Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Le Cristal de Sel, Paris

Le Cristal de Sel
Confiture - Mirabelles Verveine

Unfortunately I can't tell you about the best meal I've had in London of late as its location is a bit 'hole-in-the-wall' as yet.  Rest assured, as soon as I can, I will.  In the meantime, to make up for my little tease, I've decided to tell you about my favourite restaurant in Paris.  This is not a new find.  I've been eating at Le Cristal de Sel since soon after its opening in 2007.  Chef Karil Lopez and front-of-house Damien Crepu were both formerly at the renowned Hôtel Bristol.  Every time I've eaten at Le Cristal de Sel the experience has been sheer pleasure. 

From both outside and in the place reminds me of an '80's Italian trattoria.  You need to know this or you will walk straight past, as I did on my first visit.  After hearing of the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on some restaurant openings of late, it's refreshing to see the money has been spent on the important things rather than on ripping out what has gone before in search of style and ambience. 

With the Chef being ex-Hôtel Bristol you might expect complicated dishes.  Whilst his classical training is obvious, particularly in saucing, he is confident to let a great ingredient speak for itself, from a slab of simply cooked Simmental Beef to a slice of first-class charcuterie.  Then again, his buttery-sauced Ravioles de Languoustines is a thing of beauty and tastes sublime.  The wine list is short, carefully selected and Damien's recommendations have always proved to be good.

On this Spring visit we chose from the fantastic value lunchtime Menu du Jour at 18 Euros for 2 courses and started with 'Oeuf cocotte cuisiné comme une raclette, jambon de Savoie et rattes à la ciboulette' a raclette-type dish of eggs, savoy ham and ratte potatoes with a buttery chive sauce.  Deeply comforting (but then I'm a sucker for the combination of ham, potato and eggs).  A classic charcuterie selection presented on a slate platter was small but good.  We both chose a main course of Duck Breast on soft polenta served with a wonderfully spiced sticky sauce.  We showed admirable restraint in skipping pudding - a signature dish of beggar's purse pancake with apples and caramel sauce is damnably hard to resist - but we had plans for les gateaux later on.  On a day-trip to Paris, you've got to pace yourself and we'd already succumbed to the Chocolat chaud and some samples at Un Dimanche à Paris soon after arriving on Eurostar.

In any down-time, Chef makes exquisite jams as and when different fruits come into season.  I can recommend leaving with a jar of Mirabelles Verveine for spreading on a crisp baguette.

Staff are young and the place is run like a big happy family without ever losing sight of the paying customer.  It's the perfect neighbourhood restaurant that's worth going out of your way for.  The front-of-house is always welcoming, the quality of the ingredients is high, the cooking is exceptional, and everyone, including the staff, seems to be enjoying themselves.  There is a slight air of eccentricity about the place - not at all staid Parisien.  What more could you want from a restaurant.  The location is off the beaten track but the Metro is good so why not use it. 

Le Cristal du Sel
13 rue Mademoiselle
75015 Paris
Metro: Commerce