I might never have made it to Le Comptoir du Relais if not for a football match. Le Comptoir du Relais, celebrity chef Yves Camdeborde’s uber-popular spot in St Germain de Pres, has been a restaurant on my to-go list, especially after watching chef Camdeborde dispense his gruff but sincere advice on MasterChef last season. But the long waits on no-reservation weekday afternoons and weekends had repelled me from joining the line, while the gastronomic dinner service has been booked out so far out in the future (November to be exact) we will have been back in Singapore long before it will be our turn to order.
But last Sunday, as we exited the Moose – a sports bar in Odeon – after watching our football team trash their competition, we walked by Le Comptoir and decided that this was the night we felt invincible enough to conquer the lines. At 7 o’clock on a chilly Sunday evening, a line – tellingly composed of food obsessed tourists – had already been formed. The petite indoor area had been reserved for hotel guests, the 30 or so terrace seats becoming even more valuable real estate, never mind the sub-10 celsius temperatures.
The key to scoring a table at popular places like Le Comptoir is a no-brainer, i.e. to go alone or at most in pairs. We were seated within 30 minutes while the party of 6 before us was turned away with the lady at the front of the house shaking her head violently and insisting that it was impossible to seat them within the next hour. Huddling underneath the heat lamps and the warmth of felt blankets, we worked our way through the comprehensive wine and food list, picking whatever sounded most comforting to eat in the cold.
My duck dodine was a stuffed roll of duck meat encasing meaty gizzards and liver, the meat subtly gamey. Paired with creamy potato puree, slightly tart cooked cherries and a sprinkle of roasted almonds, the dish was rich but not overwhelmingly so.
Like my duck, P’s braised lamb shank was not the most photogenic, but what it lacked in presentation was made up in flavor. Despite having the usual accoutrements of couscous and braised apricots, this version of the North African tagine had a decidedly French flavor, not least from the deeply savory veal broth that flavored the meat and braised it to perfect tenderness.
For desserts, the perles du Japon was a take on rice pudding using small tapioca pearls. I’m accustomed to eating tapioca pearls in Asian desserts, but have never seen it cooked in milk and cream and dressed up with the rhubarb, its tartness refreshing.
P’s gateau russe came in the form of two thin praline filled genoise paired with a scoop of goat’s milk ice cream. We found the genoise dry and lacking in generosity both in terms of portion size and praline flavor. The ice cream, slightly icy and barely sweetened, was excellent however, the tang and funk of goat’s milk apparent in each bite.
Without trying the multi-course gastronomic dinners that the restaurant is famous for, we were nonetheless pleased with the a la carte offerings that reflected simple yet still creative bistro cooking that was chef Camdeborde’s claim to fame. But in Paris’s hyper-competitive dining market where one can easily find restaurants of similar standards but without the hype, we would probably try them first before lining up dutifully outside Le Comptoir the next time we find ourselves sans dinner plans after a football game.
Le Comptoir du Relais St Germain
Address: 9 Carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006, Paris