Les Papilles

June 10, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

Pushing the Bottle About

The wine’s the thing at Les Papilles.

Another one of those places that had been sitting on my list for an age, Les Papilles (it means “taste buds” but has overtones of lip-smacking pleasure, which the more objective English does not) is not so much a restaurant as a place to go and eat food with your wine.
That’s because the owner has decided to sell his wine at the takeaway price plus a €7 corkage fee for a normal bottle (more for a magnum or a jeroboam, if you want to splash out). And he has an eclectic range of wines, from the top Bordeaux to the funkiest Languedoc tipples with self-deprecatory names like Vin de Parking, an English approximation for which might be Château Parking Lot.

This is a place to take your time to scour the shelves for something you really want to try. Or ask the staff, who are very relaxed about speaking English, for ideas. And, of course, the more you spend, the more bang you get for your buck, because you aren’t paying the same kind of mark-up a restaurant usually charges.

Our Minervois AOC La Nine came to €24.80 with corkage, a pretty decent price (you can buy it directly from the producer for around €10). It was an uncomplicated bottle and adjusted happily to our four courses of fresh pea and mint soup, honey-roasted duck breast in a casserole of root vegetables, a serving of fourme d’ambert, an ancient blue cheese from the Auvergne, and a verrine of pannacotta. The menu changes daily according to what chef Ulric Claude finds at the market.

The food is certainly of a good standard: the pea and mint soup was served in the now-fashionable soup plate with things in it – in this case, a pretty square of fresh peas, some bacon bits, and a dollop of crème fraîche – and then topped up with the hot soup served at the table from a tureen, which contributes a feeling of generous abundance.

The liberal serving of duck came nicely pink, with the proper texture and taste. Little potatoes and carrots in a delicately spiced gravy made a perfect pair.

The cheese was all right. I have been spoiled, I suppose, by the ambrosial fourme d’ambert from Rouge Crème, served up last year at La Maison du Jardin. The couple at the neighboring table loved it, though, and when they asked where it came from, it sparked a conversation that lasted all evening. He and I are from the same part of the world (Yorkshire), and he had played rugby in the village where I grew up. They are discovering France by going to places where rugby is played and attending local derbies: a supremely intelligent way of discovering a country, and one that ensures meeting like-minded people. The spouse paints rugby, again a pleasing idea. We parted promising to meet up next time they are in Paris.

No complaints about the pannacotta dessert served in a glass verrine. A topping of fresh strawberries added texture to its creamy consistency.

Les Papilles, with its 40 covers, has hit upon a winning formula – this is a place you want to go back to for that bottle you spied on the shelf during a lull in the conversation. The range is vast, which becomes even clearer when you go down the wide staircase to the toilets: a wooden case of wine is temptingly displayed on each step leading down to the cellar restroom. In the basement is a large table where a bunch of friends can gather to, as they say in 18th-century novels, push the bottle about. My papilles are already tingling at the thought.

Richard Hesse

Les Papilles: 30, rue Gay-Lussac, 75005 Paris. Tel: 01 43 25 20 79. RER: Luxembourg. Nearest Velibs: 27, rue Gay Lussac or 9, rue Le Goff. Open Monday-Friday,10:30 a.m.-midnight. Closed Sunday and Monday. Four-course fixed-price menu: €31*. www.lespapillesparis.fr

* not including wine

© 2008 Paris Update

More reviews of Paris restaurants.

Reader Janet writes: “We went to Les Papilles last Wednesday and had an excellent meal. Paris is very expensive for British people at the moment, but we thought the set menu was very good value for money, the wine was good and the service relaxed but efficient. Fortunately we had booked a week earlier because the place was definitely full and it was well worth going.” (April 19, 2009)

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