13 April 2016

sign of the times: jones, 75011

When the partners involved in Voltaire gastronome-magnet Restaurant Bones decided to go their separate ways last summer, remaining co-owner and Père Populaire kingpin Florent Ciccoli considered selling the business. Instead, after what seemed like months of faintly dubious "close-out" sales of the restaurant's wine cellar, Ciccoli decided to hop in the kitchen himself and reopen the restaurant with a very, very slight name change.

It's a daring move for a number of reasons, not least because very few chefs would relish withstanding direct comparison with the sophisticated culinary highs of previous chef James Henry. But a flair for improvisation has long been both the Pères Populaires group's greatest asset and its most wobbly liability.

For anyone wondering, Ciccoli's cuisine at the newly-rebaptised restaurant Jones does not withstand direct comparison to Henry's at Bones. But nor should it. Jones succeeds most convincingly where it departs most from the former restaurant's blueprint. Gone is Bones' sometimes churlish service; gone is the maximalist glass-pour selection; gone are set-menus and mandatory reservations. What one finds in place of these things is an inviting and unpretentious spot for free-form, last-minute dinners, enlivened by an undiminished natural wine list and, one presumes, many of the former restaurant's product purveyors. The populist format fits the times: the citizens of Paris' 11ème arrondissement can be proud that, in 2016, things like skin-macerated Savoie wines and fish heads have become almost mainstream.

Jones' menu - a selection of small plates supplemented by charcuterie, slightly larger plates, and the odd huge plate - sees it joining the extended list of restaurants essentially replicating the enduring formula of James Henry-era Au Passage. (Entrée des Artistes, Martin, etc.)

The best dishes dial down the complexity to play to Ciccoli's crowd-pleasing instincts as well as his technical limitations. I generally bemoan the profuse blobs of sub-par burrata currently clogging restaurant menus citywide, but Jones' blob has an inventive presentation, bedecked in basil shreds and shirasu, or baby anchovies.

A dish of asparagus with ricotta and trout eggs, meanwhile, was marred only by edible flowers that, while pretty, added a whiff of pretension to an otherwise straightforward and delicious preparation.

Ciccoli has worked as a chef before and possesses training for the métier. But certain dishes testify to how long he's been out of the kitchen. It's hard to take the joy out of pork belly, but the generous portion on offer at Jones is cruelly denied any acidity whatsoever.

One almost hears the deceased pig bleating out demands for cider vinegar, or sauerkraut, anything more than mere sesame seeds and raw cabbage. 

Most of Jones' missteps are on this order - a certain mild, hasty insensitivity. Menu prices are mostly fair, with the odd dish punching in above its merits. Wine bottles prices haven't changed, but some of the glass-pour mark-ups seem ambitious. (8€ for a glass of Rémi Dufaitre's Brouilly.)

To be fair, Jones' opened with the previous restaurant's finances on its back, whereas Paris restaurants often open with a limited period of lower mark-ups already budgeted in. 

Jones' wine list remains basically exactly the same as Bones. It's still an encyclopedia of on-trend natural wine selections, although bright and personable new sommelier Jess Hodge has the unenviable task, before putting much of her own imprint on the list, of running through what I understand were rather large acquisitions made by the former Bones sommelier.

On the night I visited Jones I enjoyed a few glasses of balanced, refreshing pinot noir rosé by Domaine d'Edouard, an Auxerre estate run by Edouard Lepesme, a protogé and frequent négoçiant grape source of Alice and Olivier de Moor. Expect to see a lot more Lepesme's wines in the near future, as his Paris agent (who also represents the de Moors) has taken up the habit of delivering his wines to clients who request the de Moor's more tightly-allocated production. As long as the wines are as pleasant as this easy, peachy, lightly herbal rosé, I'm not complaining.

From my perch at the bar the other evening it was hard not to marvel at how the restaurant's ambience and clientele has changed since Henry's departure and the name change. Among the folks perched at the wine bar's communal tables were families with young children. Music was low. The staff, mostly female now, serve with welcoming smiles. Could it be that the clientele for Henry's cuisine was so much younger, more international, more swaggering?

Of course not. Towards the end of the meal it finally occurred to me that, since Henry's departure, another, more significant development has occurred in the 11ème arrondissement, namely the November 2015 terrorist attacks, which caused a massive decline in tourism and a corresponding drop in demand for internationally-savvy restaurant tables in Paris. Most restaurateurs I've spoken to here have put a positive spin on things, explaining that for every tourist who cancels a table there's been a native Parisian couple who, encouraged by the relaxing of reservation difficulties, decides to dine out.

Citywide, this has probably led to lower check averages, longer table turns, and more questions about what burrata is. But I can certainly sympathise with anyone who avoids highly-hyped restaurants: often it's just not worth paying dearly to beg harried young servers for menus and water refills on what is meant to be a quiet night off. Given the choice between unforgettable cuisine with stressful ambience, or merely tasty cuisine without hassle, I'd often choose Jones. 

43, rue Godefroy Cavaignac
75011 PARIS
Métro: Voltaire
Tel: 09 80 75 32 08

Related Links:

The dear departed Bones, 75011.
Au Passage, 75011.

Time Out complained about the pricing of certain dishes at Jones.

Even utterly non-critical food publicity organ Le Fooding felt moved to say a word about the inconsistency of the cuisine at Jones.

Some sumptuous photos of Jones' cuisine at Paris Bouge.

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