I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a quirky store or hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Paris and thought, “How does that place stay in business?” And I mean that as the highest compliment.
While commerce in the rest of the world seems to be accelerating at a highly unpleasant rate, Parisian proprietors, on the other hand, know how to slow down—and still manage to survive.
Olivier Camus’ Le Chapeau Melon is one such place. I first visited three years ago, just after I moved to Paris. The warm reception, perfect filet de boeuf, and eye-opening bottle of Morgon solidified my notion that I had come to the right city.
When I finally returned this spring, I was reminded all over again why Paris is the best place to eat in the world: nothing had changed. And rightly so—why mess with a good thing?
Camus (who is also involved with foodie hub Le Baratin, just up the street from Le Chapeau Melon in Belleville) is known as one of Paris’ most dedicated cavistes and as an early proponent of the natural wine movement that is now sweeping the city. Le Chapeau Melon began as a wine store and evolved into a table d’hôte that now serves a €32.50 prix fixe menu (Wednesday-Saturday) and an à la carte selection on Sundays.
It’s not a coincidence that “In Vinas No Veritas” is emblazoned on the wall above the door. Beginning at around €11 a bottle, the cave’s selection of French and Italian wines is diverse and thoughtfully selected, with many organic options available and a reasonable corkage fee (€8.50). We opted, however, to try out a few different wines by the glass—a Chardonnay pétillant, a crisp Derain Chablis, a 2009 Guillot Bourgogne—to accompany the different courses.
First up was a super fresh pair of oysters adorned with a Japanese ginger relish, followed by the entrée (a tomato-sardine tartelette for me and a pork carpaccio with a creamy anchovy-lemon sauce for G). For our main courses, we tried the lamb with a delicate mint and coconut sauce, and a joue de boeuf in broth with winter vegetables. Both were well cooked, unpretentiously presented, and quickly devoured.
Jerome, our friendly waiter, took the time to chat with us about the menu and the origin of its incredibly offerings: the duck came from Rouen, the pork from Pays Basque, and the fish from Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Regional sourcing at its best.
By international standards (and even by Parisian standards) the service was frightfully slow, but perhaps that’s the point of Le Chapeau Melon. There is no table turnover, and as a result, the place takes on a “dinner party” ambiance where patrons linger over each spoonful. Over the course of the evening, you have plenty of time to analyze your fellow diners (a laid back international crowd) and to debate nihilism and the international drug trade (as we did).
After the three-hour meal, we strolled along the Rue de Belleville (downhill, not up), comforted by the thought that Paris still provides places where we can slow down and, simply, sit.
Le Chapeau Melon
92, rue Rebeval, 75019
Métro: Jourdain, Pyrénées, Belleville & Buttes Chaumont
Open: Wed – Sun for dinner
Written by Tory Hoen for the HiP Paris Blog. Julien Hausherr is a photographer based in Paris, specializing in architecture, still-life and reporting. Contact: [email protected]. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.