January 27, 2009By Richard HesseArchive

Better than Happy Pills

ordonnance restaurant, paris
Down-to-earth food in a warm, friendly venue.

If you have euros in your pocket that haven’t been exchanged from another currency (i.e., the dollar or sterling), the best place to be right now for eating is London. A recent article in the London Daily Mail regaled readers with reports that Michelin-starred restaurants are trying to beat the downturn with cheap eats. You can get a two-course lunch at no less a table than Atelier Joel Robuchon, for example, for £19 – that’s scarcely €20 at the going exchange rate. Arbutus in Soho (one star) does a three-course lunch for £15.50 (€16 at current exchange rates). That makes Paris start to sound expensive as a place to eat…

One venue that seems not to be feeling the pinch yet is the rather remote L ’Ordonnance, where traditional French cuisine is alive and kicking in a warm, friendly venue with no TV screens, no piped-in music and no pretensions to be anything other than what it is: a place that transforms well-sourced ingredients into relatively simple, hearty fare and offers equally well-sourced wine to accompany it.

One of three or four translations of “ordonnance” is a medical prescription, and the ambience in the restaurant is certainly guaranteed to restore the drooping spirits far better than the happy pills French doctors are notorious for prescribing. The 40-cover space is divided into four separate areas so that the buzz never rises above the comfort level, and you don’t have to shout into your date’s ear to be heard.

When I saw leeks in vinaigrette sauce with a generous slice of browned foie gras being served to a neighboring table, I regretted having ordered celery soup with crispy bacon for my first course. It’s the same soup I started with at Alfred a couple of weeks back, but in this case it fell short of expectations because it was made with celeriac rather than branch celery and turned up on the table lukewarm rather than piping hot. The croustillant de fromage de tête – a kind of samosa with head cheese inside, was interesting, but not an out-and-out winner, either: the filo pastry might have been better. But these are minor carps from someone who is spoiled from eating regularly in all sorts of places.

The people who run L ’Ordonnance take their meat seriously but don’t make a big issue of it. I tried to find out who had supplied the gorgeous, thick entrecôte I ordered bleu (just seared on the outside but hot all the way through), but got nowhere. Nor did my companion’s magret de canard (duck breast) come with a vaunted pedigree, but it was no less succulent for all that. A small pot of perfect fries came with the steak.

We drank a 1999 Vin de Pays des Maures Le Carré de Laure (€30) from the Borely-Martin estate, which I have recently been reading about in Robert V. Camuto’s Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country (“a blend of Syrah and Grenache that … seemed to have it all: the fruit, the earth, the tannins, the alcohol kick”). I can report that the tannins have rounded and the fruit is still all there, as is the alcohol kick, at a hefty 14.5 degrees.

To show just how traditional the cuisine at L’Ordonnance is, the desserts include a crème brûlée that it nothing but a crème brûlée, with none of those postmodern bells and whistles that chefs seem to think we want. It was up there among the best. The other was crêpes suzette: lots of zingy orange liqueur, and feathery, not leathery, crêpes, the only quibble being that crêpes suzette are all about spectacle and should be prepared right by your table, with whooshes of blue flame and ooh-aahing from the assembled diners. Sadly, we were deprived of the show.

L’Ordonnance is a great find for lovers of traditional French cuisine, even if it is a bit more expensive than some two-star restaurants in London…

Richard Hesse

L’Ordonnance: 51, rue Hallé, 75014 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 27 55 85. Métro: Mouton Duvernet. Nearest Vélib stations: 49, rue de la Tombe Issoire; 5 rue Mouton Duvernet. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Fixed-price menus: €30 (three courses), €25 (two courses).

© 2009 Paris Update

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