25 May 2012
When I mentioned to a friend that cave-à-manger pioneers Le Verre Volé were to open an épicerie beside their well-established wine shop location on rue Oberkampf, his initial reaction was, 'Geez, they're taking over the world.'
Then we reflected and realised, no, that wasn't the case at all. Given the high visibility and worldwide renown of their perpetually-thronged cave-à-manger by the Canal Saint Martin, it's actually astonishing that owner Cyril Bordarier hasn't done more with the brand in ten plus years. Total expansion, as far as I know, has until now amounted to the aforementioned wine shop, and a renovation of their dining room in 2010. On the one occasion I tried to purchase several cases of wine from the canal-side location for a nearby shop opening, there wasn't enough of anything in stock* and I had to go elsewhere. Meanwhile, any regular clients of the Oberkampf location will know already that its patron, the other Cyril, a good guy once you get to know him, possesses all the salesmanship and commercial ambition of a hedgehog.
Naturally, all this is incomprehensible to the impatient, money-hungry American in me. Were I the one who'd built up such an iconic purple wine concept, there would be a US and UK import business and a theme park ride by now. On the other hand, that's why Le Verre Volé remains cool: they haven't, as yet, shilled much swill, and their sprezzatura - the art of hospitality without seeming to expend effort - is, for a technical reason, faultless. With their new venture, which officially opens its doors tomorrow, Le Verre Volé is, thankfully, quite unlikely to unsettle its sterling reputation: it is an épicerie, selling cheeses, meats, and other artisanal foodstuffs, along with sandwiches.
My friend Thomas, who seems to possess the magical ability to be present in all three Verre Volé spaces simultaneously, tells me the space formerly sold industrial scales. This explains the lovely high ceilings, and why I'd never seen inside before. Not everything was yet installed when I stopped by the other day; there is to be a large meat slicer and accompanying meat display in a corner of the room.
The products available are mostly familiar to me, some more than others. I'm not sure if Paris needed yet another stockist of Bordier butter. (Surely someone else makes great butter. Why always him? Time for an underdog to become apparent.) But I'm happy to see Ventadour water from Ardêche, having enjoyed it far more than I thought it possible to enjoy water when I first had it at the VV restaurant.
As I hinted above, épiceries are not a category known for outright blockbusters. For every La Grand Epicerie or Eataly or Fortnum & Mason there are, in Paris at least, a thousand tiny fromagiers and Auvergnat traiteurs and overworked Italian food counters. Finding good ones is basically a form of gambling. Unless one gets bulletproof recommendations in the first place, and subsequently catches the proprietors in good moods on slow days, one is liable to pay exorbitant sums for mute cheese and questionable ham, not to mention waste irretrievable hours while the overworked but visibly unhurried owner explains, to a sequence of unworldly half-deaf biddies, what burrata is.
If nevertheless we continue to patronise the little guys, it's because blockbusters are by nature kind of soulless and alienating. L'Epicerie du Verre Volé will already be a boon to the neighborhood and a great success in my book if they manage to attain a somewhat productive middle ground between efficient sale of artisanal food products and the usual "charming" incompetence one encounters.
* Granted, the canal-side location is tiny and is mostly a restaurant, not at all suited to moving caseloads. I'd given them a bit of notice, but perhaps did not express myself clearly enough.
L'Epicerie du Verre Volé
54, rue de la Folie-Mericourt
Metro: Oberkampf or Parmentier
Tel: 01 48 05 36 55
A preview of Le Verre Volé's Epicerie @ DuMorgonDansLesVeines
A mesmerisingly great mag of Hervé Souhaut's "Saint Epine" at Le Verre Volé in 2011
Admitting to liking Ventadour at Le Verre Volé
Drinking Benoit Courault's Grolleau at Le Verre Volé shortly after its renovation in 2010