Like all serendipitous events, this one came out of nowhere. It was Wednesday, July 8th, 2009. I was walking through Paris with my friend, looking for a sandwich shop. You see, I have a thing for classic jambon beurre sandwiches, and this one apparently won Le Monde's local competition for the best jambon beurre in town. The map I had showed the shop to be just outside the entrance to the Odeon metro stop, in Saint-Germain. We got there, hungry and cold, just after noon. We had been visiting the catacombs all morning: standing in queues, descending stairs, trudging through dripping corridors, staring through the gloom at thousands of skulls, dodging drips and puddles, ascending claustrophobically tight spiral staircases (at the top of which there was a defibrillator- creepy) and then wandering through the crowded town searching for a sandwich.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Of course, the shop was not to be found. I checked and re-checked the map. I asked. No one knew what I was talking about. We were getting hungrier.
Finally we abandoned the hunt for the jambon beurre, and walked around the corner to this little neighbourhood bistro, which had a table free out the front, just waiting for us. We had no idea what was in store.
First we ordered a glass of white wine. At the table next to us were two old men arguing and sharing a plate of Guadeloupe rockmelon and slices of air-dried Eric Ospital ham. Of course we had to get that too- and it was amazing. At this point, we perhaps realised that this was going to be a fantastic lunch.
A basket of chewy sourdough bread hunks and unsalted butter arrived. I probably could have stopped there, but no. The mains arrived. Mine was roast lamb with thyme: sounds straightforward, but NO. It was served in a little dish with a deeply reduced red wine sauce, sweet and tender, over melting roasted red capsicum and vegetables, with a husk of crisp peppery biscuit on top. My friend had the duckling with roast vanilla peaches, flaked almonds and Marsala pommes purees. This was probably even better than the lamb. Her duck had salty crispy skin and a juicy soft inside. I wanted to gnaw her duck leg.
A couple of short black coffees later, we were totally happy, satisfied and content. It was the lunch that changed my life. No jambon beurre would ever have the same meaning.
Later, I found that this was a well-known restaurant that takes booking MONTHS in advance. How fortuitous that we grabbed a table straight off the street.
If and when you are ever in the neighbourhood, it's called Le Comptoir du Relais. Another article here.