Highly Recommended: Paris BBQ with FLESH Pigalle

25 April 2019

END. links up with Flesh Pigalle's head chef, Simon Lewis, for his must-hit food and drink spots in Paris in this definitive guide of the French capital

Words & Photography: Robert Spangle

Chef Simon Lewis’ story is an American underdog’s tale played out against a Parisian backdrop. Taking a gamble, he booked a one-way ticket abroad in 2009 and now, 9 years later, he presides over two restaurants that offer inarguably the best BBQ in Paris and is a prominent name in a wave of young chefs taking the city's cuisine in an international direction. More than introducing the city to BBQ, Simon’s restaurant 'Flesh' has succeeded in fusing a French passion for the highest quality ingredients, small plates, and sauces, with masterful American smoked BBQ technique.

Simon's path to Paris wasn’t a straight line or an easy trip, so it makes sense that his guide to the French capital has the same twists and turns as his culinary career. In 2009 he left Los Angeles and headed to the UK, working for Tom Kerridge of the famous 'The Hand and Flowers'. His introduction to Paris came in 2012 at Daniel Rose’s restaurant 'SPRING', followed by a stint at the legendary 'Frenchie' restaurant by Gregory Marchand. In 2014, Simon stepped out on his own opening the first 'Flesh' in lively nightlife neighbourhood, Pigalle. In just two years, he opened a second larger location near Canal Saint-Martin.

A formidable night out requires a hardy dinner and, with a string of great bars and after-hours joints within walking distance, Simon's restaurant in Canal Saint-Martin is a perfect place to start. I could happily recommend everything on the menu at 'Flesh', but I couldn’t recommend the Chef's sampler more. Poulette that drips off the bone; marbled Argentinian steaks cut thick and yielding; crackling ribs. More unusual for BBQ is the seasonal fish, yet another way 'Flesh' capitalizes on fresh sourcing. Carnitas paying homage to Simon's Los Angelean roots and monolithic frites arrive with a bevvy of sucre sauces to round out an epic meal.

Simon’s French influence reveals itself across the courses, both in size (while a traditional BBQ meal might entail one massive portion, at 'Flesh' a typical meal is 2-3 manageable portions of different meats) and in the equal amount of care that goes into the vegetables, fish, and sides. Here the excellence of French produce shines through in string beans and squash, nearly stealing the spotlight away from the BBQ.

Down the road is Chez Jeannette. A beautiful, rundown, baroque style bar with pints and patina in spades. Juxtaposing the classic style of the bar - but in keeping with the rough and lively neighbourhood of Strasbourg St. Denis - is a crowd of characters ranging from off-duty models to that French band you’ve been hearing all summer but never knew the name of. The night goes on, spinning. After hours, after party, pre-hotel: when it's too cold to smoke outside anymore...

A few wandering blocks north is Hotel Bourbon: a cleverly disguised cocktail bar and intimate club. Upstairs are serious, but not overbearing cocktails. Downstairs a thin, determined crowd dance deftly with cigarettes in the air.

The next morning won't start until noon, likely a Sunday, with big-time gueule de bois (even hangover sounds appealing in French). Everything is closed and Paris on a Sunday is a time and town for reservations, but the walk-in friendly food your hungover head craves can be found at Miznon in the Jewish quarter. Jerusalem artichoke comes fire roasted, blackened and crumbling on your plate. Oiled and salted green beans stand in for fries, leading into the holy mess of Pita bound hamburgers, or merguez drowned in hummus.

Adequately fueled, you could take your musings along the bend of the Seine east and strike up into the 11th arrondissement. It's lively there, and local. A newer part of town (which is Parisian-speak for not so pretty) you'll find nothing older than Hausmann, but the area is not without its own charm. If it's a life-changing hangover and this life of gluttony and excess has got your conscience in a knot, you can pause to reflect at Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde's graves at Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Not far west: Fulgurances...

Fulgurances isn’t anything like typical French cuisine, but it was born out of a worship and love of it. Fulgurances was created by a group of Parisian food-obsessed friends who launched their own magazine to explore the hidden Chefs and producers of France. This led to a wildly popular series of dinners based around Sous Chefs they met along the way and, riding that success, they opened Fulgurances with the aim of giving promising chefs their public premiere. Antoinne Vilard is currently on duty, sending a series of small, intricate, ingredient-forward plates that were demonstrative of a deep understanding of ingredients, contrasting textures and temperatures. Crunchy barley risotto with trout eggs and savoury chicken leads into deceptively simple and fresh almonds (which are moist seedlings), black truffles and celery root, then Brill fish with a peri-peri sauce and Jerusalem artichokes, taking a heavy turn to the sea. Dessert was homemade Pommes Au Four with brown beer ice cream. The Chefs might change at Fulgurances, but the cave du Vin is steady and well armed.

With another fine meal down, I followed Chef Simon back into the night.

This article was produced as part of the ongoing 'Highly Recommended' series, providing an insider/outsider experience of global cuisine, nightlife, and travel as experienced by industry leaders pushing the boundaries and defining the zeitgeist in their respective fields.

writerEuan Smart