The latest visit for our “Paris Natural Wine Bar and Restaurant Project” was to a relatively new restaurant in Paris, Valma Brasserie Provençale. It proved to be an excellent and friendly neighbourhood restaurant, with good food and good wines if you live around the Place de la Republique. If you don’t, it’s a place that’s certainly worth going to, even if you’re somewhere else in Paris. It is on the opposite side of the city from where we live, but it was worth the trip.
This is a longer version of an article published on Forbes.com.
Valma is on the Quai Valmy (45 Quai de Valmy 75010 Paris) along the Canal Saint Martin. This is a charming part of Paris, surprisingly little known by tourists. It is a canal that is maybe a kilometre long, lined by trees. It’s a lovely place to go for a walk, just a stone’s throw away from the Place de la République. There are plenty of restaurants in this part of Paris. It’s busy in the evening with young people (and some not so young) having a drink in a café or bar.
Valma is a little off from the busiest streets, which we like. We found it through a short article in what is maybe France’s best food magazine, Saveurs. When we mentioned that to the staff, they said, “What? Has someone written about us?” Indeed, they had, for good reason. And fairly quickly, too; the restaurant has not even been there a year yet. When you look it up on the map, you can see that it is a pizzeria. No longer, although the pizza oven was still in the kitchen.
As usual with this kind of restaurant, the menu is not long, with a handful of starters and less than ten mains. But that’s exactly as it should be.
The wine list is also modest in size, like most Paris bistro-restos. But with a good selection. They had about a dozen each of whites and reds, with a few offered by the glass. Profiling themselves as a Provençal restaurant, they did have a reasonable selection from there and even one of the pioneers of the “natural wine” movement in this part of France, Henri Milan.
We usually start with a white wine, as aperitif and with the starter. Our first choice was from one of the “legends” in the Rhône Valley, Marcel Richaud, in Cairanne. There’s too much talk about “legends” and “icons”, so let’s just say Richaud is one of the best producers in this part of the Rhône Valley. We asked for his white “A la source”. Unfortunately, it was sold out. It happens. So, we went instead for a wine from a domaine that we were not familiar with, Domaine Celeste and the cuvée Sirius. It was unusual in that it was from 100% clairette, not a very frequently seen grape as single variety—excellent, discrete aromas and fairly full-bodied from the Gard regional denomination (IGP).
For the red that followed, we tried Richaud again, and this time, they still had a bottle, his “à la source” red. This is a “vin de france”. This often indicates that the producer chooses not to follow the appellation rules. Why this was the case here, I don’t know since the blend seemed quite normal: dominant grenache with some syrah, counoise and mourvèdre. It was deliciously juicy with a good structure.
They have a small selection of tapas if you want some small things to share, but we were looking for starter, main and dessert. The food was not obviously Provençal to me until you started to look at the details. Oeuf mimosa, which seemed to be almost an oeuf mayonnaise, a classic French bistro starter, but here it was served with poutargue which is some kind of smoked fish eggs that had been grated on top of the (chicken) eggs. The ravioli filled with confit lamb with sage was delicious, in particular the lamb “jus” (reduced lamb stock) that was very flavourful. Just one single ravioli. Nice.
The Provence style came more to the surface in the main courses, which had several pasta and risotto dishes to choose from. Our linguine aux coquillages, linguine (like thin tagliatelle) with three different kinds of shellfish, palourdes, moules and coques, was perfect for the seafood enthusiasts among us. Pappardelle ragoût de boeuf with pasta at the other end of the scale – very broad type of tagliatelle – served with a juicy beef stew, more like a very flavourful meat sauce. In both cases, the pasta was excellent. In France, they sometimes overcook it, but not here. In a more traditional vein they also had an onglet de boeuf aux herbes de Provence. Again, the beef and red wine sauce (I think that’s what it was) with the herbs was excellent as was the meat itself.
They had a short selection of desserts, but the list was well put together. When reading it, it looked quite traditional, but when the desserts arrived at the table, they took us a bit by surprise. They were elegantly presented and not quite what we had expected. Better. And they, too, were delicious. Well, a baba is a baba, not easy to make something elegant with that, but no less savoury. With plenty of rhum.
Valma, Brasserie Provençale was all-in-all an excellent experience, with a small but well-chosen wine list, delicious food, friendly staff (and friendly prices), and a calm dining room with not too much music. The kind of neighbourhood restaurant you’d be happy to have around the corner. It was an excursion worth doing; it was precisely the type of restaurant we like finding. Unpretentious, good wine and food and not too noisy.
Valma Brasserie Provençal, 45 Quai de Valmy 75010 Paris
Read more about our Paris restaurant project here.