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;
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.