One of the nice things about having a foreign visitor is that I have an excuse to do things in Paris that I wouldn’t usually do, one of them being eating out at nice restaurants.
I found Vin & Marée on La Fourchette. La Fourchette is a French website that has reviews and promotions for hundreds (maybe thousands) of restaurants in France. As we were planning to go to the Eiffel Tower on Friday evening, I looked for somewhere in the seventh arrondissement, and Vin & Marée was the best value place available – a seafood restaurant near the corner of the Champs de Mars with a promotion of 50% off your final bill (excluding drinks and the set menus, if you reserve a table at 7:00, 7:30, 10:00 or 10:30).
From the outside, the small blue restaurant looks like a Belgian mussels bar. On the inside, everything is very elegant with patterned white linen tablecloths and matching napkins twirled into cones at the diners’ places, and shining silver and glass wear.
When we walked in we thought we might have been too early – there were only two other diners, and the staff seemed to be setting up for the evening. But one waitress approached us, crossed our names off the reservation list and took us to a booth in the corner of the restaurant. When she discovered that my companion (this is his new title – I think it sounds very food critic-y) didn’t speak French, she offered him an English menu, and explained things in French to me, using a smattering of English words for him.
We started with aperitifs of beer and ruby port, and shared a bowl of complimentary mussels, very tender in butter and chives.
For our entrées, we ordered langoustines and scampi. The langoustines were served in a circle over a bed of salad and, although the salad was dressed lightly, the langoustines were just seasoned with some paprika and pepper and were beautiful and soft. The scampi was very interesting – wrapped in rice-paper and fried like a spring roll, it was too hot to eat immediately, but rather voluptuous (I know it’s a strange word to use to describe food, but when I think about the slight resistance of the curves of the shrimp before I bit through it, it seems the most appropriate) once it had cooled a bit. It was served with a mild tandoori sauce in a small pot with a spoon, which was so good that we scooped out what was left and mopped it up with the baguette pieces in our bread basket. The bread had a lovely hard crust, though was a little chewy, so probably a bit old.
For our mains, we both ordered baked salmon with a lemon sauce. The salmon fillet was like butter on my tongue, with a deliciously light herbed crust on the top. It was served with some broccoli and sauerkraut which left something to be desired, as well as subtly-seasoned whipped potatoes in a casserole dish on the side. Not being a lemon fan, I was a little tentative about the sauce, served in a small pot with a spoon, but I couldn’t taste any lemon in it. If I was going to compare it with anything, it would be a honey mustard sauce, and it went beautifully with both the salmon and the potatoes.
My companion finished with a coffee, at which point we started itching for the bill. Although the restaurant had been empty when we arrived, by 8:30 it was packed and by 9:00 we were starting to overheat. The tables along the booth were extremely crowded, with barely enough space for champagne buckets between them, and they needed to be pulled out from the wall so that patrons could sit behind them. There were a few specials boards throughout the restaurant, which the waiters would carry to each new arrival’s desk and rest on the champagne bucket as they chose their order, which left us feeling a little claustrophobic when this was done with the people next to us.
Usually I enjoy other people arriving – I love food, and it’s always exciting to see what other people are having. We even saw one table choosing the lobsters they wanted from a fish tank. And generally, I wouldn’t have minded it getting a bit crowded before we left, even if it was a rather long wait for our bill.
However, unlike Bercy, this time the other patrons were not French, but American. I don’t mean to insult any Americans out there, but hearing large groups of Anglophones getting louder and more boisterous as they order more drinks does take something away from the experience of dining out in a French restaurant in France. I suppose it was to be expected, what with us being so close to the Eiffel Tower, but it never even occurred to me. Because I don’t work near any monuments, my days are generally tourist-free, or at least, free from large groups of tourists.
That being said, although the food was incredible and the service was wonderful, it was a bit of a relief to be outside again. I would definitely go back there, but I might consider the 10:00, or even the 7:00 booking instead, and have a little more quiet time.
With our discount, the total bill came to €43, which included two drinks, two starters, two mains and a coffee, all within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. If anyone else comes to visit, I’ll definitely be taking them to Vin & Marée.