Chosen by my now-husband (woo-hoo!), this destination in central Paris was selected so that we could while away dinnertime in a modern yet Zen environment, meaning that we could avoid the strike day traffic and head home later. I had not been to this restaurant before; he had been once, and only for lunch. It would therefore be fair to say that this choice was a bit of a wildcard.
We eat cuisine from all around the world (and cook it at home, too), but while thanks to my past travels I am as well acquainted with sticky rice and Thai wine as I am with grits and sticky toffee puddings, it’s probably also fair to say that we’re not exactly experts on Asian cuisine. We are, however, always willing to try (openmindedness always being a handy thing to have on side).
Literally translated as “Food-lovers’ corner”, Au Coin des Gourmets is cooperative (we rang only fifteen minutes in advance, on a Friday night, to book a table, and they were able to accommodate us), efficient (service was faultless) and discreet. An Asian haven (and hey, that rhymes…sort of), it plays host to food from a variety of Indo-Chinese countries, including Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, so there is plenty of choice for the adventurous while still providing comfort to the timid (rice, beef and pork all appear in familiar forms as well as in styles that are perhaps lesser-known in the West).
We each plumped for a €30 set menu, his from Laos and mine from Cambodia. However, even though my starter was a beef salad and his was a squid salad, we both seemed to have been provided with a one-size-fits-all very peppery sauce, which didn’t quite strip out the inside of your throat, but which we would have maybe been happier with if it had been toned down a little. The beef was perfectly-cooked, not being too rare or tough. With my main course arrived the other extreme, my minced pork being (in my view) too bland. It was soaked in a red, oily sauce which I had expected to taste of sweet chilli or something similar, but which in fact did not really taste of anything. The accompaniment, although similarly bland, was much more interesting: it appeared to be regular boiled rice which had then been deep-fried, and all of the individual grains of rice were visible in this massive fossilised block (which was impressive, even if, as I said, a little flavourless). It was certainly up there with my experiences of Interesting Food.
My husband appeared to have played it safe, having got through his more conventional main course of beef and standard boiled rice and gone through to his dessert of cooked mango and two quenelles of some sort of rice pudding. The mango, to me, tasted more like guava or papaya, not apparently having the rich sweetness that mango ordinarily possesses. However, my dessert was not so successful, with me being given a flan which did not really taste of anything much except egg; not being a massive fan of egg, I ended up leaving most of it on the plate, with even my husband declaring that his dessert was better.
The three-course extravaganza for me and my husband, along with a half-litre of Badoit between us and a perfectly drinkable glass of Pinot Noir for me, brought the total bill to €68, which was perhaps a little on the steep side. However, I would still give this place another try: its mix of cuisines is ingenious and memorable, and it really appears that how much you enjoy what you get is down to the luck of the draw, so I’d definitely encourage you to give it a try if you happen to enjoy living dangerously.
Au Coin des Gourmets, 38 rue Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris
telephone: 00 33 1 42 60 79 79