Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10
Locavore approved? YES- Chef Bertrand Grebaut worked under Alain Passard, where he learned the ropes of local-inspired cuisine. Now at Septime, he is churning out a "mystery menu" that changes every day that he creates based on the freshest ingredients. This concept is a real locavore pleaser!
Septime was our first restaurant stop in Paris which was an interesting choice since it serves anything but traditional french cuisine. Instead, with Bertrand Grebaut, Septime has become the avant-gard bistro that everyone is talking about.
Septime is located near Bastille in the 11th arrondissement, in an "up and coming" area with many hip restaurants and bars. We appreciated that it wasn't in the typical tourist district and that it was a mere 25 minute walk from our apartment in Le Marais.
The outside is plain fairly indiscrete and it would be easy to pass by without a second look if you did not knew what awaited you inside. Similarly, the inside decor is quite minimalist with wood tables and plain white walls. Although it was simple, I quite enjoyed the "no frills" vibe which was congruent the restaurant's purpose and its food philosophy.
Contrary to what we had been told about the Paris restaurant experience, Septime offered very friendly and personable service. The servers wore jeans and sneakers under their blue serving aprons to match their laissez-faire yet attentive style of service. They offered good descriptions of all of our dishes (in english) and graciously answered all of our food questions. As was the custom at several of the other places that we visited on our trip, we were told ahead of time that we would be limited to 2 hours at our table, but when we went a bit later, we were still offered coffees and were not rushed out.
We had heard that Septime was one of the hardest tables to get so we were surprised when we arrived for our 7:30 reservation to find the place only a third full. We then realized that it was the night of the FIFA game between France and Algeria so patrons were occupied elsewhere, but even so, guests began trickling in within the next hour until the space was completely full by the time we left just after 9:30. So even if you do not manage to snag a reservation, it may be worthwhile to head over later in the evening as a walk-in to try your luck.
The dinner menu is about as straightforward as it gets. The offering is a "carte blanche" menu of 5 courses for 58 euros that changes almost nightly. Although some may not like putting themselves totally in the hands of the chef, I welcomed the surprise and really admired the chef's ambition. Even with the set menu, we were asked about any dietary restrictions/intolerances/dislikes and they very graciously catered to my pescatarian request. It seemed as though they were even willing to take strong dislikes into account so it is worth speaking up if you have any.
In addition to the "carte blanche", there is also two optional courses, a charcuterie plate to start and a cheese plate for dessert, but for us, the 5 courses was more than enough.
Throughout our entire meal, the food continued to impress us. It was not only delicious but beautifully presented, expertly prepared and, my favourite part, it was very unique. I marvelled at the use of many herbs that I had never seen before and the combination of ingredients used. I am not usually a fan of broths but, when they made their way onto 2 of our 5 dishes, they were admittedly the star component. I was blown away by the way the dishes could be both simple in their use of seasonal ingredients yet so complex in flavour.
Here is a description of the dishes that we enjoyed on our visit:
Cured white fish, currants, cream- How can something so simple be made to taste so good? The olive oil and salt on the fish brought out its flavour which was complimented nicely by the sweetness of the currants.
Foie gras, almonds, tomato broth- Between the delicate broth and the sweet pop of the charred tomatoes, the tomato flavour in this dish was blew me away. The foie was replaced by a poached egg for my pescatarian version, which made the tomato broth that much more delicious.
Octopus, eggplant puree, onion- We had previously never had octopus as the star of a main and I must admit that we were a bit apprehensive at first, but this dish ended up not only being our favourite dish of the meal but also a standout of our whole trip. The tender, not-at-all chewy piece of octopus was like nothing I had ever tasted, and I just loved the charred flavour. Everything else on the plate, including the sweetest onion I have ever tasted, knocked this dish right out of the park.
Lamb, greens, goat cheese- This was the only miss of the evening in Hubby's opinion, due to the extremely fatty piece of lamb that he found practically inedible. This may have been more of a personal taste issue, especially when the meat was combined with goat cheese which is also not his thing. Having said that, my pescatarian dish had braised lettuce in the place of the lamb and I did enjoy it, although not to the same degree as the others.
Red berry sorbet, berries, cucumber broth- Cucumber with dessert? Believe me, it works and it elevated a simple sorbet to something very special. A perfect, refreshing summer dessert.
Chocolate sorbet, crumble, honey- After such a light, "healthy-tasting" first dessert, it was nice to get a little chocolate treat at the end. With the honey and crumble, it was a few bites of heaven.
Never have I experienced a meal that has left me so bewildered yet so incredibly satisfied. The flavour combinations that we were offered should not have worked together, but somehow they did, and created some of the best dishes on our trip. Of all the places that we visited, this place was the restaurant that I am most excited to return to on our next visit to Paris as I yearn to find out what else Chef Grabaut is dreaming up in his genius mind.
If you are searching for a place that will leave you surprised, excited and inspired, Septime is calling your name.