Small plates, several tastes in Paris
Mushrooms and smoked mozzarella at Le Dauphin. (Kim Laidlaw Adrey)
The apéro is a long-standing French tradition: pre-dinner drinks with a light bite to eat to whet the appetite.
But a recent spate of new restaurants in Paris is turning this concept into a stand-alone dining event – small plates of food to share, accompanied by a carefully chosen selection of wine.
At the most traditional end of the scale is L’Avant Comptoir (3 Carrefour de l'Odéon; 01-44-27-07-97), an hors d’oeuvre bar where food is simple and portions are small. With standing room only, patrons cram in to this cosy space to sample olives, cheese and cured ham, all washed down with one (or more) of the many excellent wines on the list. Brand new wine bar Verjus takes the same approach -- a cosy space where you can sit at the bar and order small plates to accompany a concise and well-chosen wine list. Here, however, the food has an American slant (the owners are from the United States), with light-as-air shoestring fries and what has been hailed the best fried chicken east of the Atlantic to accompany a glass of Jurançon or Vouvray.
The small plate trend first really took off at Aux Deux Amis (45 Rue Oberkampf; 01-58-30-38-13), where hipsters crowd around Formica tables to enjoy a great atmosphere and simple food full of superlative ingredients (fresh sardines or creamy burrata, for example). The recently opened (and already award-winning) Au Passage (1 bis passage Saint-Sébastien; 01 43 55 07 52) has a similar retro style. The restaurant serves top-quality, tapas-sized portions of daily changing market-fresh fare – including simple dishes of mozzarella , anchovies or homemade paté – in the convivial setting of a former workmen’s cafe.
The real star in this dining category though is Le Dauphin (131 Avenue Parmentier; 01-55-28-78-88), a small-plate-slash-wine-bar combo founded by the team behind the much-lauded restaurant Le Chateaubriand, with a marble and mirror-filled decor designed by award-winning architect Rem Koolhaas. Here Paris’ beautiful people share innovative dishes like squid-ink risotto or mushrooms and smoked mozzarella over a bottle of one of the many natural wines on the list, including a light and fruity 2009 Gamay or a refreshing 2007 Bourgogne Blanc.
As these places offer wine by the glass and small plates at reasonable prices, this style of dining is great for the curious wishing to try out many flavours, and offers a convivial and informal way of eating out in France’s capital city.
Kim Laidlaw Adrey is the Paris Localite for BBC Travel. She also writes unlockparis.blogspot.com.