I first sampled young chef Bertrand Grébaut’s cooking several years ago when he was running the kitchen at L’Agapé in the 17th arrondissement. Although it was clear he had major talent, I was never tempted to return because of the odious maître d’hôtel and the high prices there. So I was delighted to learn that Grébaut has gone out on his own with Septime, a new bistrot in a slightly drab but rapidly gentrifying corner of the 11th arrondissement. The neighborhood’s appeal to the young chef was undoubtedly the reasonable rent, but the space itself has been handsomely renovated. The pleasant loft-like decor includes a service bar of recycled wood, factory lamps, plank floors, an open kitchen and a pretty little garden out back for outdoor dining when the weather allows. The warm welcome was light-years away from the hauteur at L’Agapé, and the service was immediately friendly and eager to please. I wasn’t wild about our organic white wine aperitif—it was too grape-y and unfinished for my taste—but the haiku-like menu was intriguing, and our waiter happily explained each dish in detail.
Committed to a cuisine du marché based on the best seasonal produce, Grébaut changes his offer almost daily. One of our starters, white asparagus in a sauce gribiche (herb vinaigrette made with hard-boiled egg yolk, mustard and finely diced pickles and capers) was brightened by chopped oyster and garnished with orange trout eggs. The other, gently cooked couteaux (razor clams), was simply served with a light vinaigrette and fresh herbs. Both were delicious examples of contemporary French cooking at its best. Our main courses were outstanding too: Crispy-skinned but succulent chicken came with lentil puree, baby onions and another shower of herbs, and impeccably cooked fresh cod steak was garnished with green asparagus. A fine cheese plate and a delicious chocolate ganache with hazelnut ice cream, crushed candied hazelnuts and caramel concluded this altogether delightful meal, and Septime instantly became my new favorite restaurant in Paris. Unfortunately, everyone else loves it too, so reservations are advised.
80 rue de Charonne, 11th, 01.43.67.38.29. Lunch menus €21, €26; dinner à la carte €50.
Prices are approximate, per person without wine.
Alexander Lobrano’s book Hungry for Paris is published by Random House. www.hungryforparis.com
Find Hungry for Paris and more in the France Today Bookstore: www.francetoday.com/store
Originally published in the July/August 2011 issue of France Today