23 March 2017

small stakes: le desnoyez, 75020

A few years ago during the Loire tasting salons I had a brief but memorable conversation with a friend who was then in the initial stages of preparing to open a natural wine bar in New York. I had confessed I wasn't very excited by many new Paris restaurants: everything seemed pokey, limited, a little predictable. He replied that, on the contrary, he adored the Paris restaurant scene, precisely because it was so modest, small-scale, and restrained. "You never eat like that in New York," he said. Everything there was comparatively over-the-top.

It's true that there isn't the same pressure in Paris, as there is in New York or London, to achieve a high check average, massive turnover, or both. In Paris the combination of affordable commercial rents, low cost-of-living (compared to other capitals), and abundant small restaurant spaces allows for a level of intimacy in dining that has all but disappeared in other major cities.

Restaurant Le Desnoyez, opened on a shoestring budget by former food blogger Jean-Marc Sinceux in Belleville in autumn of last year, offers a level of intimacy in dining that has all but disappeared even in Paris. The place seats about fourteen. In another capital, such a Lilliputian restaurant might need to enforce a twelve-course tasting menu. Here in Paris, Sinceux proposes an inexpensive bistrot offering, albeit one enlivened by a slim selection of offbeat natural wines and by his surprisingly painterly way with plating.

A bouillon of merlu, tinted purple with heirloom carrots.

It was only on my second visit to the restaurant that I remembered Sinceux and I had met before, five years ago, over a dinner with Loire winemaker François Blanchard. His wasn't the only familiar face I'd meet in connection with Le Desnoyez: the leather designer Mylène Pratt, whose bags and leather-bound wine lists I see often at natural wine spots around town, also works at the restaurant and helps out with the wine list.

Sinceux admits that he'd like to offer more wine, but the restaurant has no storage space, leaving him at the whim of whichever agents and visiting winemakers find it convenient to make one and two-case deliveries. As it is, the one-page list is idiosyncratic and affordable. I enjoyed François Ecot's 2015 Vin de France aligoté, "Troma-Onirique," which wears its light touch of residual sugar impressively well, resulting in a generous, even tropical expression of an otherwise stony grape.

The menus for both lunch and dinner are short and to-the-point. But one would no more complain of a lack of choice, in such a setting, as one would attending a friend's dinner party.

Particularly if the friend cooked as well as Sinceux, whose cuisine is unpretentious, pleasureful, and casually pretty. A meal at Le Desnoyez hums with the amusing discordance between the restaurant's rickety student-café décor and the irreproachable quality of most of the dishes.

A plate of mackerel and turnips shone with the pale colours of a winter sunrise. A fig-laced terrine arrive sporting a jaunty beret of radish.

A clafoutis felt a bit perfunctory, as did desserts on the whole. But we can only expect so much of a one-man-show like Le Desnoyez.

The risk in writing about achingly sincere, semi-pro, tiddlywink restaurants like Le Desnoyez is not, as some writers would have you believe, that press attention will bring hordes of clientele and the restaurant will change. The risk is that these things don't happen, and the restaurant disappears. Then I've wasted a morning writing about something that no longer exists. (This is to say nothing of the considerably more important loss to the restaurant's operators.) Le Desnoyez would do well to stock a few more expensive wine selections, and to add one or two share-able, bar-friendly items to the menu in efforts to fill the four bar seats more reliably. Even in Paris, for a restaurant on the scale of Le Desnoyez, those four seats are probably make-or-break.

I suggest filling them. Sinceux is a nice guy and Le Desnoyez, homey, affordable, and low-key, is the closest thing you can have to a night-in while still dining out.

Jean-Marc Sinceux and Spoon, the native companion's dog.

Le Desnoyez
3, rue Desnoyez
75020 PARIS
Métro: Belleville
Tel: 06 61 19 18 31

Related Links:

Jean-Marc Sinceux's blog, La Solitude du Chorizo.

Le Desnoyez was by far the smallest of the small-ish restaurants I rounded up for a piece in The Financial Times.

An enthusiastic review of Le Desnoyez in Time Out.

1 comment:

  1. fan of the blog. thinking about traveling to paris and vallee du loire this summer. Do you think places like Le Desnoyez would close for august holidays or stay open?