Wining and dining in unforgettable style chez Septime
If I were to say that getting a table at Septime is comparable to winning the lottery, or finding a €50 note on the pavement, I’d be exaggerating only slightly, but oh gosh it is well worth jumping through all those hoops to try for a reservation… This Michelin-starred restaurant continues to be one of the very best places to eat in the whole of Paris, and is showing no signs of losing its momentum or letting too many cooks spoil the broth – far from it.
I’ll save the lengthy explanations of the obstacle-strewn course of action needed to actually step inside n° 80, rue de Charonne in the up-and-coming 11th neighbourhood until the end, but in the meantime can still remember all too vividly the first time of entering the restaurant. A couple for whom I had made a reservation had to change their plans just two hours before their date night, so although it was a shame they needed to postpone their dinner, being able to take up their table last minute turned into a memorable evening and the start of a whole new gastronomic adventure – and avoided charges being levied for the client, to boot!
People talk about industrial chic all the time these days, and the atmosphere at this contemporary restaurant is just that: large, airy paned windows look onto a spacious eating area that is divided almost in two by a mirrored partition facing towards the bar on one side, with a whimsical spiral staircase on the other. Reminiscent of an old warehouse, there are walls of cement, steel finishings, unfinished wooden tables and industrial-styled lighting, all enhanced by a vintage look decorated with unequal-sized glass jars and seasonal bouquets of wild flowers. Glowing candles nestle next to unfussy tableware, and the menus are served up on rough office clipboards.
All of this is all fine and marvellous, but is of lesser importance in reality, because although the relaxed ambiance plays a large part in settling the happy diners at their tables, Septime is all about the food and the service. Brilliant chef Bertrand Grébaut is one of the new generation of highly talented players on the French scene, and formerly worked with la crème de la crème in the industry – most notably chez Joël Robuchon, at Arpège’s Alain Passard and then at L’Agapé – after completing a literary degree and formerly working as a graphic designer. The atmosphere in his semi-open kitchen oozes confident concentration and you get a sense of the clear precision that is reflected in all the dishes coming out front of house. Everyone in the brigade team is in command at their individual stations, and there is a well-oiled sense of general calm and efficient dexterity .
The menu every time is a thing of beauty. A series of small plates of perfectly balanced and harmonious dishes come streaming out of the kitchen, and are perfectly explained by the waiter/waitress and accompanied by ambrosial wines. Everything is seasonally chosen and the ingredients are left to speak for themselves, with a predilection for unfussy presentation and a perfect blend of tastes and textures.
It feels sacrilegious to suggest that Septime is not for everyone, but if your tastes run to fully vegetarian or vegan dishes, then this is not really the best place to spend an evening. The restaurant will be able to cater for your requirements, no problem, and at the time of booking will always ask if there are any allergies or specific no-go’s, but the “menu de dégustation” is definitely more suited to a carnivorous palate, with dinner comprising a succession of seven dishes.
When it comes to the bill, it’s pretty well all good news here too. Lunch is priced at €42 for the 4-plate tasting menu, while dinner will set you back €80, plus wine from the extensive list of largely natural choices. By Parisian standards, it’s very good value for money for a 1-Michelin starred establishment that is also ranked this year as N° 40 Best Restaurant in the world, and winner of the Sustainable Restaurant award in 2017. So where’s the catch?
TAKING THE BULL BY THE HORNS
So here lies the rub : online reservations are almost impossible to get. Septime has a very rigorous booking system which works well for them, but which makes securing a table here the trickiest in the whole city. Firstly, reservations are taken by telephone precisely 21 days before the required day of the booking. Tuesday to Friday the phone line opens at 10:00 on the dot, and on Mondays the scrummage is even worse when the hotline is only accessible from 17:30 just before the evening service.
If you do manage to get through before the final table has gone (my record has been 121 dialling attempts; success rate is excellent for a table for 2, and still pretty good but much more challenging for groups of 4 and 6), you then need to be able to pass on credit card details and await the confirmation email to be sure that all is in order. Your table is re-confirmed by automatic email 48 hours before your dinner appointment.
Clear as mud? It’s a fairly stressful procedure, but the satisfaction levels soar through the roof on successful completion of the mission, and the feedback from happy guests makes everything all worthwhile. Ben wrote to enthuse after his dinner to say “We can’t thank you enough for arranging a wonderful dinner at Septime. The service and food was truly exquisite. We could not have done this without you. Thank you again!”, while Sarah reported back, “Hi Nicola, I just wanted to let you know that we had a fabulous time at Septime last night. We absolutely loved it. Thank you for all your efforts to secure the reservation”. It’s my pleasure.
If I can be of assistance with lunch or dinner bookings or for recommendations of other watering holes in Paris, email me at nicola.heretostay.info – I will be happy to help.
P.S. Just in case there is no room at the inn, it’s well worth considering eating at the sister restaurant Clamato just next door – no reservations taken, so you need to take your chance on the night, but the seafood is excellent. And Septime also has a small but perfectly formed wine bar just around the corner if all else fails…
All photos by Nicola Collarile.