Philippe Starck’s CV might include designing Élysée Palace apartments for François Mitterand, super-yachts for Steve Jobs and star-studded restaurants from Hong Kong to LA, but it’s the sprawling, ramshackle Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen that inspired his latest project. In the less savoury reaches of Paris’s 18th arrondissement, this former rag-and-bone market with its antiques dealers, streets full of tat and casual, welcoming food stalls has been steadily gentrifying for years – ironically thanks to people like Starck, whose €5.5 million Ma Cocotte – the result of a long-held dream to have his own ‘table’ in the Puces – is just one of the projects raising stall rents and pushing out many of the long-standing dealers.
But the frisson of serving fancy food in a flea market still bites – set in a converted warehouse on a spruced-up piece of former wasteland, you head to dinner at Ma Cocotte through the Puces's night-time landscape of closed shutters, worker’s bars and roving groups of youths smoking, er, fines herbes. Once inside, it’s easy to forget where you are. The main ground floor room is huge, though cleverly divided up to feel intimate wherever you sit, with a long communal table by the open kitchen and a private side-salon partly screened by heavy looped-back curtains. Upstairs is a terrace, cocktail bar and book-lined lounge, while below ground the gleaming, cavernous toilets in marble and steel are reminiscent of butcher’s slabs and meat coolers.
The menu is concise and to the point, with bistro classics (beef tartare, roast chicken, lentil salad) and pub grub (fish and chips, cheeseburger). It’s not flea market prices, but not expense account territory either, with starters around €9 and mains around €18 – though perhaps to placate the occasional passing millionaire, you can splash out on caviar for up to €720 the pot. The service feels scaled back to match – that the floor staff are young and beautiful comes as no surprise, but they look ill at ease, ignore empty glasses on the table and need energetic flagging down to take an order.
A salad of lamb’s lettuce, coddled egg, beetroot and truffle oil was the highlight of the entrées, a simple combination of excellent ingredients; foie gras with mango puree was good, but not a matter of kitchen skills. Of the mains, a competent roast chicken was served tepid, while a plate of lentils with a rich, coarse sausage was better, but unmemorable. Things only really perked up at dessert, with a crisp tarte tatin and a decadent baba au rhum, oozing sweetness and accompanied by its own bottle of Captain Morgan for enthusiastic sloshing. Overall, though, it feels like the kitchen has shot for ghetto fabulous and come in rather more bourgeois car boot sale – looks good, but just feels a little wrong.
|Venue name:||Ma Cocotte|
106 rue des Rosiers, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, 18e
|Opening hours:||Daily 8am-11pm (not Sun/Mon dinner)|
|Transport:||Metro: Porte de Clignancourt|