A night out in Paris comes with a side order of fantasy.
For me the fantasy involves champagne and bread crusty enough to give your gums a paper cut. Some gentle conversation, the warmth of a rustic glass of red and not being mocked as I mangle the french language. All of these things make up a happy place best seen through french windows.
The Hungry One is easier to please. If the evening includes a bowl of chocolate mousse bigger than his motorcycle helmet, then he’s the happiest of campers.
It’s lucky that these things, and more were found at L’Ambassade d’Auvergne.
Which begs the question; is this the best bistro in Paris?
Here are some basic stats
It’s within hopping distance of the Pompidou centre, in the third. This means you get a Parisan spirit, but not the relentless teeming chaos of crowds.
With its arched entryways, wood lined ceilings and hard tiled floors the inside is charmingly rustic. This is a place to come for food that sticks to the ribs; literally. L’Ambassade is a place devoted to celebrating the cuisine of the Auvergne region, which sits in the very centre, or heart of France.
There are other options on a longer menu, but the regional menu is startling good value- particularly when it comes to the issue of portion size.
If you’re willing to part with 28 euro, then I doubt you’ll need to eat in the 14 hours after you leave.
Here’s how it rolls
We start with beers for the boys, a coupe de champagne for the ladies and crusty bread for the table. There’s butter and a complimentary mound of pate de campagne- a crumble of meat and gentle spice bound with fat. It’s at this point that I realise I should have worn a looser skirt.
There are some gentle laughs about our French accents and an insistence from the waitstaff that we try a little harder.
For entree half of us choose the house specialty of lentil salad, which is not nearly as earnest as it sounds. Here they make a hero out of the du puy lentil, a famed product of the Auvergne region that has protected agricultural status.
For those who haven’t met it; the du puy lentil is small and green, low on the squish factor and high on the earthy scale. It’s particularly good friends with bacon and mustard. From a large earthenware serving bowl we get three quenelles, arranged like like sturdy petals on the plate. Once you get into it you discover a strident kick of mustard and the lip coating goodness of goose fat binding it all together. And just in case your serving wasn’t enough, they leave the bowl on the table as a gesture of hospitality. I think three scoops will suffice.
A more feminine option is the cold tomato soup, which prettily makes the best of end of season fruit. Bobbing in the centre is a frisky ball of goats curd ice cream and a hearty spray of basil puree. As the ice cream melds and melts it leaves a wake of tart cheesiness for you to chase after. It’s refreshing, clean and very, very good.
When it comes to main courses two of the three choices come with aligot. This is not your ordinary mashed potato. For one, its special properties include the ability to stretch, comically like Gumby was hiding in your carbohydrates.
You know this, because the waitstaff will bring a shining copper pot to the table and whisk and spin it out in long threads, just to show you how limber it really is.
It then gets plonked on your plate and then indented like a plume. You can either have a somewhat coarse local sausage on the side, or a breast of magret (duck).
To us the sausage is a little dry (but perhaps we’re just spoiled with an antipodean hankering for onion gravy) and the duck is a little past pink. But that doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the mash. Slotting the cheese course into the side dish is a canny move. Though it sits a little like a brick in your stomach.
I remember now we’ve eaten this before; at Bras, in Laguiole. I struggled. The Hungry One, valiantly trudged through two portions then as well.
The regional menu affords you the luxury of choice when it comes to dessert. You can go for anything on the menu. There’s a selection of sorbets and ice creams, from blueberry to macaron flavoured.
There’s a very pretty tian of caramellised plums on a brioche base with creme patisserie.
And then there’s the chocolate mousse.
It’s the stuff of fantastical porn. Pert and alert it stands on the plate; it’s both dense and naughtily dark.
And like the lentils, it too comes in a large bowl that’s left at the table in a gesture of hospitality and generosity.
There’s nothing that The Hungry One likes more than a challenge.
Yes, he ate the whole thing. And didn’t regret a single bite.
The vanquished bowl is collected by the waitstaff with an impressed cock of the eyebrow and nod of the head.
There’s no need to struggle with schoolish french. It seems there are some gestures of appreciation that are universal.
The first of which, is a plate scraped clean.
Parisian fantasy…. fulfilled.
22 Rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare, 75003 Paris
+33 1 42 72 31 22