The food at Ratatouille and Tellus (above) carries on the great tradition of French bourgeois cuisine.
Editor’s note (May 2013): Tellus is no longer in business, but Ratatouille is still going strong.
It’s very rare that I leave anything on my plate in a restaurant – it has to be pretty inedible – but the energy I expended on cutting and chewing a piece of steak the other evening at Chez Clément, just off the Place de l’Opéra, was greater than the amount of calories I was taking in, so the steak and the wilted pommes sarladaises served alongside were abandoned half-way through as a bad job.
Chez Clément is a chain that tries to do bistro nostalgia. I went there because it happened to be open in the short window I had after meeting up with an old friend and then seeing her off on her train. The place is very popular, and people were queuing out the door when we left around 7pm, but it couldn’t have been because of the low prices – at €24, that piece of steak was an insult to the French tradition, it seemed to me.
It was nothing like the two other places I tried this week, both of which are a credit to their profession, turning out excellent food that is great value for money.
Ratatouille is just over the road from my new office in Rue Montmartre, and I wandered in after taking Bertie the Gastrohound around the neighborhood to check out the sights earlier this week. The crowds of hungry office workers in the area are catered to by vast numbers of food outlets – a huge change from the quieter bit of town I used to work in. Those who chose Ratatouille were managerial types discussing the world quietly at tables set at respectable distances from each other.
I had a perfect starter – a dish of mixed vegetables with basil and olive oil – and followed it up with a steak tartare, lovingly served with a plate of excellent fries, plus a very worthy glass of red Sancerre, bursting with fruit. All together, my lunch came to a very well-spent €25. I shall go back to Ratatouille.
The next evening, I dined at Tellus, a restaurant that is beginning to get media notice nine months after opening. It is owned by the chatty Gaëlle Agoutin, who runs it with a very steady hand. The locals are already eating her out of house and home at lunchtime, with her unbeatable three-course lunch at €15. I’ll be going back there, too.
Tellus is located just across the road from the better-known (and far pricier) Chez Georges. This small former bar seats about 20 and has a warm exposed-stone wall on one side and a minimal decor with a couple of contemporary mirrors and light fixtures. It is probably hugger-mugger at lunchtime, but we were able to spread ourselves out without bothering the small handful of other diners. If word really gets out, that will probably change, so make sure you book.
Our starters of oeufs cocotte – lightly baked eggs – with shavings of foie gras, and ravioli with seasonal chanterelles and oyster mushrooms had us nodding appreciatively: the eggs were outstanding, and the ravioli provided a delicate, unobtrusive envelope for the quintessential blast of wild mushrooms: all pure flavor and lightness.
Next, we were up for meat: a beautifully pink veal chop and a piece of beef fillet. The veal was served with small haricot beans (which could have done with a bit more cooking) and the fillet with delicate ratte potatoes of a rare quality. These were modestly served with no faffing, leaving the food to speak for itself and speaking volumes about the chef’s skill and praiseworthy restraint.
Dessert was a ripe Saint Marcellin cheese, served with an arugula salad, proffered apologetically as being not long out of the ice box (in compliance with EU regulations, as Agoutin explained). In fact, it was only just shy of room temperature, so no harm done, and full marks for honesty. The orange-flavored crème catalane was all zingy lightness, with a crispy top – a fitting end to a most satisfying meal.
The wine list at Tellus is short and interesting, with a good sprinkling of organics. We drank an unusual Minervois, a 2006 Carignanissime de Centeilles made, like Beaujolais, using carbonic maceration. It was well-made – lively, mineral and fruity all at once – and amused us no end.
Ratatouille and Tellus are light years from El Bulli, but they are at the generous heart of the universe, honorably perpetuating the great French tradition of bourgeois cuisine, each in its own quiet way.
Ratatouille: 168, rue Montmartre, 75002 Paris. Tel: 01 40 13 08 80. Métro: Grands Boulevards or Bourse. Nearest Vélib stations: 21, rue d’Uzès; 8, rue Saint Marc. Open Monday-Saturday. Fixed-price lunch menu (two courses): €17. Fixed-price dinner menu: €22. A la carte: around €30. www.ratatouille-paris.fr
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