Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Les Fines Gueules - natural wines and good food

Les Fines Gueules
While some good natural wine bars are springing up in London, it's worth remembering that they have been popular in Paris for much longer.  Les Fines Gueules is, I think, one of the best.  Not only does it have interesting wines but very good food to match. 

I stumbled upon it by chance one evening back in 2008 en-route to that old stalwart Chez Georges.  Heading for place des Victoires, it was getting late and panic was setting in - not having a dinner reservation in Paris used to be anxiety inducing.  The 17th century townhouse on the rue Croix des Petits Champs is a Jules Hardouin Mansart (architect to Louis XIV) beauty and all lit up on a rainy night it looked too inviting to pass by.  The welcome was warm, the wine good and the food delicious.  This small bar with a few tables and two small dining rooms, a 3 minutes stroll from les Jardin du Palais Royal and just off Place des Victoires, has been a firm favourite ever since if I happen to be in the 1st arrondisement.

I'm always happiest eating in a bar.  I like the constant activity, the ebb and flow of customers, the chance to see everything that's going on, and not to miss out on any of it.  Owner/Manager Arnaud Bradol sources organic, biodynamic and natural wines as well as top quality ingredients for the kitchen.  Suppliers are name-checked - Desnoyer for meats, Poujauran for breads, even butter and vegetable suppliers are proudly listed on the website - if you want to know they are pleased to tell you but no big deal is made of it.  Everything about this place is understated.  They are confident enough to serve up a delicious plate of what we would call 'Heritage' tomatoes simply dressed with best olive oil.  Good charcuterie is sliced on a 1947 Berkel hand-operated slicing machine which is squeezed into the narrow space behind the bar. The daily changing menu is chalked on a board and is reassuring seasonal. 

I understand the chef has changed in the past year but I didn't detect any fall in standards.  On this visit two of us sampled a natural Beaujolais listed on the board, which was so good we stuck with it.  Ask for the wine list if you want to sample something from the huge cave of wines below the bar.  We shared a starter of burrata, mozzarella and San Daniele ham with fantastically fresh toasted almonds, and a dressing of fragrant olive oil.  The burrata wasn't the creamiest I've had but it was very good.  A dish of Carré de Porc arrived as a huge, perfectly cooked chop on a bed of silky early season mushrooms.  The star dish was Noix de Veau, an exquisite and generous piece of rose veal with a tranche of pan-fried foie gras on pureé  de pommes de terre and finished with an aromatic truffle oil and a scattering of borage (I think) flowers made the plate pretty as a picture (sorry, I didn't whip my camera out but I was too busy eating). Sadly we had no room for pudding but I know from previous visits that they do a gorgeous pear clafouti around this time of year.  We spent 90 Euros on 4 glasses, one starter and two mains and it was worth every Euro.

Les Fines Gueules does get busy, though I have to say I've never booked and they've always managed to squeeze us into the bar.  In good weather you'll want to sit outside.  Inside it's cosy with lovely lighting, bar stone walls, a zinc bar and knee-to-knee dining.  On the second Sunday of each month there are jazz sessions.  You know, I've never been back to Chez Georges since.

Les Fines Gueules
43 rue Croix des Petits Champs (1er)
75001 Paris
Tel: +33 1 42 61 35 41
Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner
Metro M3 Bourse or Sentier
Metro M4 Les Halles