Our man in Paris

The idea of opening and running a restaurant in Paris wasn't something I'd planned. But after a year as head chef at Au Passage, I started getting offers from local restaurateurs. I wanted to focus on the sort of minimalist, produce-driven small plates I'd become known for, so I spoke with a couple of the owners of Au Passage, and we decided to do something together.

This is my first time opening a restaurant. It's my baby. I didn't want to do anything too pretentious or chichi. I wanted a casual, accessible place to showcase the sort of food we wanted to do, in an environment I'd like to spend time in - no artifice, no distraction. We found a place in the 11th arrondissement. It isn't a traditionally chic area, but it's gentrifying. I'd say it's one of the richest areas for food in Paris, but this has only happened in the last six or seven years since Le Chateaubriand moved to Avenue Parmentier, and there's also Septime, Au Passage, Aux Deux Amis, among others.

The potential of the space took us from the start. There was a lot to do, which was scary, but it's got good bones and that's where the name, Bones, came from. The space is split-level, which was perfect because I wanted to create two environments in one, and having two levels enabled that: there's the bar, which is very much about a raw bar feel, with freshly shucked oysters, sea urchin, and house-cured charcuterie, and the restaurant where we do a set menu for 25 people a night. Hopefully their energy will affect each other - be able to bounce off each other. I wanted a space where I could push myself creatively in terms of food. And Paris gives you that opportunity. People are willing to try new things.

There's been a restaurant here since the early 1900s, and for the last 25 years it was an Irish restaurant-slash-bar. It was pretty horrible, with a bar with Astroturf across the front. It has stone walls with antique butcher's tiles coming up halfway and beautiful old street lights mounted on the wall. It's unassuming but it has a bit of charm. We tried to highlight the natural aspects of the building itself, so a lot has been done, but little to change the general feel.

We've done most of the work ourselves because we didn't have a huge budget. Being so hands-on has been rewarding and it reflects the way we work in the kitchen, churning our own butter and making our own sourdough, which is unusual in Paris. The hardest bit has been people's expectations. There's been a lot of focus on what Bones will be like. When Le Figaro announced its food predictions for 2013, it ran a half-page on me and the restaurant before we'd even opened.

My focus is always the best produce in simple dishes: barbecued eel with beetroot, egg and leeks, red mullet served with a sauce of its own liver and fennel, poached veal rump with dandelion, anchovies and onions. I've found the sort of suppliers I want to work with who deliver the best.

There's an exciting change in the way restaurants are run in Paris. There's a move away from the fine-dining mentality. People aren't really chasing Michelin stars or big bourgeois dining rooms. It's becoming much more about eating in comfortable spaces.

You can go to a great restaurant a few times a month and it won't hurt your wallet. A three- or four-course lunch at an incredible restaurant like Septime costs 30 euros.

It's much more affordable to run a restaurant in Paris, so that's passed on to the diner. It comes down to things like staff costs and definitely rental costs. The rent is incredibly cheap for my new place. And the biggest desire for me is to make my restaurant accessible. You want to be able to offer the best food you can, but you want people to be able to come a couple of times a month, if they'd like to.

It's much more common for people to go out during the week here. I like the social dynamic of the city. And because it's such a cultural hub in terms of fashion and art and food, it attracts interesting people. There's always something happening - gallery openings, restaurant launches.

The lead-up to opening Bones went pretty smoothly and I've been really happy with the whole experience. The most daunting part has been the weight of expectation. It would've been nice to feel more anonymous, but it's not a bad problem to have either. It means people are coming through the door.

It all seemed to happen so quickly. I moved to Paris two years ago, just for an experience. Now my life has completely changed. And this is only the beginning, I suppose.



Newsletter

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
Donovan Cooke opens new restaurant Ryne in Melbourne
10.10.2017
KingFish opens, sampling poke, hip-hop and matcha treats
07.09.2017
Bridge Bon Appetit, the latest addition to Hubert, opens tonight
06.09.2017
Get to know Orana, Australia's Restaurant of the Year 2018
25.08.2017
Pinbone teams up with Merivale for a new pop-up
15.08.2017
Melbourne is now home to a Champagne vending machine
11.08.2017
GT
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for fresh dinner ideas? Not sure how to make the most out of seasonal produce? Or do you need to plan the perfect party menu? Our recipe collections have you covered.

See more

You might also like...

Albert Street Food & Wine

Philippa Sibley may have left the building, but Albert St F...

Aravina Estate

The family-friendly nature of Aravina explains the terracot...

Assaggio

Assaggio's very red, very mod fit-out has undeniable flair,...

Annie Smithers' Bistrot

Annie Smithers may have decamped for Du Fermier, but the bi...

Bacchus - Brisbane

Rydges doesn't exactly leap to mind when you think "complex...

Balla

Pronounce it "bah-la" for Piedmont-born artist and composer...

Balthazar

The mixing of business and pleasure comes second nature to ...

Boucher

Escargots, foie gras, bouillabaisse - the expected French s...

Carlton Wine Room

The relaxed ambience and witty, irreverent service may say ...

Celsius

A land of smoke and mirrors, Celsius is an urbane, nightclu...

Citron

Mark Newman's cassia beef cheek is the type of dish that ce...

Divido

To those who dream of the old country, Divido is the modern...

David’s

David's hums with renewed energy since its transformation t...

Eleonore’s

On the surface, Eleonore's seems immune to fashion. Its lar...

E'cco

Two decades is a long time to stay on top of your game in t...