THE said gardens of Luxembourg measure 56.8 acres, the two front rooms here are not 500 sq feet, say 30 seats, just a front room with one of those distinct brass rails stretching horizontally so a net curtain discreetly hides the patrons but leaves an upper glimpse of a warmly lit room. It is not really the House of the Gardens, it just happens to be a house off a street off the gardens, at the start of the long and snaking rue de Vaugirard (the longest street inside the Paris city walls). Discreet and modest, surrounded by no less than two boulangerie, three caffe that also have menus, an oriental traiteur, a proper croissement des croissants, all within 100 metres. On the next block is Philippe and Carole Tailleur’s awesome Bread and Roses. Sometimes the best gastronomie is not the most obvious.
This maison is rated 300th best restaurant in Paris by Trip Adviser which is a pretty cool place to be – not so high up the list as to be spoiled by gastro tourists, and not so low down as to be with the run of the mill. It is a local, a Parisian local, on a small scale. Menus are short, 31 or 37 euros, cheaper at lunch, not in a style that might attract Michelin but more bourgeois, go back in time between those wars and you could imagine Julia Child cooking such things for Gertrude Stein. Homely, but accomplished, not dishes you want to embellish, or improve on.
Unannounced arrives a small casolette of wild mushroom soup, earthy, creamy, dirty like it is snuffled down in the roots of an old oak tree. And a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau on the house. It is that time of year. Old and new.
The first course is an old bistro trick, being the same thing done two different ways; one a mesculun green salad of mache and fine beans with shavings of foie gras. The other being the foie gras with its toast (from Poilane) and a garnish of mesculun leaves and fine beans. There is a smear of chutney to one side as if to say I could have done it this way, nouvelle cuisine or molecular style, but why bother? It is not what this dish is about. Which is what is good about this place in general, it is on message, it is Peugeot efficient, it is personable. Philippe Marquis has been here for a couple of decades. He has had time to adjust everything, so it is just so.
There is a bit of thing going on around the coeur de rumpsteak (origine France) which appears on other menus – it is a tough cut – here tombee – fallen on with mushrooms and spinach, a tomato, jus, and the chips are polenta.
Scallops are another two-in-one incarnation, this time all on one plate, a rich risotto of shellfish stock on which the scallops themselves become an opulent garnish with micro chopped chives and deep fried crisp shallots.
Lots of people on TA also mention the pastilla of lamb with braised lettuce.
And so, asks Gertrude, how will you finish this meal, Julia? With an ile flottante, with an almond tuile, more toasted almonds and a little cream. Does that suit? You really should write a book Julia.
In terms of scale this is not too different from say Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, as it was originally under Pierre Koffman, where dinner is now from £140 plus drinks. Here dinner was £35 each all in. Gertrude says: keeping things small and tight like here is the way to go, as Greta might say, everything else is just so much brouhaha, brouhaha…