I hate it when people order for me at a restaurant. My friends know better than to attempt now, a firm suggestion as to specialities will suffice. If I hear the words “Oh, yes please, and she’ll have the cold cod salad with the fat free aioli with spiced tofu”, I suffer the same reaction I do when people call me “cute”...it is an involuntary one, my organs seize, my eyes awkwardly blink to control the anger laser beams I swear I can feel pulsing behind my retina and I smile politely while hoping the delicious rib eye steak they have ordered for themselves is charred to a crisp.
French men love to exert a little dominance over the menu. I have wondered if in fact this is because they assume I cannot read the menu (false, my priorities whilst learning French have been food stuffs, directions and coy and flippant remarks best delivered with a side of eyelash flutter (which tends to make up for any inadequacies in perfecting the former)). Is it a cultural thing? Perhaps...but unlike my growing tolerance for many things in Paris which are met with the response "ce n’est pas possible", for me having my culinary decisions dictated ce n’est pas possible!
Luckily, one of the perks of my culinary training is that friends and family visiting from overseas often defer to my culinary suggestion...now I will be quick to differentiate between a third party deferring to my suggestion and a third party usurping my free and independent will to order...really, it’s different not a subtly guised double standard...really!
Impressive but some what irrelevant to your forthcoming meal...
My first place prize for the bistro most recommended to my travelling comrades is Le Petit Marche in the Marais (and not simply because it is in proximity to what has to be one of the most spectacular wall vines in Paris (yes, Dad’s love a little horticulture in the back streets of the Marais before they dine. There is a shadow of Don Bourke in us all)). On first glance, even on second or third glance, it is a simple looking corner bistro serving your everyday dishes in the city. Those glances don’t explain why there is nearly always a queue sardined at the bar, why nearly everyone I know who has eaten there loves it or why I get so excited to take people there.
I do feel some degree of entirely misplaced personal accomplishment when I take people to a restaurant/bar/shop anywhere which I love and they turn out to love it too. Le Petit Marche is one of these places each and every visit. The food concept is bedded in classic French techniques and could be mistaken when reading the specials board as simply resulting in some solid bistro dishes. But there is a modern Asian influence running through the menu. Certainly not enough to amount to the 90’s fad of fusion, but just enough to lighten and freshen the menu and make you just a little bit jealous of the dish your friend has ordered, even when you are more than happy with your own.
The Salade Chinoise - My current Masterchef taste test challenge
“You absolutely have to try the Salade Chinoise for starter, it is seriously good”...It is, and over many taste deconstructions I think I have nearly figured out the recipe: poached chicken breast, friend spring roll pasty, red and white cabbage, black sesame seeds, Japanese mayo, sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, fresh coriander, chilli and....ohhh, those last couple of flavours still escape me. A good excuse to go back.
The lamb...I cannot confirm or deny whether I had already consumed the potatoes
“Yes, I understand you are a vegetarian, but if you order the lamb it comes with the potato puree and you will die when you eat it”...It’s true, you will die and not simply from the butter to potato ratio I am sure is indulged by the kitchen. The potatoes are smooth, dense, creamy, rich and with the cream emulsion which is served on the lamb fillets, enough to embarrass my friends with my uncontrollable consumption excitement.
With all respect to the lentil dish...the tuna
“Trust me, I’ve had pretty much everything on the menu (except for the lentils) and you cannot go wrong (my thoughts are reserved on the lentils)”...I am actually told by a vegetarian friend of mine that the lentil dish is quite delicious. I will defer to her sound judgement of the legume and let you know that so is the carpaccio of St Jacques (light and citrusy), the mille feuille de thon (crisp layers, perfectly seared slices of red tuna, sesame and a spicy Asian marinade) and the moelleux de chocolat (the liquid centre is life-long friends with the accompanying crème anglais).
Carpaccio of St Jacques
Honestly though, the service is not great, it is often slow, there will sometimes appear dishes you did not order...but that is what friends and wine are for, to distract from such forgettable shortfallings. But I must say, nothing can distract from the short fallings of the coffee. It is at this point of every meal at le Petit Marche that I will always step in, commandeer the menu and ride that culinary dictating double standard all the way past the coffee option. It’s for the greater good...have another Salad Chinoise instead and give me a hand with those illusive final ingredients.
Le Petit Marche (9 Rue Bearn, Paris, 75003, Tel: 01 42 72 06 67, Reservations necessary)