la Régalade, Paris

La Régalade

La Régalade is somewhat of an institution. It is also synonymous with Yves Camdeborde and if you know much about Paris bistros, then you know much about him.

The eighties were the heyday of Paris’ haute cuisine scene. These halcyon years saw upscale kitchens become crammed with hungry, young men attracted by their success and the promise that they offered. With each, came the inevitable aspiration to eventually own their own restaurant. The turn of the decade however brought with it recession. This meant that these impatient chefs no longer had the means nor the market to support the sort of restaurants they had become accustomed to. Their only option was to tone their ambitions down. This is exactly what Camdeborde did. In 1992, he left Les Ambassadeurs, found a little café in the 14th, bought it and relaunched it as a no-frills bistro.

Camdeborde had good pedigree; he had just won the Delice D’Or from Maîtres Cuisiniers de France and before Les Ambassadeurs, where he worked under Christian Constant, he was at the Ritz, Maxim’s and La Tour d’Argent. Bringing the technique that he was taught in these kitchens to rustic recipes, he unwittingly became a ringleader of the ‘Bistro Moderne‘ movement.

In France, many chefs have forgotten that to eat well is to eat simply. So I decided to ameliorate this situation with La Régalade. I don’t want to play the chef’s role in a white toque every night. I want to cook!’ In addition to just cooking, he was extremely generous, always allowing guest to help themselves to his brother, Philippe’s, homemade pâtés, sausages and hams as well as ensuring that prices remained reasonable. When the restaurant first opened, Joël Robuchon himself came to scout it out, claiming afterwards that it would never work. Unfortunately for him, it did; soon enough, it became one of the hardest reservations to procure in Paris. It also inspired many of today’s chefs bistronomiques including Stéphane Jégo (Chez l’Ami Jean), Thierry Faucher, Thierry Breton and even his former mentor, Christian Constant, to follow in his footsteps.

By 2004, after a dozen years of running La Régalade, Camdeborde had become exhausted and decided it was time to sell; ‘I wanted to move on before I got lazy. I needed to discover new things. It’s the same with food and wine: there’s more to eat than lobster, more to drink than Bordeaux.’ The chef who bought the restaurant from him was Bruno Doucet.

Chef Doucet came from a similar culinary past to Camdeborde. A native to the Touraine and born into a ‘family of hunters’, he chose cooking over astronomy (he was rather good at mathematics) and at fifteen, started as an apprentice at Charles Barrier (3*) in Tours. Two years later, he went to train with André Lenormand (MOF) in Orléans. Two more years on and he joined Fouquet’s in Paris under Guy Kreuzer, then Prunier’s with Gabriel Biscaye, where he worked his way up from kitchen assistant to sous chef, before moving to Pierre Gagnaire (3*) for a year. In 1998, he became Jean-Pierre Vigato’s second at Apicius until 2001 when he transferred to Natachef as head chef for Vigato’s wife.

When Doucet took over La Régalade, he had some big shoes to fill. He decided to keep the spirit of the bistro alive and continued with the reasonable prices, large choice, generous canapés and relaxed atmosphere. He started off well, impressing critics and winning Gault Millau’s ‘Young Talent of the Year’ in 2006. He has made it a point to balance the old with the new, eschewing modern kitchen machinery, but always looking for new ideas and ingredients too. His favourite tool is a knife; his favourite ingredient, salt.

la Régalade 2 la Régalade 3

La Régalade resides on avenue Jean-Moulin. The nearest métro is Alesia, but nearest does not necessarily mean nearby. So after some stroll, one eventually reaches a quaint, stylish, little shop front that pouts out upon the pavement; from under a copper canopy, bright lights beckon the famished inside. Within, pastel tea green walls are lined with burgundy banquettes behind small wooden tables. The room revolves around a single, circular table and central serving station, on top of which the specials boards hang. The back wall features a wide mirror whilst windows draped with lace curtains form the restaurant’s front. Eclectic, but restrained artwork and coverless cupboards carrying jars of olives, pickles and more grace the walls. To the right as one enters, a wooden bar stands before another mirror, this one crossed with shelves of wine glasses and bottles. By the bar is a bread rack holding fresh loaves that will be sliced and brought to tables later. Large orbs floating overheard offer a fluorescent, unnatural light. There are maybe forty covers in all and usually all are taken. It can be crowded, but not cramped. There is an intimate bustle and jovial hubbub throughout.

