21 Nov In homage to Restaurant Les Itinéraires: on Paris’ Left Bank
Restaurant Les Itinéraires, with chef and owner Sylvain Sendra at the helm, is renowned for its Michelin star, its (natural) wine list and for offering a culinary journey rich with ‘happy’ vegetables grown by Japanese-born Asafumi Yamashita.
A month after I visited Les Itinéraires, the doors closed. When Sylain and his wife Sarah opened Les Itinéraires in 2008, they were on a path, an itinerary, not knowing where this would lead them and who they would meet on the way.
Fast track nearly ten years on, and Sylvain and Sarah felt they could not take the experience at Les Itinéraires further, so now they have changed the terrain and direction of their path – to be one of travel. In a year’s time they are looking to return, to set up a new adventure, a new opportunity.
Oh how I admire such people. They follow their passions. They build. They’re on a road. Life is a road, a path, and we constantly need to build that path. It’s a never-ending journey. Sylvain and Sarah had the courage and insight to realise that their time with Les Itinéraires was over, and it was time for a new adventure in their lives.
My first feeling when I heard the news was to be sad, the second was to feel inspired to live like them, and to realise how honoured I was to catch the experience of Les Itinéraires, created from the hearts and passions of Sylvain and Sarah, before the journey ended. Bonne route!
Continuing with my experience at Les Itinéraires before it closed
The restaurant is located on the Left Bank of the Seine, in Paris’ 5th arrondissement, a district known as the Latin Quarter and home to the Sorbonne University, as well as to many prestigious colleges, schools and book stores.
Les Itinéraires was a recommendation from luxury wine tour company Clos Driver. Sylvain and his wife Sarah opened the doors in 2008, with a style and menu inspired by travels to Peru and Japan.
Lunch at Les Itinéraires
To avoid the crowds, I look to arrive at a restaurant as soon as it opens at midday. I was due to sit at one of two bar stools looking towards the kitchen – instead I went for a table.
First, though, I need to explain about the vegetables…
Asafumi Yamashita – the Japanese vegetable whisperer
Les Itinéraires is one of three main restaurants to be supplied with vegetables by Asafumi Yamashita – called the ‘Japanese vegetable whisperer’. The other two are Pierre Gaugin and L’Astrance, both with 3 Michelin stars.
Asafumi tends to his vegetables, grown from hard-to-find Japanese seed varieties, on a patch of land in Chapet, northwest of Paris. He only sells them to those who revere them and know how to cook them, including Sylvain Sendra. Wonky vegetables, which don’t grow straight, are not happy vegetables he believes; only perfectly formed vegetables have been grown with love and attention.
He started producing vegetables in middle age, in his 40s, after most of his bonsai – he used to be a bonsai artist – were stolen. Before the bonsais he was a professional boxer, as well as being an amateur dancer and golfer. Asafumi also sees himself on a path, like Les Itinéraires … the No Do, in Japanese, the path of cultivation.
My view on restaurants
I divide restaurants into three:
- Those that I travel to expressly – like my visit to Central in Lima.
- Those where I eat if I’m in the area.
- And then the remaining 95%, which I avoid.
Les Itinéraires belongs to my first category.
What I drank at Les Itinéraires
I can’t get enough of good Alsatian wine. I started with a Pinot Blanc/Chardonnay blend by Philippe Brand. With the meat course I switched to a Pic Saint Loup from Languedoc by Christophe Peyrus. Then for dessert, a Jurançon, from the foothills of the Pyrenees, by Jean Marc Grussaute, which melted my heart. All chosen by the sommelier, all amazing, all natural.
What I ate at Les Itinéraires
Here goes with what I ate that November day at Les Itinéraires; I might get some of the ingredients wrong as the menu was not written …
The amuse bouche was a small pastry tart made out of black rice flour, with a filling of salmon’s eggs, sour cream, smoked eel and daikon. It reminded me of the daikon, a white winter radish, that I saw stored in buckets and tanks of water in the countryside in Japan …
Then came the entrée … an emulsion (a mixture of two liquids) of smoked Greek yoghurt with Tasmanian pepper, more delicate than traditional black pepper, with togan, or winter melon …
This was followed by cream of jerusalem artichokes with foie gras powder – as in the featured picture. Then came slow-cooked cod with carrots and passion fruit caramel, decorated with samphire and hyssop …
The meat course was Bresse duckling with an emulsion of lard on a bed of mushrooms and kale, and two types of mashed potato …
Dessert was a clementine soup with yuzu, sprinkled with lime and espelette pepper (a red pepper from the Basque Country – a staple in my larder) …
And finally, before the road, a coffee…
The walk to Notre-Dame de Paris
Meal over, I walked down the Rue de Pointoise and onto Boulevard Saint-Germain. I passed the Diptyque candle store – I can’t get enough of their bay candles. The plan was to then wander round the art galleries taking part in Photo Saint-Germain. However, I’d eaten so well that I just wanted to walk, and then go home and relax.
I turned up Rue Lagrange. Walked through the gardens of the René Viviani Square. Popped into the 13th century Melkite Greek Catholic church of Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre, where I lit two candles. And then onto the English-language book store Shakespeare and Co, a true Parisian literary landmark, overlooking the river Seine.
A quick browse through the photo books, then over the Seine, dodging the tourists gawping at Notre-Dame de Paris, and down into the RER express train line at Saint-Michel Notre-Dame.
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