I love Paris! It’s a beautiful and vibrant city and every time I visit it I find something new and exciting. This time wasn’t an exception. Let me ask you a question. What drink do people usually associate with France? Why, wine of course. Imagine, it’s the start of summer, the sun is shining and you are sitting in front of a cosy Parisian cafe with a glass of refreshing Chablis or even less conventional Alsatian Gewürztraminer, lounging in the blissful, care-free atmosphere of one of the greatest cities in the world. But what about Paris and sake? “What?” you may ask. Sake in Paris? Quelle absurdite! But I beg to differ.
The popularity of sake is shooting up across the globe and France is catching the sake fever as well. There are now so many ways to discover sake: travelling to Japan, going to Japanese restaurants, or attending the sake tasting events, which are gaining popularity across Europe. So when our daughter suggested a trip to Paris with some shopping and dining in mind, I jumped on this opportunity to investigate the sake places of the French capital.
Les Enfants Rouges: French haute cuisine with a Japanese twist
My quest began at a less obvious place, Les Enfants Rouges, a fine French cuisine restaurant, located in Le Marais, one of the cosiest areas in Paris. The restaurant is run by a cool Japanese couple: Dai Shinozuka, who is the Head Chef and his wife, Tomoko. Last August I wanted to go there for my daughter’s birthday, but it was closed for the summer holidays. But this time we were luckier.
I have written about how friends and friendship come to rescue in our lives and voila, it came into play here as well. I was meeting my former Japanese colleague for lunch a few months ago and mentioned my Les Enfants Rouges debacle. “Oh”, she replied, “isn’t it the restaurant run by Yoko’s sister and her husband?”
Indeed, Yoko is also my former colleague and with her help, I managed to book Les Enfants Rouges well in advance. It’s extremely popular among the trendy Parisian crowd.
Dai and Tomoko have quite a romantic story. Dai moved to France from Tokyo when he was in his 20s in order to learn French. He lived in Annecy in the southeast of the country and his culinary career started almost by accident when the family he was staying with had found him a casual job at a local restaurant. In Annecy Dai also met Tomoko who was teaching Japanese. Together they had dreamt of opening a restaurant in Paris.
After several years of working in top class restaurants in Annecy, Tours and finally in the kitchen of Yves Camdeborde at Le Comptoir de Relais in Paris, Dai and Tomoko took over Les Enfants Rouges, named after the historical market it’s adjacent to.
And the market, if you’re curious, is named after the orphanage, whose children were wearing red clothes as a colour of charity. The orphanage closed down before the French Revolution.
When we arrived at Les Enfants Rouges on an early summer evening, Tomoko, who manages the front of house, gave us a very warm welcome. The restaurant is quite small but very cosy. Its staff was friendly and attentive. As most of them were also Japanese they were happily chatting with my daughter, who is learning the language.
Les Enfants Rouges didn’t have sake on its drink list. However, they served Samurai Rock, a famous cocktail of sake and lime juice, which I ordered without hesitation. It was very refreshing and marked my first adventure with sake in Paris. The restaurant also has a small selection of fine Japanese whiskeys, which I am hopefully going to try next time.
I am not a restaurant critic so I’m not going to go into the details of the dishes we had. Just take a look at the photos, which speak for themselves.
The food was very tasty and each dish had a subtle Japanese twist to it. For example, my daughter’s starter was salmon which was raw if slightly marinated, resembling sashimi. Her main dish was a variation of beef bourguignon, that included traditional Japanese pickles as accents. My main course of redfish had a bit of salad wrapped in nori, while my wife’s had small tempura in her main course.
The desserts also had Japanese themes, like a gorgeous matcha eclair I had or my daughter’s beautiful chocolate dessert.
You can find a lot of Japanese influence in Paris. And if you are after sake, even a classic French bistro might serve it for you in one or another form.
Stayed tuned for the next adventure in Paris involving sake, champaign and a certain theoretical physicist!
Kampai et Santé!