I made a whirlwind virgin trip to London and Paris in late May. Before the trip, I had already psyched myself up for a lot of good food in London. For Paris, my tummy was psyched for those beautiful delicate macarons from Pierre Herme. Well, I did collect some Michelin stars in London and Pierre Herme did have me at his feet in Paris but what really blew us away was a restaurant, which our host persuaded us to try for the first time with him. We only had two dinners in Paris and I must admit, I was a little reluctant to abandon my list of researched places. But, oh, thank goodness I decided to just trust our host who had been living in Paris for only a few months but had been doing his homework on food places in French no less.
Les Cocottes, as its name might have given you a hint, cooks and serves all its mains in a Staub – the cast iron enamel oven-to-table casseroles. The casual diner, which was voted “Le Meilleur Comptoir 2007” by Figaroscope (info courtesy of my dear host, D, who swears by the weekly magazine insert to give him the latest must-dos and must-eats in town), is helmed by Christian Constant. The place was already almost packed when we got there. Customers were either seated at high tables or like us, shown to counter seats. We didn’t quite mind, since we were looking to have a post-dinner drink elsewhere anyway.
Service was surprisingly friendly and brisk, which probably helped lift the experience. You see, we had by then been quite used to the brusque manner of the French so this was refreshingly different. We weren’t that hungry but yet went ahead to order a starter and a main each. D ordered a fresh crab salad with shredded lettuce hearts (10 euros). The creamy salad, chockfull of crabmeat, was served in a small glass jar. Wasn’t outstanding, but nonetheless pretty decent.
I picked the starter of the day – the cream of langoustine (9 euros). Oh this was delightful but I must have you know, I’m partial to sweet briny soup. This was akin to, for the lack of a better descriptive word, a concentrated, refined, foamy version of the prawn noodles soup that Singapore has. The langoustine was meaty, crunchy and sweet.
The star of all the appetisers was the hubby’s Poached Egg with Crispy Bacon and Rocket Salad (10 euros). Such deceptively simple words to describe the bomb that was to be served! “OMGWTFBBQ!” – that’s how the hubby defines the best salad we have ever had. Pardon his vocabulary. We think the whole combination made it work but what really shone were those bacon bits. These were not your tiny cubes of processed bacon masquerading as “real” bacon, but were chunky crunchy bits of the real thing deep fried and then marinated in balsamic vinegar to perfection.
Next, the mains. I had the Cod cooked on the plancha, with fennel confit (17 euros). Don’t ask me why I didn’t go for some meat. I should have. I really should have. I’m whacking myself, as we speak. For some reason, I crave soup and fish when I’m travelling. The cod and fennel was definitely above average but when you compare it to the Milk-fed lamb cooked in a cocotte with fresh thyme (26 euros), which both the boys ordered, it takes a backseat.
I’m still not quite sure why we let it happen but ordering two exact same mains when we could have tried three? And why and how did the boys pick out the same dish out of 11 choices? Well, let’s just say – Everything Happens For a Reason. The lamb stole the show for all three of us. It hit absolutely all the right spots. I think the orchestra played for us when we had that first bite. The lamb was fresh, juicy and came off the bone oh-so-easily. Safe to say, we have never had lamb done this right anywhere in the world. The gravy, a result of cooking the lamb together with the garlic and other greens, was divine. We even used the complimentary bread to mop the two cocottes clean. You can’t quite see the pieces of lamb in the photo but trust us – Order. This.
We didn’t plan to stay for desserts but since we were so pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food, we thought “Why not?”. We ordered the Apple crumble and The Fabulous Christian Constant Chocolate Tart upon recommendations from the wait staff. Maybe we had set our expectations too high because the desserts turned out to be just average. Even the Fabulous tart wasn’t so fabulous. Props though must be given to the Chantilly cream that accompanied the tart.
Memorable meals happen at the most unexpected moments. We didn’t plan for it, but we were blown away by Les Cocottes sensational, simple food.
Les Cocottes de Christian Constant
135, rue Saint-Dominique (7th)
Tél: 01 45 55 15 05