Wed 29 Aug 2012
69, rue des Gravilliers, in the 3rd Arrondissement.
01 44 61 91 95. Dinner nightly; lunch, Sun–Fri.
Sometimes the Paris food world can take itself a little too seriously. Plenty of Paris bistros will wedge you into an armless upright chair, between side-by-side wooden tables, with the usual suspects listed on the menu like a shopping list: foie gras, pâté, charcuterie. When I’m going out with a group or celebrating a friend’s birthday, I like a little more oomph to my meal and atmosphere. Derrière is just the place to liven up any special occasion.
The man behind Derrière is London’s Mourad Mazouz, creator of other popular Parisian locales like 404 and Andy Wahloo, all of them nearby on the same street. Mazouz has a winning recipe to attract a hip crowd at Derrière, with its romantic garden terrace hidden from the street behind an enormous wooden door. The dining room’s kitschy atmosphere draws you in with an old souped-up motorcycle at the entrance, plus albums and CDs filling the walls behind the Ping-Pong table and casual seating arrangement.
The menu is as playful as the atmosphere, with simple ingredients defined and their preparation described. We started with “Aubergine, hairy upright herb native to southeastern Asia… Antipasti, smoked haddock, pink peppercorn and molasses.” I had never eaten such a combination before, and may not again. While I enjoyed the smoked fish and eggplant on their own, I’m not sure they belonged together, and the sauce was a bit too sweet. Our other appetizer, wasabi crab, veered in the other direction: it was somewhat bland, but there were nice tastes of crab in between.
We fared much better on our mains. The seafood risotto with lemon thyme was creamy, balanced by a nice al dente preparation. The giant sea bass a la plancha was a wonderful, delicate piece of fish enhanced by a tangy butter-lemon sauce and a side of fresh vegetables. There was nothing left on my plate except the crumbs of bread that remained from my attempts to scoop up every last ounce of that butter sauce. Our food was all served on beautiful mismatched plates and bowls. Some were etched glass, others multicolored and chipped, all fitting in with the colorful, eclectic scene.
The service was some of the friendliest I’ve seen in Paris. The bilingual servers were flirty-fun, as well as easy on the eyes, though somehow ours talked two of us out of drinking a bottle of wine with dinner to opt for a smaller carafe instead. Luckily he redeemed himself by recommending the French toast for dessert. The pound bread was grilled and made for dunking into the double-decker dipping sauce of vanilla and cocoa custard. It was a delightful way to end an entertaining evening.
In a nutshell: Derrière is the perfect playground for your group gathering. Enjoy a warm evening on the terrace or grab a table near the Ping-Pong table inside to have some fun between courses.
Price check: Starters, 10–19 euros; mains, 22–37 euros; desserts, 8–12 euros.
If you like the sound of Derrière, you might also like Le Schmuck. Read the review.
1, rue de Condé, in the 6th.
01 43 54 18 21. Noon–2 a.m. daily.
Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking trip, check out our DIY downloadable Paris trips.