Friday, 2 April 2010

Le Baratin

Le Baratin has had a lot of hype and has become a bit of a destination apparently.  We read about it in what is a very reliable Time Out guide to the city that said people from all over town were coming to this far flung part of North-West Paris.  The journey was certainly not helped by deciding to take a cab to avoid being late, the traffic was terrible, something I would have known if I had paid more attention to all the jokes about Parisian traffic-jams in the Asterix comics I used to read.  When we arrived we were a bit frazzled and wet after having got out in slightly the wrong place finding our way in the rain.  Thankfully El Baratin is instantly comforting.  The interior is simple and worn in a well-used way that looks immediately welcoming.  The service is friendly and the bistro is busy, relaxed and chatty.

The chef is Argentinean and she plays with a diverse set of influences in her food.  This isn't to say that the food is in any way a pastiche fusion food that's trying to be clever for the sake of it.  Rather the dishes are big, comforting and full of flavour that have had one or two surprising elements added because the chef thinks they will work, which they invariably did.  In the same way, if she doesn't think there's any need to add to the gamut of French flavours used she wont.  Our first course demonstrated this wonderfully.  It was a beautifully cooked stew of soft puy lentils, flavoured with what you would expect - carrots, onion,  boquet garnis and a bit of bacon.  In top of it sat a perfectly seared piece of foi gras, beautifully caramelised on the outside and slightly pink inside.  The carrots and onions in the stew provided enough natural sugars to offset the richness and the earthiness of the lentils grounded it.  The stew also got richer as we at the dish because the fat from the foi gras seaped into it as we cut into the liver.  The dish was incredibly comforting on such a drizzly evening, but at the same time it was rich and special.

The mains exhibited the international influence that I talked about.  My girlfriends dish was a classic French dish of stewed veal cheeks, but using the flavours of preserved lemon throughout the sauce, giving it a North African flavour that is so popular in this part of the world.  The veal was meltingly soft and the acidity of the lemon worked excellently against the fat, the slight caramelisation on the lemon skin also gave it a rounded and deeper sweetness.  My dish was even better.  Young roast lamb shoulder was again beautifully soft and excellently seasoned.  It had just enough fat under the crisp skin to give the whole thing moisture and flavour without becoming greasy, the figs and crispy aubergines on the side worked well, although I would have liked a bit more.  The part I had been unsure about was the vegetable basmati rice on the side.  I thought it sounded a bit boring.  It was actually almost the star of the show.  It was filled with julienned vegetables, still crunchy, which gave the whole dish much needed freshness.  The rice itself was nice and buttery.  It took me a while to work out what it had been flavoured with and finally realised it was fried curry leaves.  This, though an unusual element worked incredibly well.  This addition gave the whole dish something extra, it was both surprisingly original and perfectly judged and immediately went on my list of things to try myself.

El Baratin was a really good place to go.  It felt like a traditional neighbourhood Bistro and delivered what you want from that.  Wonderful atmosphere, hustle and bustle, friendly staff, and most importantly, Rustic, homely cooking with big flavours that in this case came with small tweaks and twists that lifted the whole thing way above the competition.  

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