squash mousse atop it was a delight, but it stopped well short of sublime, as did the chicory tarte tatin and the pressé (paté) of prawns in jelly, although the latter was wrapped in a thin slice of raw-cured country ham that gave it an interesting tang.

The jarret (knuckle) of lamb, which is the current de rigueur fail-safe dish in today’s gastro-bistros and generally can’t fail to please, was positively dire, like eating reconstituted shoelaces. Difficult to believe that it hadn’t been cooked much, much earlier and held over. My two companions were sorely miffed and very jealous of my roast suckling pig “from snout to tail,” which was truly up to the desired standard of melting tenderness. The only memorable experience of the evening, it came with an interesting chutney of dates and onions.

The mousse au potiron dessert was no more sophisticated than your average Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, and the tatin of quince elicited no comment. Again, I was lucky with my citron givré, a lemon sorbet accompanied by a superfluous, bone-dry meringue and citrus segments. The lemon sorbet was voted a winner by all.

The wine list was interesting, with a very reasonably priced section: a frisky Côtes Roannaise was €19, and an Argentinian Torrentes by Fantelli, a sluttish Chardonnay (nowhere near as classy as a Chassagne Montrachet but eminently drinkable), went down very well with the desserts, at just €16. If you’re in the neighborhood at lunchtime (when gastronomic expectations, I imagine, are lower) you could do worse than try the better-value-for-money lunchtime option.

Richard Hesse

Les Diables au Thym: 35, rue Bergère, 75009 Paris. Tel: 01 47 70 77 09. Métro: Grands Boulevards. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner. A la carte: around €40. Fixed-price lunch menus: €22 (two courses) and €28 (three courses). Nearest Vélib’: 3-5 rue Rougement, 75009 Paris.


Seven Stars: 53 Carey Street, Holborn, London WC2A 2JB. Underground: Chancery Lane. Open daily, lunchtime to 10:30 p.m.

© 2007 Paris Update

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