Tell anyone in Paris that you’re eating at Chez L’ami Jean and you’ll get appreciative nods and mutterings of “ahh yes, that’s a very good choice”. When we arrived at our hotel, we were asked the usual “do you need help with restaurant reservations” “no thanks, we’re eating at L’Ami Jean” was my response and the usual raised eyebrows and nodding of the head denoting agreement and satisfaction from the reception staff, I knew she meant that we had made a good choice. On this recent trip to Paris which was in fact my husband’s birthday, I decided to pick L’Ami Jean from my extensive list of Paris restaurants and bistros.
In fact, I knew my husband didn’t want fine dining this time, what he requested was a no-frills authentic bistro atmosphere where the food does the talking and that’s what you get at L’Ami Jean. My mind was totally made up after consulting with an acquaintance, the much respected and good friend of L’Ami Jean, Wendy Lyn from Paris is my Kitchen. She totally sold it to me and I too was nodding completely satisfied with my choice. In fact, if it wasn’t for Wendy, I don’t think we’d have been able to get a table at L’ami Jean, it’s fully booked all the time, what better sign than that?
L’Ami Jean has been around since 1931, I don’t know much about the history of the restaurant, but I know that chef and owner Stephane Jego opened the restaurant in its current form in 2002 and although it’s always been a Basque bistro, Chef Jego is from Brittany. He previously worked for 12 years with notable Parisian chef Yves Camdeborde (from L’Avant Comptoir) at his famous bistro La Regalade in the 1st.
A fiery character, Stephane Jego is committed to producing and serving food of the highest quality, inventive and with an outstanding flair for producing creative dishes on the spot depending on his mood, the season and what he can source at the market that day. Ask for the Tasting Menu and you’ll never know from day to day what you’ll get, there’s an element of excitement and surprise, even the waiters are never sure and that’s what attracted me to L’Ami Jean. With that in mind, we were excited and looking forward to some fine food. The bistro itself is small but truly authentic, tightly packed tables, you can’t help but make conversation with your neighbours, I’m pretty sure friendships have begun here are L’Ami Jean. Further adding to the authentic Parisian ambience, varnished wooden floors, red benches, exposed brickwork and graffiti of all things, it truly is old, but the atmosphere is one of loud jovial conversation and a frenzy of energy.
Once we were seated, we were given the menu’s in English, did we understand the menu? No, it’s confusing I must admit so we let our waiter do what waiters’ do best. Wendy did warn me though, Chef Jago’s intention is for his diners to leave stuffed, fit to bursting point but more on that later. You can order the usual starter, main and dessert but with choices from razor clams, sweetbreads, casserole of hare, seared scallops, quail, we really couldn’t make our minds up. The restaurants’ signature dishes are the Parmesan Soup and the rice pudding. I’m told not just any rice pudding but THE Rice Pudding, I love rice pudding in all its forms however my husband doesn’t, would I be able to fit in a starchy dessert? I didn’t know yet but the couple next to us already having dined on the largest slow cooked pork dish that I’d ever seen, – enough to comfortably feed 6 had a large bowl of this glorious looking creamy rice pudding. The noises they were making had me hook line and sinker. Did I say that you can’t help making conversation at L’Ami Jean? We were happily chatting away to both sides, both couples from America who’d equally heard nothing but good things about this neo- bistro steps from the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement.
We decided to put our trust in Chef’s hands and we went for the tasting menu, 7 dishes in all for 80 euros per person. You’re advised on which wine goes with what and the wine list is vast, again we left to our waiter who advised a glass of Chablis for the first course followed by a robust red, Rully en Rosey 2016.
First dish to arrive, Stephane Jego’s signature Parmesan Soup; a stainless-steel soup bowl arrives with what looks like granola, what’s this, we both look at each other perplexed, we’re told it’s a combination of dried onion, bacon crunchy croutons and other delightful additions and then the creamy deliciousness of liquid Parmesan is slowly poured over bringing the dish to life. Well, the look on my husband’s face said it all, wow, wow and wow and he’s not very easily wowed in restaurants these days. It really was just sublime, not too cheesy but enough to hit that cheesy spot, the crispy additions add texture and vibrancy to the soup. What I love is that you can add or take way a dish from the tasting menu if you have a preference for one and a distaste to another, Chef is here at your service and will simply replace it with something else but I for one really hope I see the Parmesan Soup a permanent fixture on the menu.
Second dish to arrive were scallops from Brittany, remember I said Chef was from Brittany, he obviously has his contacts there, these were delicious and plump and still attached to their shells with Parmesan and what looked like another dark earthy crumb, I needed a pen and paper to write down every little addition but just know that these plump little morsels were delicate, tender and juicy.
Dish number three was roasted quail breasts, two perfectly cooked juicy quail breast, an explosion of colour by the addition of radish, coriander and yet more savoury crumb. We were already getting a tad full but there were yet more sublime dishes to come. All this was washed down with the fruity robust red, I’m not a lover of red wine but the Rully en Rosey went down a treat.
