Although they won’t admit it, le tout Paris watches Top-Chef. The TV show is a foodie contest for professionals, and it’s the perfect platform for young culinary talent. After succeeding as a semi-finalist in 2011, Paul-Arthur Berlan launched Le Métropolitain in the Saint-Paul quartier of Paris, showcasing simple food and celebrating the centenary of the Paris métro.
The Carcassonne-born-and-raised chef honed his craft in Toulouse with Michel Sarran, at Bagatelle in Oslo and at Yannick Alleno’s Le Meurice in Paris. And now he has opened L’Escudella, “a little left-bank place where I can introduce my grandmother’s south-of-France cooking, revised and corrected for today”.
L’Escudella (first picture), which translates as “plate” in Berlan’s native Occitan dialect, is a contemporary bistro with bright décor in Mediterranean blue and orange, Charles Eames chairs and interesting lightbulb installations (second picture). On fine days the tiny terrace seats six, and I suggest you begin here with a glass of, say, Rhône Crozes-Hermitage, Cuvée L, Domaine Combier and a plate of charcuterie or chorizo of Wagyu beef.
Inside, Berlan’s locavore cooking blew me away. It is fresh and modern, cooked with passion, without pretension. The sea urchin composition of four spiky shells lined with seafood jelly and crowned with seawater espuma was my favourite starter of last year. The crab cannelloni had a hint of curry; the cèpes and other woodland foraged mushrooms were topped with a crispy egg; and the seasonal mains included Sisteron lamb cooked three ways, with confit of aubergines and tamarind juice. Alternatively, let Berlan decide for you and opt for the tasting menu: two starters, two mains and dessert for €46.
With sommelier Aurélien Faure’s help, I discovered an excellent Bordeaux blend Arpège – Haut Nouchet, Pessac Léognan 2009, which continued nicely into cheese from Marie Quatrehomme, left-bank queen of fromage. Desserts include raspberry/yuzu meringue sphere and the chef’s spin on Paris-Brest – entitled, appropriately, Paris-Carcassonne (third picture).
L’Escudella is located near Saxe-Breteuil market, which begins at Place de Breteuil and stretches to Avenue de Ségur, framed by the Eiffel Tower and the golden dome of Les Invalides. “Farmers and producers come from all over France to sell their specialities and this market is known for its high-quality foods, including many organic products. I try to source as much as possible locally,” says Berlan. You can find chef and his team here between 7am and 2.30pm every Thursday and Saturday. L’Escudella is under the radar, but won’t be for long.