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Restaurants - Bistro

 

Chez Arthur

The Arthurian Experience
Chez Arthur is “simple, straightforward and absolutely pretense-free.”

Chez Arthur is a place my girlfriend, Katherine, has had her eye on for a while: It looks dog-friendly and has a pleasant, boxy dining room with a reasonable amount of space for diners, plus dozens of black-and-white photos of French actors on the walls. When I couldn’t get a booking for the place I had set my heart on, Benoît (watch this space), Plan B was rolled out, and the three of us (Bertie the gastro-hound came along, too) tootled over the Boulevard Sébastopol to the 10th arrondissement.

Chez Arthur is located near several theaters and is popular with the acting crowd after they’ve removed their make-up and feel that ravening hunger you get after a performance. Theater-goers like the place because they can rub shoulders with actors. The fact that the restaurant is owned by Michel Sardou, a popular crooner and actor, may influence its popularity. He also owns the nearby Théâtre de la Porte Saint Martin, where Edmond Rostand’s much-loved Cyrano de Bergerac was premiered in 1897. The word on the block is that Sardou can often be seen propping up Chez Arthur’s bar of an evening.

We hit the lull between the pre- and post-theater crowds, so the place was relatively calm and unsmoky (although there is no non-smoking area). The basic menu offers a starter and main course or main course and dessert for €22: Arthur clearly knows what his customers want.

While no one could call this bistronomie – the langoustines in Katherine’s langoustine and avocado salade folle, served in a pastry tulip, were undoubtedly hauled out of the freezer, and my jambon persillé (cooked ham in jelly with parsley and garlic) might not have been lovingly crafted on-site over a 24-hour period from organic pig and fixings – but the restaurant doesn’t give itself airs and graces or making any inflated claims. The service, from old-school French waiters, was attentive and courteous.

My main course was fillet of beef, façon Rossini, which means that after it had been properly warmed through, it was cut open and a slice of foie gras inserted (Wikipedia tells me that the original tournedos Rossini was created for the bon viveur composer, who had his own table at La Tour d’Argent and Bofinger – again, watch this space – by chef Casimir Moisson of the Maison Dorée). The foie gras adds depth to a cut that makes up in tenderness and texture for what it lacks in richness of flavor.

Katherine went for the day’s special, pintade au chou (guinea fowl with cabbage, a traditional favorite). She interpreted this as a sign of a serious chef making good use of the previous day’s unsold roast, and very pleasant it was, served off the bone and nestled fetchingly under a very green leaf of crinkly Savoy cabbage.

We finished up with a pear sorbet drenched in eau de vie de poire. No complaints there, either.

I’ve just finished reading Kitchen Confidential (2001), by Anthony Bourdain, who writes that our cynical world-weariness can drop away as if by magic when we’re “confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.” He is talking about the kind of food cooks understand: “simple, straightforward and absolutely pretense-free,” as he says elsewhere. Chez Arthur is like that. It’s not the sort of place that makes it into the guidebooks, and it’s in a grimy, unfashionable part of town – the garment district for children's wear – but it does give you a taste of that French love affair with dining out among friends. The Arthurian experience is about as French as it gets.

Chez Arthur: 25, rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 Paris. Métro: Strasbourg-Saint Denis. Tel: 01 42 08 34 33 (best to reserve for late meals). Fixed-price menu (two courses, without wine): €22. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday, lunch only on Monday, dinner only on Saturday. Closed Sundays and in August. Service until 11:30 p.m.

Richard Hesse

© 2007 Paris Update

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