la Régalade - la Carte la Régalade - la Carte 2

For tonight’s dinner, we – Aaron, Amir, DB and I – had to decide between La Régalade and a return to Chez l’Ami Jean. The latter had been undeniably special, but like everyone else, never happy with what we already had, we opted for something new, the former and were it all started. Deciding what to eat was a little easier than where. We saw truffle (actually, we saw truffe) and we wanted it: La Menu Truffes à la Régalade.

la Régalade - le Vin: 2007 Domaine Arretxea Irouléguy Hegoxuri 2

To refresh our thirsts, we drank 2007 Domaine Arretxea Irouléguy Hegoxuri – an inspired choice by Aaron.

la Régalade - Canapés: Pâté de campagne ‘la Régalade’, cornichons et pain de campagne la Régalade - les Cornichons

Canapés: Pâté de campagne ‘La Régalade’ et cornichons. Soon after we were all settled, an ‘amuse‘ of homemade pâté was presented in a white porcelain terrine, implanted with a knife. The instructions were blunt – eat as much as you can want. However, being made from pork meat, its fat and herbs, I had to disobey the house and instead, get by with tiny pickled gherkins and sweet and sour onions that came in a considerable clay crock.

la Régalade - Pain de campagne

Les Pains: Pain de campagne. The crusty, fluffy, rustic country bread was excellent, but then it was Poujauran. Creamy beurre d’Isigny, a golden butter made in Baie des Veys, Normandy, accompanied. We had only just given our order, but our table had already been filled – an auspicious beginning.

la Régalade - Ailerons de Volaille jaune des Landes, bouillon de Paimpol et truffe Noire la Régalade - Ailerons de Volaille jaune des Landes, bouillon de Paimpol et truffe Noire

Entrée 1: Ailerons de Volaille jaune des Landes, bouillon de Paimpol et truffe Noire. Deboned corn-fed chicken wing, placed on a pile of parmesan croutons, coco de Paimpol and trimmed with black truffle, was poured over with a bouillon of the same bean. This surrounding sauce was slightly nutty, light and frothy yet substantial too; it would have worked delightfully with the truffles had these had any force. At least the chicken was tender whilst the croutons added crunch.

la Régalade - Saint-Jacques de Bretagne rôties en coques au beurre de truffe Noire

Entrée 2: Saint-Jacques de Bretagne rôties en coques au beurre de truffe Noire. A threesome of Brittany scallops, swimming in chive and truffle butter and coupled with croutons, were roasted then served still attached to their shells. The Saint-Jacques, cooked evenly throughout, were soft with buttery texture and decent flavour. Chive foam had heavy herbiness that suffused through the scallops nicely, however, the truffle was again utterly innocuous.

 la Régalade - Saint-Jacques de Bretagne rôties en coques au beurre de truffe Noire la Régalade - Saint-Pierre de Bretagne rôti sur la peau, brandade à la truffe noire 2

Plat Principal 1: Saint-Pierre de Bretagne rôti sur la peau, brandade à la truffe noire. Roast John Dory, also from Brittany, was balanced on brandade de morue mixed with black truffle; the fish was drizzled with veal jus and a dollop of herb butter. With a sticky, succulent skin and subtly sweet meat, the Saint-Pierre was quite lovely. The brandade, a traditional dish from Nîmes of salt cold purée, olive oil, milk and sometimes mashed potato (like here), was good with a coarse consistency that came off well. Rich jus de veau provided a nice punch. Each element of this dish was faultless and toothsome, but there seemed to be something missing, something to link everything together. Once again, the truffles may as well have been absent.

la Régalade - Suprême de Volaille jaune des Landes, foie gras de Canard, truffe Noire et légumes d’hiver

