Serendipity. Often touted as the word the British love the most. For me, I think it a bit schmaltzy, a bit too twee - but even I have to admit that the events leading up to two grinning Ros Bifs praying for a table at one of Paris' best known Bistro's, can only be described using this word.
So with the help of an app, a good book and a sprinkle of said serendipity, we stumbled in on one of the best plate to plate dining experiences we have ever had.
Bistro L'Ami Jean
It all started way back when, after reading a Zagat review about an up-and-coming chef called David Toutain, that we booked a long lunch there - it turned out to be one of the best lunches ever ever ever - so much so we ditched the exploring of the city and headed for the nearest cafe to drink coffee, relax a bit and read a good book.
A few hours later and, quelle surprise, we were starting to get hungry again and it was well past wine o'clock - around 7pm to be exact and of course the question on both of our lips - where's next... fine dining? Er no. Take away? Please, really? How about typical Parisian Bistro fayre? Sorted.
iPhones were whipped out, restaurant apps fired up and after searching 'best bistros in Paris' it turned out we were sat one street away from L'Ami Jean. Serendipity indeed.
Veal tartare, forest flowers, duck eggs, squid ink
Queenie scallops, lardon, chicken stock
27 rue Malar, Paris (7th)
We sat there! Jowl to jowl eating at it's very best...
Pumpkin Soup with Cocoa Quenelle
Food & Drink...
Value For Money...
MARSALA RAMA RATING
Restaurant Review of the Paris Restaurant, L'Ami Jean...
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Roasted Quail, confit Brebis
Lamb, chou farcie, forest flowers
Ragout of 'Terre de Mer... et Mer de Terre'
Guinea Fowl terrine, seafood broth, algae foam
The perfect end - Paxaran con Hielo
Riz du lait - amazing - with salted butter mousse
Our joy of finding one of the best Bistro's in Paris was literally 50 steps from where we were sipping Sancerre was racheted up a notch as we walked into the small door of the restaurant - tardis like, packed to the rafters with it's own special humidity - but that soon came crashing down to earth because... we hadn't booked. We smiled. We smiled more and more (we are smily people anyway, so all genuine). We gave extra special smiles, remained calm, crossed everything.
But as the FOH said no, only for the Head Waiter to say wait - our smiles became even more pronounced. This place was MAGIC. We just HAD to get a table and we didn't care where we were squeezed. Two minutes later, we were wedged onto a table and about to have one of the most wonderous meals ever.
Restaurant L'Ami Jean is best described as being half Parisian bistro, half Basque restaurant - with a touch of chaos and a smidgeon of theatre - and all in a good way. Diners are literally wedged in, touching shoulder to shoulder and eating their meals like a giant T rex might do if he was invited round for tea. The chef, Stephane Jego works from the tiniest of Paris Kitchens - and it must be this that makes him scream. A lot. Hand claps, whistles, shouting, anger, concentration - it is amazing to watch, a little bit scary and often very funny - but the food that comes out not only tastes fantastic, it is often mini-works of art.
Meanwhile the staff jostle for position, waiting on Jego's every move knowing if they do not pick up within a few seconds these masterpieces being created, there will be hell to pay. Yet the frisson of fear that seems to purvey the room desn't affect the service whatsoever - a more friendly, helpful and efficient place you'd be hard pressed to find - especially, dare I say, in Paris.
And so to the meal and boy is it generous - looking back now, how we ever managed to eat everything is beyond me - specially as had eight courses for lunch too. Up first came this wonderous, velvety pumpkin soup - with it's own quenelle of cocao floating in the middle - which was dispatched quickly and followed up with one of the best looking plates of food we've seen - Martin Berasategui would have been impressed - veal tartare, duck eggs and squid ink.
Quail and confit of Brebis, Queenie Scallops still in their shells (we'd never seen that before, beautiful) and Guinea Fowl terrine came in quick succession, each portion a bit too much but devoured nevertheless - but the last two dishes were the stars of the show for us. First up, lamb rump with chou farcie and forest flowers - incredibly deep, rich lamb juices, iron cabbage and tangy flowers created a worthy full stop to the main meal.
And then came the rice pudding. Oh, the rice pudding.
There are rice puddings, and there are rice puddings - this was one of those rice puddings. A creamy, sticky, gooey mess of loveliness that was made even more heavenly by thick, unctuous salted butter mouse - so good you instantly forgot you were six courses deep and completely stuffed.
Any downsides? I'm trying to think but for us, not really, no. Some people won't like the fact that they are hemmed in, sat on top of one another and able to hear absolutely everything of what everyone says (by some people, I of course mean Brtish people). But for us, that is called 'atmosphere' - this is as Parisian Bistro as you could get.
The tasting menu is a bit pricey (79 Euros) but when you are then presented with this kind of food and this generous too - it puts a lot of London Restaurants to shame. You'll also need to book a table - forget serendipity, we were down right jammy bastards for getting in. Simple as that.
And the cerise sur le gateau? Being Basque, L'Ami Jean not only had heard of Paxaran, they had bottles of the stuff - God we love Paxaran.
Sitting as a foodie couple who love food, this was as good as it gets. If you are a table of four, even better. If you are a party of people, what an amazing time you would have. We have recommended this place to as many people who have dared to listen. None so far have been disappointed.
Jean is a friend of ours and we can't wait to meet up again.