20 April 2015

time is nye: yard, 75011

A friend who edits a fashion magazine once said to me, apropos of my blog, "I love it. But I never have any idea what you're talking about or whether you like a place. Could you just put a rating at the top or something?"

I've never been tempted to do this, because it would imply a hierarchical order to restaurant experiences that simply isn't there. I have however long been tempted to publish a running list of the Paris restaurants to which I find myself returning most often.*

In pride of place on this list, lately, is YARD, Jane Drotter's ever-evolving jewel of a bistrot by Père Lachaise. The cuisine used to be homey and neighborly under chef Fabrice Mellado. Then Australian chef Shaun Kelley arrived in spring of last year and emblazoned the address in the Paris dining firmament by dint of his ultra-contemporary kitchen smarts. Kelly passed like a comet, however, moving on too soon to make much impact, and since last November, YARD's kitchen has been run by young British chef Nye Smith. Belying his youth, and a résumé includes stints at London hotspots Moro and Koya, Smith's cuisine at YARD is neither precocious nor internationalist. Less austere than that of his predecessor, perceptibly more pleasure-oriented, it strikes a balance between sophistication and accessibility that couldn't be better suited to YARD. I think it's this rare synergy, combined with Drotter's expanding natural wine list and peerless hospitality, that makes each visit a uniquely enjoyable experience.

* List duly included after the jump.

Two very different appetizers offer a gloss of Smith's stylistic versatility. On the one hand you have tender smoked trout with horseradish and sliced beet, a spare and modest dish whose only gestures at innovation (for Paris) are the Slavic wink of the horseradish, and the fact that it is not salmon. 

On the other hand Smith is wont to propose gloriously uncomposed dishes like a generous salad of veal ribbons, fennel, and green apple. Its flavours were as harmonious as its presentation was cacophonic, and it captured the charm of kitchen-thrift, of repurposed components, that one finds in the best staff-meals.

Meanwhile, a lamb shoulder with carrots and harissa I had back in January remains the loveliest dish I've consumed all year. In its perfect crisp, in its addictively succulent fat, in its sweetly-spiced accompaniments, it was an absolute tour-de-force for Smith's talents.

I've since learned that pretty much all meat leaving his kitchen does so at perfect temp, with nary an inedible knuckley-bit. It's worth remarking too that lamb with harissa is by no means an innovative or showy dish; it succeeds purely on the strength and sensitivity of the execution. An affable eccentric with a penchant for sporting dandyish suits in his off-time, Smith seems refreshingly free of the impulse to impress fellow chefs with exotic ingredients or daring plating.

Drotter's wine list, meanwhile, keeps growing. Where it was once barely half a page long, it's now begun to show a some breadth.

Drotter has embraced the youthful vanguard of France's natural wine scene, working with many winemakers represented in Paris by agents Fleur Godart and Clovis Ochin. This has its drawbacks, in that the pair's wines have become somewhat ubiquitous in young restaurants in east Paris. But Drotter's support pays off in healthy allocations of the stars of each portfolio, namely François Saint-Lô and Patrick Bouju, respectively. I admit to having somewhat overindulged in my share of the latter's stunning Auvergnat Chardonnay, a cuvée entitled "The Blanc," whose oxidative heft is no barrier to its nervy acid, its vivid tropical fruit or its saline tang. It's a perennial favorite, easily surpassing the whites of Bouju's Auvergnat peers, and I wish there were more of it.

Enough, say, for it to feature in all of my increasingly frequent visits to YARD.  

Someone explain to me how the pies at YARD have stayed so supremely excellent through the chef change? 

6 Rue de Mont-Louis
75011 PARIS
Tel: 01 40 09 70 30

Related Links: 

An April 2014 post on YARD under Shaun Kelly

Wendy Lyn of The Paris Kitchen on Nye Smith's work at YARD.

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