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Captain Caveman

Sometimes when I’m hungry and wondering what restaurant will suit for the evening, I don’t go to a restaurant. I go to a Cave.

A favourite blog tells me that everything cool in Paris was made popular by Americans and is mostly manufactured by the Chinese. That really made me laugh. But while it may hold true for converse shoes it ain’t true for the distinctly French phenomenon of the neighbourhood Caviste Table d’Hôte. The wino meets the foodie. Sounds like heaven? Read on.

Paris has a crop of these, and they’re very à la mode. If you’re staying in the city for a while, I highly recommend trying one or two. Mostly because in those Caves are lurking some of the city’s most obsessive foodies, plying their trade at prices several hundred € below the big Michelin-star prices. At the Verre Volé recently, the server answered my comment that the shrimp tasted particularly fresh by returning with two fistfuls of live wriggling critters fished that morning in Brittany. They hit the frying pan still breathing. That was almost as fun as the look of deranged glee on his face as he cantered on about the menu. Freshness, provenance, taste, originality—it’s contagious when people are obsessive about these things.

The Cave A Vin ambience is generally a perfect Parisian mixture of dingy, divey, cultured, and stylish. Boho meets gourmet. I’m amazed no one has died on the treacherous steps down to the Verre Volé toilet, while the walls of the loo in the Chapeau Melon are so humid they’re probably trying to get a noble rot culture growing in there. But the food can be excellent. And take a look for yourself. The pictures above are from the Chapeau Melon. It may not be sleek and slick, but it’s not lacking in its own true sense of style, least of all on the plate. The others are the same: neighbourhood posters, obscure bottles, trinkets and antique knick-knacks is the accepted mise-en-scène.

The Chapeau Melon is far enough out of the way in the 17th to be devoid of hipsters on a rainy winter night (ourselves excluded, of course). It often has a real neighbourhood feel. Le Verre Volé on the other hand, is near the Canal St Martin, and is in danger of becoming too popular. La Crémerie in St Germain is already passé, my dear. La Cave Edmond, in the 15th, is just too far out of the way for anyone to know about it (except me – Trufflepig’s office is upstairs). No doubt there are many more.

The same skills that go into running a great wine shop with a furious attention to detail and quality, seem to apply to producing a good menu, even if there’s no choice. Personally, if the quality’s there, and flexibility is shown for genuine allergies and the like, it doesn’t bother me at all to have little or no selection. This is the right kind of cave-dwelling.

Jack does occasionally think about things other than food and drink. Email him if you suffer from the same problem, he’d be happy to commiserate. 

A perfect Parisian mixture of dingy, divey, cultured, and stylish. Boho meets gourmet.

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