It was by now coming up to 11pm but the restaurant showed no evidence in calming down, yet more people were coming into the warmth and ambience of this tiny heavenly bistro. To my left was the open kitchen where you can see chef Jego in deep concentration attending to his creations with nothing but deep love and joy. Yes, he can get over excited and sometimes hot headed but the passion in what he does drives him to seek nothing but perfection in himself and his kitchen staff, everyone comes together and works as a team.
Fourth dish to arrive was a succulent mackerel dish, again cooked to perfection served with wild mushrooms.
The star of the show in the savoury course we were told was due to arrive next. They added this in not as an extra dish but in place of what Chef was going to produce for us because my husband wanted to try the Wild Hare with Pommes Purée . The table next but one was tucking into the same dish and confirmed it was outstanding, this had my husband’s mind well and truly made up and that’s when the waiter decided we should try it. Let me tell you, forget everything you’ve heard about game being offensively heady and strong, this wasn’t at all, not a hint of wild gamey odour or taste.
Sure, it was unusual in taste but just outstanding, a very dark meat so slowly cooked, we were told for over 8 hours and it was the most butter soft and tender meat just falling apart in the most delicious gravy and accompanied by the creamiest almost yellow and so rich mash potato – to give it its proper name, Pommes Purée.
I think I managed about a third of it, I was just so fit to burst and now when I think of this delicious stew, I wish it was in front of me, so I can really take it every single taste sensation. Laughing with our neighbours to the right, the couple to my left had by now rolled out of the restaurant, sounds like I’m joking, I’m not, you’re that full, that’s all you can do but it makes for good conversation. The couple to my right had also chosen the same Wild Hare dish.
Other tables were feasting on other meat dishes topped with thyme and lit so that it arrived at the table on fire! This is theatrical food in all its glory, food at L’Ami Jean will satisfy the most ardent of carnivores and even perhaps convert vegetarians back to meat. Perhaps I’m being a tad over optimistic but if you do come to L’Ami Jean, it would be sacrilege not try the Wild Hare.
Could we fit the cheese course in? not even my husband who is a lover of all things cheese, he always chooses it over dessert, just couldn’t manage it. The dessert on the tasting menu was not in fact the rice pudding but the waiter wouldn’t allow us to choose anything else, they want you to try their signature dessert even if they bully you into it – in a nice way though. Have you ever made a dish that you’re that proud of you want to share it with your dining guests? well it’s the same with L’Ami Jean’s Rice Pudding so I for one didn’t feel I was being bullied into trying it in the least, I was all for it.
The waiter also presented us with the original dessert on the tasting menu, a vibrant green sorbet with meringue. The sorbet tasted so familiar to me but unlike anything else I had ever tasted, then memories came flooding back of our holiday in Cyprus in August and the wild Greek basil that I had picked fresh from a basil plant and that was it! I am 100% it was sorbet made from the same wild basil, its an unmistakable heady aroma.
Now for the rice pudding, two bowls with something unusual in the bottom, again something that looked very much like muesli was caramelized pistachio nuts, toasted hazelnuts and dried honeyed apricot pieces with a separate bowl of creamy caramel. The waiters then added ladleful’s of creamy rice from the largest stainless-steel bowl piling it on and then you’re instructed to blend everything together, that’s when the magic happens. Rarely does anything so utterly delicious and heavenly pass my lips, it was a feeling of pure contentment and so gratifying, I see why it’s L’Ami Jean’s signature dessert. As much as I tried, I couldn’t finish it all, my husband nodded in agreement, it was totally mind-blowingly delicious.
The evening was coming to an end, we were asked if we wanted to take the cheese course and the left ofter Hare Stew in a doggy bag back to the hotel. If this was London and we were heading home, yes, I would without a doubt. The reviews are right, you are absolutely fed to the point of being sick but in a satisfyingly good way, images of the film Se7en spring to mind of the character denoting glutton and greed, I know it’s a weird comparison, but I felt like I was a total disgusting glutton, but it felt bloody good. My husband was making me laugh so much it hurt because I was so full; he says there should be a recovery room next to the restaurant where you can be wheeled in and left in a comfortable position to recover and digest the most delicious 7 course tasting menu we’ve ever had, this was bistronomy at the highest level without a doubt.
Wendy Lyn is right about what she says on her website about L’Ami Jean “bring your fat pants” and “gut-busting portions” and she is so right. Would we go back? You’re damn right we would, I will sacrifice being in agony for a few hours just to eat the delicious food that Chef Stephane Jego creates once again. The evening, the ambience, the food will linger on in my memory for a long long time, until next time……
Chez L’Ami Jean
27 rue Malar
Restaurant opens from Tuesday to Sat, closed in August.
Metro: Invalides or La Tour-Maubourg
Photos are mine unless otherwise stated, opinions of this glorious menu are mine alone.
The meal cost 240 euros with wine.