Plat Principal 2: Suprême de Volaille jaune des Landes, foie gras de Canard, truffe Noire et légumes d’hiver. A brace of ballotine Landes chicken breast fillets, filled with a farce of foie gras and lined with black truffle, rested on a bed of winter vegetables bathing in Albufera sauce; chives peppered the plate and an asparagus plank was poised over the poultry. Finally. Truffle. For really the first time, its fragrance was felt. The sauce – strong, a little creamy and flavoursome – also pleased; this velouté, classically made with suprême sauce to which meat glaze is added, was named by Carême in honour of Marshal Suchet, the Duke of Albufera, after his defeat of the British in Spain during the Napoleonic wars. The vegetables – turnips and Jerusalem artichoke – were soft and rather nutty. What let this dish down was the fact that the chicken, though meaty and tasty, was disappointingly dry.

la Régalade - Quenelle et Moelleux au chocolat Noir, crème Anglaise au thé vanille

Dessert 1: Quenelle et Moelleux au chocolat Noir, crème Anglaise au thé vanille. Sizeable scoop of dark chocolate ice cream, crowned with an orange tuile, covered dark chocolate sponge that lay in vanilla crème Anglaise. The cake, with a crisp crust and soft centre, was very good as was the ice cream; both were nearly bitter and had a savour that lingered pleasantly. Runny crème offered a little respite against the chocolate whilst the tuile was very crisp, but not at all orange.

la Régalade - Petit Fours: Madeleines au coqulicot

Petit Fours: Madeleines au coqulicot. To finish we were proffered poppy-seed madeleines. These were very agreeable; moist, sweet, crisp around the edges and clearly fresh.

This would have been a sensible time to pay up and head out, but we were not yet ready to leave. Do not think that we had not had enough food, but we just felt like we could do with a little more. We had all seen that famous house Grand Marnier soufflé floating around the room during the night and it simply would have been very out of character for us not to want to try it. However, by the time we managed to ask for some, it was around midnight and the kitchen had closed.

Our despair was blatant. But the people at Le Régalade are of the sympathetic sort…

la Régalade - Pot de crème Caramel

Dessert 2: Pot de crème Caramel. Four clay pots brimming with crème caramel were brought to our table. Our mercurial misery melted away immediately.

The soft, rich caramel cover conceded to my spoon, disclosing creamy, milky custard, which was amply encircled with vanilla seeds. The consistency and sweetness were pretty perfect – we were all left licking our cuillères clean.

la Régalade - le Vin: 2007 Domaine Arretxea Irouléguy Hegoxuri

During dinner we drank, 2007 Domaine Arretxea Irouléguy Hegoxuri. This French Basque wine, made with Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Corbu grapes, had intensity, complexity and character. Both flower and exotic fruit flavours came through and its golden colour was beautiful.

la Régalade - Macarons de Arnaud Larher et Italian Pastries from Pasticceria Rizzardini la Régalade - Italian Pastries from Pasticceria Rizzardini

Service was great. The staff were clearly very busy on the night, but obliged us to no end. Courses came in good time, glasses were refilled when required, whims indulged – and all with smiles. The hostess, whose name we did not get, was patient, sweet and very friendly. Once we had finished off our (second) desserts, we were the last table there, but there was no hint of a wish for us to depart; instead, we were allowed to take out time. In fact, whilst they tidied the restaurant around us, we began to chat and got on rather well, ultimately leading us to return their hospitality with various goodies we had purchased earlier that day that had made their way with us to the restaurant – Arnaud Larher macarons; Eric Kayser financiers; and, the show stoppers, sfogliatine, zaeti and amarettini from Pasticceria Rizzardini which were freshly-made in Venice that morning. We eventually stumbled out after one in the morning, freezing cold, the métro having closed and needing to get from the ‘wrong’ end of the 14th, back to the 1st.

The cooking met with mixed results. We all agreed that ordering the truffle menu was a mistake – not because the plates were bad, but because we were paying simply for the pleasure of seeing truffles (as opposed to actually smelling/tasting them). Ignoring this detail, I thought the dishes, were on the whole, conceptually good, filled with decent flavours and visually pleasant. However, there were some simple errors in execution, chief amongst them being the overcooking of the chicken.

