08 August 2014

insiders: monsieur henri, 75003

I recently lauded fledgling 11ème wine bar Aux Deux Cygnes for bringing a bit of professionalism and style to its gentrification-frontier quartier. If that establishment's location is central to its charm, the same dynamic applies to another new Paris wine bar, the 9-month-old Monsieur Henri, which manages to be impressively discreet despite being tucked right off the haute-Marais beard-groomer thru-way of rue de Bretagne.

The Marais, of course, is stuffed with twee concepts long on design and short on experience. Monsieur Henri, for better and for worse, has these proportions precisely inversed.

Co-owner Dzine Breyet is a fixture in Paris' natural wine scene, having previously worked alonside Guillaume Dupré at influential passage des Panoramas wine bar Coinstot Vino. But where that bar benefits from the evocative décor of Paris' oldest public passage, Monsieur Henri rather unfortunately resembles a corridor in a small-town sports center. Harsh lighting, a low ceiling, and ill-advised primary-coloured wine storage cages all ensure that no one drinking at Monsieur Henri has come for the glamour. In the Marais, this seems to improve the clientele.

Breyet and his co-owning partner Rebecca can't be faulted for excess innovation. Monsieur Henri's menu contains nothing you haven't seen at every other Paris wine bar, at prices reflective of the surrounding quartier. Some effort does seem to have been made to diversify the usual offerings of burrata and charcuterie... With other varieties of burrata and charcuterie.

I'd argue that this is basically as it should be, which is to say it is the menu of a wine bar, and not the menu of a restaurant masquerading as a wine bar.

Befitting Breyet's experience, the natural wine selection at Monsieur Henri is broad, and contains more than a few unusual bottles. There are ups and downs, nonetheless. I made the mistake once of trying Chateau de Coulaine's Chinon blanc before examining the wine's potent 14.5° alcohol. It would have tipped me off: the wine was disjointed, ungainly, and wan, among the worst examples I've ever tried of this moody, niche category of Chenin.

Much more pleasurable was a very traditional, almost rustic sous-voile Arbois Breyet served us on another occasion.

Domaine de Saint Pierre are a 5,5ha estate in the village of Mathenay, north of Poligny. I have the impression that many Jura producers seem to be tilting their production towards ouillé wines these days, preferring to avoid the polarizing flavours of the veil and to compete in a more generalised white-wine marketplace. I can't help but consider this a shame, since those veil flavours are what make Jura wines so intensely distinctive. At any rate, Domaine de Saint-Pierre's 2008 Savagnin de Voile was refreshingly old-school, long and lean, with the characteristic pecorino sardo / sourdough flavours richly in effect.

It wasn't even the only terrific Jura white being offered by the glass that night - I'd spied a magnum of Les Bottes Rouges' Arbois Chardonnay "Léon" in the bar's ample ice bucket.

Ultimately the value of a divey geek wine bar like Monsieur Henri lies in individualist eccentricities like that. Monsieur Henri contains magnums of challenging wines. It offers cult eau de vie de cidre. It is perceptibly run by someone with a passionate investment in the scene.

The bar's décor probably wasn't intended to put off anyone who doesn't share the same passion. If it has that effect, so much the worse for them. The rest of us geeks now have a place for a quiet glass in the Marais after Versant Vins closes in the evenings.

Monsieur Henri
8 Rue de Picardie
75003 PARIS
Métro: Filles du Calvaire
Tel: 01 57 40 67 76

Related Links:

A terse blurb on Monsieur Henri by Emmanuel Rubin at Le Figaro. One wonders what use such a hyper-reductive format of restaurant criticism is to anyone besides Emmanuel Rubin and Le Figaro, who, rather than actually examining a restaurant, merely inform us that they've been there.

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