Past the arty Marais, past hip Bastille, Paris’s far-east 20th arrondissement is a multicultural melting pot with much more to offer than Père Lachaise Cemetery. I love this part of Paris; Belleville feels all Edith Piaf, full of cool old boutiques, bakeries and bars; a maze of colourful, graffiti-tagged streets amid which lies an adresse confidentielle well worth seeking out. Le Grand Bain is a 44-seater, dinner-only neo-bistro attracting a steady stream of local regulars and curious foodie tourists with its locavore menu headed up by Bristol-born Edward Delling-Williams, former chef at Fergus Henderson’s St John in Clerkenwell.
It was while working at Paris restaurant Au Passage that Delling-Williams met sommelier Edouard Lax, with whom he turned a tumbledown tapas bar into Le Grand Bain – with a nod and wink to the municipal swimming pool next door. The best table in the intimate space is number 18, according to Lax, but I like the bustling bar. On a recent visit I ordered gleaming scallop carpaccio with rhubarb and fennel (€9), wafer-thin pollock in a lemon confit topped with wild cress (€8), and celery-root curls with creamy goats’ cheese and kumquat (€8) – all set out on artisan ceramic plates to share (or not), and all extremely tasty.
“The menu changes daily – sometimes even mid-service,” says Delling-Williams, adding that vegetables are delivered by electric bicycle from La Caverne underground organic farm in the 18th arrondissement. “If we have a signature dish, it’s the thick-cut chickpea chips with Worcestershire mayo [€6.50].” Golden, soothing and perfectly seasoned, they were delicious – as was my main of quail (€15), which had arrived that morning and was delightfully slow-roasted, served with beetroot and a bed of acidic grilled radicchio leaves. It was well matched with Julien Guillot’s rich and fruity natural Burgundy Ultimatum Climat Chenas (€52) – suggested by Lax from some 150 references.
To finish, the trio of perfectly ripened cheeses (€14) – Old Comté, Brillat Savarin, Gruyère du Jura – was a good excuse to continue breaking warm bread from Le Petit Grain, the sister bakery on the opposite side of the cobblestone alley. Their next ambitious project is an organic farm – on the rooftop of the restaurant. I’ll certainly be back to see that.