I’ve had the good fortune to do a lot of eating and drinking in Paris in the past 12 months, but one place that sticks in my mind is Frenchie, Greg Marchand’s teeny-tiny restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement. Hidden away down the cobbled Rue du Nil, this 24-cover restaurant has been a cult name among foodies for almost a decade yet somehow it still manages to make you feel like it’s your discovery. There’s an energy, an intimacy to it that’s really exciting.
Crammed in at the bar counter (which is really just two stools overlooking the pass), my husband and I had the best drinks-pairing menu I’ve had all year: intensely flavoured carrot cooked several ways, paired with a creamy-fresh Puligny-Montrachet from Etienne Sauzet; tender duck and sharp kumquats, with a glass of velvety Ganko Rioja from French defector Olivier Rivière; shortbread, lemon curd, cardamom ice cream and bergamot with an icy yuzu sake; a white chocolate petit-four peppered with a sip of 1978 Gaston Legrand armagnac. It was imaginative and vibrant – and all poured by a sommelier who could talk tattoos and surfing as readily as grands crus.
Frenchie Paris also has a candlelit bar à vins across the street. There we plundered a drinks list full of off-beat treasures, including a delicious blanc de noirs champagne from rising star Dosnon. The whole experience was so good it made me rather anxious about visiting Frenchie’s London outpost. Would that magic have survived the journey? Or got lost in translation?
Perhaps wisely, Marchand hasn’t tried to recreate that slightly scruffy neighbourhood feel of Frenchie Paris. Frenchie Covent Garden is a big glamorous West End brasserie with an à la carte menu (unlike Frenchie Paris, where you take what you’re given – which I think is more fun).
But the vital flavours and textures of the Paris menu were all still there (thanks in great part to Marchand’s head chef, whom I saw manning operations on both sides of the Channel). And sommelier Bastien Ferreri has created a wine list that’s full of verve too. A starter of melting burrata and Buddha’s-hand lemon with a glass of deep-red Le Cince rosé from the De Fermo estate in Abruzzo was a highlight, a trio of colours that were as lovely to look at as they were to taste.
Unlike Frenchie Paris (which won’t even serve you herbal tea if it’s not on the tasting menu) Frenchie London always does cocktails with a Francophile twist: Negronis with génépi, sours with Chartreuse, and martini-style aperitifs with pommeau.
On the way out I bumped into Marchand himself, who alluded to the possibility of a second London restaurant down the line. But for now, at least, my heart’s still in the 2nd arrondissement.