The metro is always exciting, Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau entrances leading you down into the belly of the city where the colours of the metro lines will magically lead you to another part of the city. Green from our home station, then yellow to Concorde to Restaurant L’Ardoise.Sounds silly, but I still have a childlike, butterfly in belly moment when we decide which sortie to choose, wondering what is waiting at the top of those stairs. It was light when we descended into the metro half an hour ago, but now as we ascend the sky has darkened into a soft dusk. We emerge into a magical fairy land, Place de la Concorde sparkling with fairy lights.
The mood is festive, we can feel an energy of awe and joy in the crowds, people enjoying the spectacle and beauty of the scene around them, at the same time, for us they are the scene. While the lights are pretty, it is the joy of the people that really makes this feel extraordinary. With magic fairy dust still lifting our steps a little higher we move away from the crowds and toward tonight’s next adventure. We walk through St Honore, a familiar area that we have stayed in before. The streets are quiet, a surreal contrast to the crowds only a few streets away. It’s Sunday night and our first dinner in Paris. Along the small lane we are looking for number 28. Are we in the right place, it is so quiet no cars and no other people walking? Then there it is, a small window and a slender dark door, simple chalkboard lettering “L’Ardoise” which means slate. But no one is there, of course we are early, excited to be sure we found the place. Peeking in the window there is a promise of modern French bistro simplicity in the décor. We wander off to find an aperitif somewhere while we wait for our reservation time. The restaurant is narrow, a long bench seat lines the side wall with tables lined up along it with only an inch between them, so that seating becomes an intricate dance of tables and chairs being slid out into the walkway while one slithers into the space created, table slid back in, locking in the bench seater for the evening. The atmosphere is a little stark….something missing perhaps? The lights are pretty and modern but a wee bit too bright. I think it’s that and oh of course it’s dead quiet, no music, that leaves it feeling a little cold. There is a wall of menu items chalked on black slate. The table is a large square of slate set Into a timber edge. I wish I had brought my pastels or that they had provided chalk. I think they could make a thing of collecting drawings done by guests in a little book. The staff speak excellent English and bring the menus and wine list. First things first, a selection from the wine list is arranged. Then to the menu. It’s a three course arrangement, starters, main and dessert. I’m fascinated with the selection, definitely French, foie gras, snails, duck but it’s definitely not traditionalle.
The giant ferris wheel towers above us to our left and to our right the Champs-Elysées a stretch of glitter and sparkles, leads the eye to the Arc de Triomphe.
As we wait for our meal the place is starting to fill up, more of the table shuffle as the empty tables next to us are occupied. The vibe is really picking up, lots of chatter as other diners explore the menu. I was a little apprehensive at first about the closeness of tables. It’s unavoidable that you will hear everything that your neighbour has to say and of course that means they will hear everything you have to say. I value my privacy, so the idea of this unwanted intimacy was a little disconcerting. It’s funny though how it works, I don’t know if it was a deliberate choice to create a space where strangers are forced to cosy up, or about optimising the number of diners in limited real estate, but it kind of worked. What started out as dinner for two morphed into dinner for four when a friendly American couple from Florida squeezed in next to us. They had dined here before and we’re back for more. So taken with the food that when they could only get a reservation for two for their last night in Paris,they ditched the rest of their family. Warm foie gras arrived sitting on a bed of mushroom tartare with light mousse quenelles on the side. This was my first time for real foie gras not just a pate. Not sure what to expect, I tasted just the foie gras straight up. It was sliced to a precise thickness, perfectly balancing the rich creamy centre with crisp caramelised edges. Amazing, so rich but so delicate at the same time. And then the mushroom tartare business, what a combination. The light and delicate earthiness of chopped mushroom balanced the richness of the foie gras perfectly, the distinctive flavours of each harmonising beautifully. The goat arrives, another first. I am thrown by the lightness of the meat, somehow in my mind I think I was expecting a dark gamey meat but this was light more like pork. I had always thought of goat as something that got slow cooked for hours but this Goat leg was cooked medium and it was tender, moist and deliciously light in colour and flavour. Pomme frits surrounded the meat, glazed in a delicate jus. A selection of beautiful French cheese to finish, ended a wonderful meal. L’Ardoise for me was good, generous, honest but clever French bistro food. So many wonderful options yet to explore.
So many wonderful options for starters, crispy snail pancake, Salmon tartare with ginger and chives, veal and smoked haddock tartare. But it’s our first dinner so it has to be the special, fried foie gras. Mains again amazing options but baby goat leg is the choice, trying something I’ve never tried before is always so exciting.
The strangeness of chatting with perfect strangers at a restaurant is still weirdly wonderful. I normally think of a restaurant visit as an intimate and personal experience so feel grateful for being given this opportunity.