With the mercury punching above 100, Paris’ terraces are mercilessly packed with sun-seekers from dawn till long after dusk. But this great little place that just opened along the Canal Saint Martin still has a few spots left for the taking, although not for long.
A cross between a South Floridian speakeasy and a cool contemporary Tokyo eatery, Cartel isn’t to be confused with the neighborhood’s fencing group or the new 8th-arrondissement nightclub. Modeled after a Japanese izakaya bar with more covers and a touch of prohibition era glamour, the slick contemporary interiors by Alexander Schrepfer and Feng Shui master Carine Lamassourie are an understated play on contemporary Asian and European cultures.
For their second project, Flavie Layer and Mélodie Arsene of Marais bistro Mère et Filles have teamed up with chef Sourasack ‘Sou’ Phongphet, who puts together an array of light tapas “japonisante” that burst with flavor and freshness.
Originally from Laos capital Vientiane, Sou trained in Switzerland and then moved to Paris, where he worked at various Japanese restaurants, including Akasaka (16th arrondissement) before opening restaurants Ploum (permanently closed) and SoMa. “Because I’m not Japanese, no one was convinced about my being able to succeed in Japanese cuisine. But it’s the things I know nothing about that inspire me – so I persevered,” says the chef from behind his fresh fish counter, a cheeky glint in his gentle eyes. With his cap on sideways, he’s focused on slicing and dicing our Chinchard fish, shiso leaf tartare, and butterfish sashimi starters.
The space itself is compact, but artfully designed. Backed by a green marble and glass fish counter that runs into a chunky brass-topped bar stocked with enough tipple for rustling up all sorts of exotic cocktails, along with the sparkly light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, create a smart Art Deco style. The main feature however, is the whimsical dining space enclosed in what looks like an abstract birdcage. Closed off by black rope, the space opens out onto the terrace that lines the pavement. Wooden benches with golden yellow leather backs run along the walls, the most adorable black miniature teapots holding soya sauce atop each table.
With most of the tables already taken, my lunching partner Solcito and I grab a place to sit by the door. As we tuck in, cars zoom by along the canal with its blue waters glistening in the sunlight, and together with the stifling heat it’s just like sitting in a restaurant of Kyoto’s Pontocho neighborhood in the height of summer.
After the delectable raw fish tapas, Stéphane (formerly a chef at Soya), who oversees things in the kitchen downstairs, brings us melt-in-the-mouth half-cooked Teriyaki Angus beef, of which we are still fantasizing weeks later. Finished off with a combawa (kaffir lime) pain perdu dessert topped with berries and cream, it’s the perfect moorish note to end our healthy meal on.
Located on the quai de Valmy but away from the main bustle, nothing here is overly fancy, and yet everything’s in the details, like the slanted-edge bistro tables, the smart green embossed menus that match the marble bar, and the soya sauce teapots. The deliciously light fare is top standard and comes at reasonable prices too, with individual plates from 5 to 16 euro and a prix fixe menu at 14.90 euro.
And if you miss your chance to nab a spot at the first-class contemporary Japanese eatery before the Parisian in crowd comes rushing in droves, worry not as the trio’s got another opening on the way.
Cartel – 153 Quai de Valmy, 75010. Tel: +33 (0)1 58 20 00 11
- How to pass the time and enjoy a weekend along Paris’ Canal Saint-Martin.
- Rooksana also checks out the trendy terrace at Brasserie Barbès.
- Did you know that Paris has a Little Tokyo neighborhood just north of the Palais Royal?