Fancy dishes but little atmosphere and ill-fitting, Trekkie-like waiters’ uniforms.
Do you look at your waiter at a restaurant? Do you check out how he or she is dressed? Does it matter? My answers to the first two questions would be yes, and to the third, “Only if you notice.” I remember once eating (purely experimentally, you understand) at a Hippopotamus steak house, where the wait staff all wore red uniforms used, in many cases, to wipe their hands on after placing food on people’s tables. That’s not the sort of thing you want to notice.
At Simonin, I thought, Why spend so much on a very nice Art Deco-inspired decor with lots of black and shiny chrome, and then put your staff in ill-fitting suits that look like period Trekkie getups? These are not the kind of things I want to notice, either. It’s easily remedied, of course. Spend some money making sure that uniforms fit and are impeccably clean. There’s a lot to be said for men in black and long white aprons.
The general lack of atmosphere at Simonin could also be remedied with more charismatic staff and more lunchers or diners making a lot more buzz. The day my food aficionado friend and I lunched there, it was quiet, with only a handful of customers, seated quite a long way from each other – yes, that’s a very good thing, but it meant that we were separated by large expanses of de-energized space.
We tasted everything on the fixed-price lunch menu, unsurprisingly, since there was a choice of two dishes for each course. A fresh pea soup was well made and presented – the taste of pod-fresh peas was supremely satisfying. My rather-complicated starter consisting of wild mushroom foam atop an egg atop a parsley reduction was also good, if a bit faffily presented in a complicated cone and bowl creation. It had to be eaten with a plastic spoon (a designer spoon, of course, but plastic all the same) no doubt to avoid tainting the taste of the egg.
The main courses were lamb sweetbreads with green asparagus and a fillet of barbue (brill) with crunchy pellets, which the waiter told me were celery. Normally I would be able to identify that vegetable, but I was at a loss this time. The dishes were, again, well presented and cooked, but somewhat underwhelming.
My strawberries with basil sorbet and my friend’s pineapple clafoutis also left us feeling that the earth hadn’t moved for us. We drank the cheapest wine on the list, a very well-made Côtes de Gascogne white, with a striking balance between acid and fruit.
Frédéric Simonin is good, no doubt about that, and Michelin stars have followed him wherever he has been. In this recently opened restaurant, he may just be feeling his way, but he is not going out on the edge to create a truly exciting experience, which is what the decor (and prices) might lead you to believe. Perhaps we should just give him time.
Frédéric Simonin: 25, rue Bayen, 75017 Paris. Tel: 01 45 74 74 74. Métro: Ternes. Nearest Vélib stations: 2-4, Place Tristan Bernard; 5, place des Ternes. Fixed-price lunch menu: €38. A la carte: €80-€100. www.fredericsimonin.com
Reader Chilla Rousselle writes: “Plastic spoon − designer so what! Ugh!”
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