Bertrand Grébaut is one of the youngest of the new generation of Parisian bistrotiers who are devotees of short cooking times, clearly-defined flavors and herbs, unusual combinations and natural wines. In 2008, at the age of just 28, he was awarded his first Michelin star at the restaurant Agapé, which belonged to Laurent Lepaire, the former maître at L’Arpège. However, the overly chic atmosphere was not to the liking of this discrete bohemian chef, who had studied literature and graphic design before working with such legendary figures such as Joel Robuchon and Alain Passard. And so, after two seasons in the 17ème Arrondissement, he decided to hang up his apron and toque in order to see the world (Japan, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.) in the company of the man who today is his partner, the sommelier Théo Thourriat, and reflect on the type of establishment they wanted to open.
“I want to democratize haute cuisine within a laid-back décontracté context at a reasonable price. My plan is therefore to reduce costs by offering a single menu and working with seasonal produce bought directly from local suppliers. There will be less waiting staff, although those that are employed will be extremely well qualified, with a precise knowledge of the ingredients used in each dish and how they are prepared.”, he explained. No sooner said than done. In April 2011 they opened their restaurant in the east of Paris in an industrial loft with an open plan kitchen, sturdy wooden tables without table linen and a name that alluded to the character played by Louis de Funès in the film “The Big Restaurant”. The legend of Septime had begun. In just three years, a table at Septime has become one of the most sought after in the city, breaking in to the international Top 50 at number 49 in the San Pellegrino list of the world's finest restaurants. Although Grébaut has never really believed it, there can be no question that the set menu at an unbeatable price (lunch at 26 euros, dinner at 55 euros), which changes on a daily basis depending on the market and the chef's inspiration, attracts a mixed public to Rue Charonne, ranging from worldly gourmets and local residents, all of whom reserve their table weeks in advance via internet.
Today it is not uncommon for customers to practially have to fight for a table, desperate to experience real designer cuisine, both well-balanced and flavorsome, in an atmosphere that is far removed from the gastro-palaces, which might be described as midway between hipster and Zen. Fresh tuna with cherries, almonds and basil. Beef with buckwheat, cured shiitake mushrooms, mushroom gelatin and sorrel. Cream of lettuce soup with trout roe, grated feta cheese and Peloponnese honey. Onion, spring onion, chive and ricotta with lardo di Colonnata. Smoked eel consommé with baby turnips and free-range chicken hearts bathed in sake. Roast broccoli with elvers. Turbot with smoked potato, oyster, cucumber and samphire. Wild duck, tear peas, carrot and rhubarb. In a gesture which might be seen as a nod to the chef's past as a Literature student, the menu is set like a Japanese haiku. “In Grébaut's menus there is a sense of goodness and generosity that are moving. A subtlety that reaches both the soul and the palate and which touches all that come into contact with it” in the words of Le Figaro 's ever-demanding restaurant reviewer François Simon.
Established now as a modern icon of the Parisian culinary revolution, Septime has recently extended it influence to other premises in the Rue Charonne such as Septime Cave and Clamato where, under the orders of the Grébaut-Thourriat tandem, the local Bobos and new foodies share tables, sensations and a new vision of French haute cuisine, diametrically opposed to the bourgeois clichés and tired mannerisms of the old school. By Juan Manuel Bellver