Quirky, inexpensive, brilliant
Claim to fame: Cooking first class food on a steerage budget
Reason to go: The Fluxus art-like joy of a surprise-packed meal
Look out for: The limited edition tonkatsu lunch sandwich
Paris is full of small and unassuming restaurants, little gems that lurk on backstreets and in unexpected cul-de-sacs, Abri is the textbook example of this. In typical French va te faire foutre-manner their only online presence is a badly updated Facebook page, and if they ever answer their perpetually ringing reservation line it’s a small miracle.. Still, it’s constantly booked to capacity, and if you wish to snag one of their rickety little tables, well, then luck be with you, preferably two months in advance.
Japanese Chef Katsuaki Okiyama trained in several types of restaurants back home before moving to France and cooking at Taillevent, l’Agapé Bistrot and with Joël Robuchon. It was then that a revolutionary idea struck him: he was going to open a restaurant serving sharper food than any other Parisian nouveau-bistro, and, democratically enough, at a lower price point. Pretty radical, n’est pas? But wait, it gets better, he vowed to do this with generous portions of the choicest ingredients. Thus Abri was born, done up with simple-stylish, bare-bones interiors that belie Okiyama’s minute sense of detail. The open kitchen takes up nearly half the space, all the food is transparently prepared before your eyes and each table gets slightly different dishes, based on spontaneous whims and what the chef scoops up on his daily market-run.
The dinner menu is made up of three starters, a fish- and a meat course, and two desserts. All for an unbeatable €48. There is no shortage of high notes in this fine tuned gastronomic chanson; crab, trout roe, scallops, turbot, duck and pedigree chicken, set to a sophisticated back beat of herb-infused oils, seasonal heirloom vegetables and a zippy chorus of rare citrus fruits. Desserts are fresh and clean, rather than sweet and heavy, and the paper-thin chocolate mille-feuille shows off some rare technical skills. Despite the French generosity that lingers over his fare, Chef Okiyama’s Japanese origins are firmly present, they show up in his love for sashimi-style fish and in the complex textural perfection of each and every dish,
Hand-picked, artisan wines make up the rather short drinks list whose curiously modest prices are almost too good to be true. Also curious: the Saturday-only, no-menu, no-resy, lunchtime gimmick. Okiyama and his team crank out nothing but hot tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) sandwiches on toasted Japanese brioche, layered with vegetable omelette, Mimolette cheese, shredded red cabbage, homemade mayo, coarse mustard as well as a sweet and sour sauce. It’s become the stuff of legend, so perfectly harmonious and addictive that regulars travel across town for it. Be warned: they only make 55 each day, if you snooze, you loose…