Finding a good restaurant in Paris should be easy. After all it is the home of fine dining. Every top chef tends to have some form of classic French training in their arsenal. It’s all Michel Roux Jnr harps on about on MasterChef. And yet my last 3 experiences of Paris have consisted of over-priced and extremely average meals. TimeOut Paris doesn’t offer much help, nor does TripAdvisor as ever is completely erratic in its ratings. And so unless you are going to stick to the established hotel and Michelin starred restaurants, you’re best bet is to stumble across somewhere yourself. But the problem with this is that when hunger kicks in, you almost always end up in one of those crappy tourist traps with the menu board outside in every language. As soon as you see spaghetti bolognese alongside snails, you know you’re in trouble.
But every now and then you find a real gem. A restaurant you don’t want to tell anybody about out of fear that next time you go it will be overrun. Well La Fontaine de Mars is a real find. It’s hardly unheard of given that no other than Barack and Michelle Obama ate there on their last visit to Paris. But tucked away in a quiet street in a chic French neighbourhood, it’s out of sight from the passing tourists. I feared that every American would be flocking there now, and that the walls would be plastered with photos of the President. But thankfully there was no sign of any photos. And even better, no Americans. Instead, all I could hear was the soothing sound of classy French diners knocking back red wine and good traditional cooking. The dining room is extremely homely, making it slightly strange to imagine somebody as important as Obama tucking into steak frites here.
After a bottle of Billecart-Salmon rose (€95- half the price of the same bottle at Le Meurice) it was straight into the starters. The Escargot de Bourgogne were drowned in buttery garlic sauce. This is only the third time I’ve had snails, and my last experience was in Balthazar in Covent Garden, but they were no comparison to these. At Balthazar the snails were small and a little tough, these were much juicier, almost like they had only been cooked for a short time and this allowed the earthy flavour to come through.
I had eggs poached in red wine with bacon and shallots. What could be more French that that? It was incredibly rich, so much so that I have no idea how the French haven’t all keeled over if this is the food they eat. The sauce was almost as rich as a Port and although it really complimented the creaminess of the egg yolks, it was a little too indulgent for me.
The Blue Lobster salad was the special and given it was in season it was hard to resist. It was a simply put together salad, with the nice addition of grapefruit giving a sharpness. With lobster of this quality that’s all it needed.
The cow’s head stew was another dish packed with big flavours. Again this was a big old starter. It was heavy on the vinegar and capers, something I love, but a little too sharp for my partner who forced me to swap with her.
For main the steak frites was more fillet of beef with chips, and although it was fine, it was hardly a cut of steak I’ll remember.
The daily special was lamb cutlet with potatoes gratin. Again the meat wasn’t the best I’ve had, but with the garlic creaminess of the potatoes, I really didn’t care. There’s just nothing better than potatoes gratin. Cheese, garlic, cream. Putting these together will make you like any plate clean.
The black pudding with apple was a classic combination and was simply and effectively done. There was enough spice and depth in the black pudding so that the sweetness of the big mound of stewed apples didn’t overpower it.
For dessert we shared 2, and I have no idea how one person would have managed them. The chestnut Mille-feuille was a gigantic slice. I always expect them to be dainty things, but this was a British sized slice. The chestnut cream worked really well as it wasn’t as sweet as the traditional custard or cream.
The floating island dessert was again huge. It was really light and again not too sweet.
The meal was just over €80 with a bottle of champagne and a good Malbec. Throughout the service was excellent, although given the language barrier the waiter couldn’t chat to us too much. I like this though. It made it feel even more authentic. The food wasn’t groundbreaking, but you don’t expect it to be at a neighbourhood bistro. It’s very much like L’Absinthe in Primrose Hill, one of my favourites, in that it just keeps things simple but uses good ingredients and serves good wine. This is a real gem, one that I only hope stays this way. It’s a 10 minute taxi ride away from the touristy areas, but well worth the trip.
129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris