Vive l’évolution in Paris
The most exciting new food experiences take place in private houses. There have long been a couple of under-the-radar home restaurants here – places for people in the know to eat together – but the recent craze has upped the ante in terms of quality. US expats Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian were the pioneers, setting up Hidden Kitchen in 2007. Their menus proved so popular that after four years Hidden Kitchen stopped cooking home dinners and opened Verjus, a restaurant on the edge of the Marais. In its wake, however, a host of equally fantastic supper clubs have emerged, and none more wonderful than Celinha Miranda and Gustavo Mattos’s Chez Nous Chez Vous, held in the couple’s impeccably modern apartment, a short walk from the Eiffel Tower.
Celinha and Gustavo moved to Paris from their native Brazil in 2005. Back home, they were an English teacher and ad executive respectively, but a passion for fine food led them to jack it all in and head to France. After training at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, they worked in Michelin-starred restaurants for two years, before opening their home restaurant. Now their lavish dinner parties are pulling in the locals, as well as South American tourists looking for a slice of gourmet luxury, Brazilian style, while on holiday.
Tonight’s dinner party is an all-Brazilian affair, with the guests ranging from retired businessmen to a fashion designer. Dressed in chef’s whites adorned with a Brazilian flag, Celinha and Gustavo hop in and out of their kitchen, introducing each dish, expertly playing party hosts. Soon conversation is flowing as if everyone is old friends, rather than the complete strangers they were only half an hour ago.
The food is uniformly spectacular. Duck breast slow-cooked for 48 hours, foie gras on honey bread, cod so delicate it dissolves in the mouth, l’ouef parfait (cooked at 65°C for a creamy texture) – even the butter for the home-cooked bread is served with a sprinkling of rare volcanic salt. ‘This is my fifth visit,’ says Alessa Migani, the designer from Rio, in Paris for fashion week. ‘I don’t think there’s a restaurant in this city that can match the atmosphere here, or the food – and certainly not both together!’
Celinha says that it is the freedom a home environment brings that distinguishes the private supper clubs. ‘Parisian restaurants won’t accept anyone after 10pm, and they can be a bit uptight,’ she says. ‘Our guests are people who like to laugh and drink, and talk over dinner. We provide a home from home where they can do just that.’
The green fairy
The grown-up, measured approach of the French towards their alcohol is often used as a stick to beat the toilet-hugging habits of your average British binge drinker. Before getting too overawed by French sophistication, though, remember this: back in 1915, the French government decided to ban the sale of absinthe, the super-strong woodworm spirit. The reason? Some people were drinking 10 to 12 glasses of ‘la feé verte’ a day, which presented a public order problem to rival those of any British market town on a Saturday night.
‘The ban didn’t really work,’ says Luc-Santiago Rodriguez, owner of Vert d’Absinthe, a shop solely dedicated to the inhibition-dissolving green stuff. ‘Absinthe was still produced, but renamed “a spirit made from extracts of the absinthe plant”. So you could still drink it. But it did affect its image.’ In April 2011, the ban on absinthe was overturned by the French parliament, and it became legal to sell it without any semantic subterfuge.