01 September 2014

coming round again: à la renaissance, 75011

Like any frequent host in Paris, I've learned to grin vacantly through inarticulate endorsements of "little neighborhood bistrots," those magical gold pots every tourist manages to discover at the end of the RER B rainbow. What our clients, friends, and relatives are discovering is usually not quality, but cuteness, for when one arrives in Paris from a New World nation, almost everything appears quite shrunken, frank, and twee. 

Whereas, in reality, the odds of stumbling upon a unambitious, mostly unknown establishment serving sincere and reasonably well-informed food and wine in Paris - the most visited and most discussed restaurant scene on earth - are vanishingly small.    

Yet, astonishingly, that is how I and my friend and colleague Meg Zimbeck of Paris by Mouth both independently came upon A La Renaissance, an anachronistic 11ème bistrot which, in all aspects save prices and opening hours, resembles its anonymous small-town-square archetype. That we hadn't heard of A La Renaissance before wouldn't be surprising, were it not for bistrot's massive natural wine list, and the fact that, almost alone among Paris natural wine spots, it is open past midnight seven days a week. In the revitalized Voltaire area, newly studded with destinations like Septime, Clamato, Bones, and Le Servan, A La Renaissance is an under-acknowledged pioneer.

I might as well come straight out and say that reason A La Renaissance is not more popular is its menu requires some navigation. As with fellow eastside time-capsule restaurant La Boulangerie, pricing at A La Renaissance is on the high side, for what you get. Over the course of several visits this past August (during which dead month the restaurant, impressively, did not close), my usual tactic was to share a not-overpriced plate of charcuterie as an appetiser, following it with a sound steak accompanied by violet mustard.

Basically, I will do anything to avoid overpaying for appetisers involving house-cured salmon and / or diced avocado arriving in a repurposed water glass, which elements are almost as common as frites on outmoded menus in France.

What do you get at A La Renaissance, for your tolerance of simple cuisine? Warm hospitality and a splendid terrace, sunny and un-thronged.

Most importantly, for my purposes, you get a seriously impressive list of natural wines at fair prices, almost unanimously sourced domaine direct by longtime owner Régine Robert.

A La Renaissance owner Régine Robert
A La Renaissance's clientele, at time of writing, is what might be described as village-onzieme, pre-gentrification holdovers whose copious leisure time is spent self-immolating in Ricard and Gitanes. It is the last place one expects to find a brilliantly up-to-date natural wine list. How up-to-date ? During August, the Dominique Belluard's luminescent "Les Alpes" was available by the glass. For 6€, a price that undercuts Paris' more famous restaurants by 25%-50%.

Mme. Robert's tastes embrace both perennial favorites like Jean-François Nicq to underdogs like Beaujolais newcomer Raphael Champier. At times her sway is impressive: A La Renaissance is the only place I've found in Paris proper that stocks Domaine Chamonard, whose winemaker, Jean-Claude Chanudet, refuses to sell to Parisians.

When I returned with friends at Lunch recently, Mme. Robert recommended a marvelous bottle of 2010 Collioure blanc "Vall Pompo" by organic Banyuls winemaker Bruno Duchene.

I've met Duchene on several occasions at Kevin Blackwell's lively tastings at Autour d'Un Verre. I seem always to underestimate his wines, probably on account of their labels, which seem to have resulted from outsourcing graphic design to local pre-schools. The wines look a lot cheaper than they are.

I'd never had the chance to taste this cuvée of Grenache Blanc with a few years' age on it. (It was released in 2011, and is, alas, not sort of bottle that typically gets saved in restaurant cellars.) It was limpid and lovely, with keen acid, and waxen, evolved notes of grapefruit and tarragon.

Many of the serious industry drinkers I know seem to gravitate, after shifts and on their nights off, almost inevitably to Le Mary Celeste, the only other bar I can think of that serves a good wine list quite late every day of the week. That bar will always offer a more reassuringly cosmopolitan experience, and, by no coincidence, a vastly superior fling-pool of ditz tourists and fashionistas on whom to prey.

But with Paris' culinary center of gravity having shifted towards the Voltaire area in recent years, it wouldn't surprise me if A La Renaissance were primed for a mini-renaissance of its own.

When I arrived in Paris five years ago, I sought out bars like Mary Celeste-predecessor Experimental Cocktail Club for late night drinking, because these places assuaged a certain anxiety I seemed to share with many young Parisians - that the city where I lived was somehow outmoded and behind the world. Five years on, I'm no longer as young, and the explosion of crudo-esque cuisine and popcorn shops and natural-by-numbers wine lists has inspired rather the opposite anxiety: that the city where I live is overrun with novelty and superficial gourmandise, blog-food and variations on deviled egg. Whatever happened, I find myself wondering, to drinking and dining simply and unselfconsciously?

These are habits that persist, in places.

87, rue de la Roquette
75011 PARIS
Métro: Voltaire
Tel: 01 43 79 83 09

Related Links: 

Gilles Pudlowski completely misses the point of A La Renaissance in his 2013 post about the restaurant. 


  1. I sat there once in August, mainly due to the "what's open in August?" of Paris By Mouth.
    It was for a quick lunch and I did not look deeply at the wine selection.

    Frankly, I have to say I thought it was a rip-off... 16.5€ for a "thai salad" which was chicken breast, red and white cabbage and corn flakes. The quantity was big, but it was quite bland. The two other salads were respectively 20 and 23.5€ and had really nothing special (the ham was actually not that good).
    The swordfish with veggies was ok, at 26€ or something...
    All in all, 100€ for 4 people just having 4 salads 2 coffees and 2 glasses of wine, in the 11th, I've never seen anything like that...

    We also had a chat that was something like
    "can we see the lunch menu"
    "there is no lunch menu on Sundays or national holidays"
    "well, it's Saturday"
    "oh... there is no lunch menu either".

  2. Excellent post -- so glad you gave a bit of spotlight to this friendly, local spot. I've been there a few times with friends and loved the staff, wine list, and pleasure at being in a place that isn't on everyone's list of restaurants to visit. Though that might change now :)