What a pleasure to find a restaurant where everything satisfies from the minute you walk in the door to signing the check at the end of the meal. No question about it, Papillon to my mind is one of the most exciting new modern bistros to hit the Paris food scene in many years. Chef-owner Christophe Saintonge, who was last seen as head chef at Alain Ducasse’s three Michelin star Paris restaurant Le Meurice, is now out on his own and continues to show us his talent, intelligence and maturity as a chef, but in a more low-key, accessible setting.
Located in the beautifully appointed Parc Monceau neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement, the restaurant looks onto the picturesque Hausmannien building opposite through its all-glass facade. The pristine 45-seat dining room is modern and understated, but not without character with it’s gold-rimmed grey oak veneer tables, orb-like suspended lamps, comfortable blonde wooden chairs and camel-colored leather banquettes. The alert attentive staff (the number of which seemed enormous for the size of the restaurant) are charmingly outfitted in crisp white shirts, black suit pants, black bow ties and black suspenders. While there is a ‘closed kitchen’ you can catch glimpses of the action into the slick, clean, stainless steel kitchen workshop.
But best and most important of all, the menu and wine list is something to embrace wholeheartedly. It’s a happy conundrum to be faced with a menu where your first reaction is “I want to try everything!” And I loved almost everything I tasted there, including the marinated daurade (porgy) carpaccio (photo), bathed in lemon juice, olive oil, and tender leaves of mizuna, or Japanese mustard green. Paper-thin slices of radish added a winning touch of color and crunch. I will definitely be ordering that again.
The roasted asparagus was a marvel: Perfectly cooked so that its earthy flavor had a chance to star, topped with a tiny layer of melted Comté cheese and served with a tarragon cream alongside, to extend the pleasure. At least 35 years ago in the south of France I sampled a whole roasted leg of lamb that had been cooked in a bread oven and smothered in hay and I have never forgotten that smoky marriage of smoldering hay and tender meat. Saintonge’s version of lamb chops smoked in hay did not disappoint, paired with a side dish of my favored fregola, those crunchy, toasted pellets of pasta from Sardinia.
Equally fabulous was the roasted veal – full-flavored and tender – served with a brilliant creation of sliced, roasted artichoke hearts. A giant fillet of roasted barbue (brill) just barely cooked, was served with a spring-fresh salad of mixed herbs.
As we sat savoring our main course, we watched the waiters parade around the room, scooping warm chocolate cake direct from the pan into dessert bowls already adorned with fresh mint and chocolate nibs. No need to consult the dessert menu, we were sold. Pure chocolate heaven, one heady spoonful at a time.
My only serious disappointment was the madeleines offered with coffee, cleverly served directly out of their metal baking tins. But alas, they were undercooked with a distinct acidic tinge of baking soda.
The wine list was equal to the impressive menu however. Don’t miss one of my favorite whites, Domaine Ostertag’s pinot blanc from Alsace and the always dependable red Côtes–du-Rhône from Michel Richard. Prices are totally reasonable considering the all-around quality with 28€ and 36€ lunch menus (2 or 3 courses respectively), or 50-60€ à la carte.
PAPILLON | 8 rue Meissonier | Paris 17 | +33 1 56 79 81 88 | Métro: Wagram | Open Monday to Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday | www.papillonparis.fr | firstname.lastname@example.org | Lunch: 28€ and 36€ menus | 50-60€ à la carte | Reservations recommended.