Ingredients were all (except those truffles) faultless, which is no surprise given that Chef Doucet roams Rungis market, selecting the choicest produce himself. I found both the John Dory and cod quite delectable and I am sure the quality of the volaille jaune would have impressed if it had been prepared better. Our menu was unforgivingly French, which appealed. It also boasted decidedly bistro dishes – Coquille Saint Jaques rôtie en coquille and crème caramel – in addition to classic regional staples like brandade de morue and coco de Paimpol. The sauce Albufera may have been a hint to the chef’s haute cuisine history, but I say this after only having seen Alain Ducasse pouring it over his poached poultry.

I liked La Régalade. Regarding the fare, there was room for some refinement, but the flavours and ideas were already there – maybe rustic is the appropriate adjective – and I would certainly not rule out a return.

One measure in which I hold great stock is generosity. This can take many forms, great and small, discreet and open – but when I see it, it endears me to a restaurant. And I saw it constantly here: the staff were liberal in their attention, patience and friendliness; the all-you-can-eat terrine at dinner’s start was a very nice touch; and there is no skimping when it comes to portions. Such little things matter a big deal.

As readers know, memorable meals are not always made only by memorable food. Here, the dishes were satisfying, the kitchen was generous, the restaurant had charm, the service was excellent and the company, terrific. Surely that was enough?

It was, but there was more. One memory more. As mentioned, it was past one in the morning and we were stranded on the avenue Jean-Moulin – the opposite side of Paris to where we were staying. Our only solution…to vélib’ it. FYI, vélib’ refers to the free bicycle rental system in the city – basically one can borrow a bike when they want to and if returned within thirty minutes, not a penny (or cent) need be paid. This is just what we did.

For six or so kilometres, at minus six or so degrees, we raced across the French capital, ignorant of all ‘codes’ of traffic and all road signs. Surprisingly, we did not get lost, even more remarkably, we did not die. We made it back in half an hour – just – and saved ourselves one euro. Each.

49 avenue Jean-Moulin, Paris 75014
tel: 0033 1 45 45 68 58
nearest metro: Alésia


13 Responses to “la Régalade, Paris”

  1. 1 Aaron March 9, 2009 at 6:35 am

    “We were paying simply for the pleasure of seeing truffles (as opposed to actually smelling/tasting them)”

    So true, unfortunately. Oh well, when we go back for the regular menu it will seem like a discount. 😉

  2. 3 Lizzie March 9, 2009 at 9:29 am

    What a fantastic trip you had! However much of a mistake the truffle menu might have been, nevertheless it sounds like a great evening and a place to return to in the future.

  3. 4 Food Snob March 9, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Merci, Lizzie.
    I cannot deny it, I was so fortunate.
    You are quite right, we all really enjoyed ouselves I think, and that is the most important thing!

  4. 5 John Whiting, London March 9, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    I’ve linked from my own review to your detailed and generous write-up:

  5. 6 An American in London March 10, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Interesting to read how La Regalade is doing post-Camdeborde (I’d often wondered and just couldn’t motivate to try it out). Have you been to Le Comptoir (around the corner from Odeon metro)?

  6. 7 Trine March 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    I liked it too when I went in Sep. last year. I wished there were more of such paces in CPH, but of course, that’s not possible, I’m afraid.

  7. 8 Food Snob March 11, 2009 at 8:47 am

    John: Thank you very much

    American: Well, from what I have heard, the standards at le Comptoir were slipping…

    Trine: Ahh, that just gives us more reason to run off to Paris, non?

  8. 9 Michael in Narbonne June 25, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I ate alone at La Regalade in February myself, and although I did not have the truffle menu, I did have the scallops with truffles, since apart from in a poulet demi-deuil, there is no better pairing my opinion. And I found the dish absolutely marvellous and could taste the truffles just fine. Perhaps you had a lesser crop that night? Or the truffle was not cut thin enough or paired with the scallops while they were still warm enough to produce the balance of perfumes … who knows? But I have to add that the service (even to a lone diner) was perfect and unrushed and wonderful.

  9. 10 Bob July 4, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Brevity is the soul of wit.

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