The greatest compliment a diner can offer to a chef and a restaurant is to walk out the door after a satisfying, creative meal, dreaming of the day that you’ll walk back in. I felt that way after lunch at Robert – opened by Chef Peter Orr and partners Loïc Martin & Edouard Bergeon from the restaurant Martin in February, 2018 – a truly welcoming modern bistro in a gentrified neighborhood in Paris’s 11th arrondissement.
With a well-priced 21€ lunch menu (à la carte will cost double that, upwards of 50€) Robert is the perfect spot for a generous lunch with options that most diners will applaud. The simple yet creative menu emphasizes the chef’s commitment to impeccable ingredients, including vegetables that are delivered twice-weekly from the owners own vegetable garden in the Loire. On my visit, first-course menu choices included a bowl of steamed mussels wisely garnished with ginger and cilantro; a pork terrine with a parsley salad sprinkled with pickled onions; and that ever-popular salad of tomatoes, basil and burrata. On that same menu, main-course options included tagliatelle showered with nduja (a spicy Italian pork salami), zucchini, and basil; and a perfectly seared filet of dorade (porgy) posed on a bed of full-flavored potatoes, grilled fennel, and salicorne, or sea beans – everything I could have asked for in a satisfying summer lunch: light protein, flavorful potatoes so good you almost wanted to ask for a second serving, and that crunchy, bright green, saline salicorne, an ingredient I have worked with but never mastered its place in a dish. Now I have it!
My à la carte choice of a festive lobster salad teamed up with heirloom tomatoes (a tad mushy but pretty to look at), a stand-out lobster mayonnaise, and a shower of cilantro was truly satisfying but at 17€ seemed less of a bargain when I realized I could have ordered the 21€ menu, with three equally good courses. The vegetable salad starter was a vibrant lineup of seasonal vegetables: braised sweet carrots, yellow zucchini, crunchy raw peas and toasted sunflower seeds, tossed with fresh garden greens, cleverly brought together by a smoked egg yolk and a salty punch of grated ricotta salata. The à la carte main course – line-caught merlu (hake) was excellent, paired with that incredible Sardinian toasted pasta, fregola, a few tasty palourdes (clams), and nicely seasoned date-sized tomatoes, then topped with crunchy cooked onion slices – was excellent, and I plan to copy the restaurant’s combination.
Of the two desserts I sampled, only one was spirited. The boule of pistachio ice cream topping a golden, crunchy pistachio sablé cookie and surrounded by brilliant red, full-season cherries was everything a summer dessert should be: fresh, light, beautiful, flavorful. And the contrasting crunchy, bright green pistachios were amazing, thank you! The day’s special dessert, a mix of wild berries paired with a a rather bland and warm fromage blanc, was forgettable.
The smiling, calm, outgoing Australian chef Peter Orr brings a unique cooking background to the modern French food he serves at Robert (named after his father, perhaps his first customer who he recalls making scrambled eggs for at aged 4). Before a stint at Au Passage in Paris, Orr spent 11 years in Michelin-starred restaurants in London including Italian restaurant Locanda Locatelli and the now-closed but much celebrated Thai restaurant Nahm. This impressive pedigree shows through most in his attention to detail, quality of ingredients and a palette that brings a new twist to modern French food, bringing a little sweetness to savory dishes and salt to desserts. Absolutely every ingredient – save for some less than inspiring tomatoes – was top rate. It is rare, even in the best of kitchens, to be aware of that and I applaud it. And who could not love the crunchy, fragrant – shall we say perfect – sourdough bread from the expert bakers at 10 Belles Bread?
There are many other things to love about Robert – the giant, stainless Rolls-Royce stove that dominates the open kitchen; the lovely, soothing pottery; a super-cheery, smiling and diligent staff; and the gentle, easy-on-the eye décor with bare wooden tables, simple lighting, and large sliding windows that open onto the street in good weather. I am already planning my next meal back there.
ROBERT | Modern bistro / Modern French | 32 rue de la Fontaine au Roi | Paris 11 | +33 1 43 57 20 29 | Métro: Goncourt | Open Wednesday to Saturday from noon-2pm & 7-10:30pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday | 21€ (3 course) & 50€ (5 course) lunch menus, 50€ dinner menu, à la carte €50-60 | Reservations suggested.