The rage for all things market-led and locally grown, and for new ways with underappreciated ingredients, has found brilliant expression in Semilla (Spanish for 'seed'). Run by an American and a New Zealander (Juan Sanchez and Drew Harré, who also have Fish, Cosi and wine shop La Dernière Goutte, all in Saint-Germain), and with an extremely distinguished chef in the kitchen (Eric Trochon, a 'Meilleur Ouvrier de France') this refreshingly distinctive bistro serves bright, bold dishes with complex but not confusing flavours. Many of the dishes on the daily-changing menu are available in 'entier' or 'demi', so you can snack or mix and match as you please, and vegetables are as important on the plate as the meat or fish.
One of those funky modern spaces that works so well set against Paris's elegant grey-roofed architecture, Semilla has industrial exposed beams and vents above a two-level dining room with bare brick columns and white-painted walls sketched with drawings of vegetables. An open kitchen at the far end opposite the entrance bustles and steams discreetly.
On a busy midweek night service was brisk if not noticeably warm, though the seats at the bar seemed to attract more chatter. Every dish heading for neighbouring tables made us crane our heads and go 'ooh' – we slightly regretted not splashing out on one of the big meat plates to share – rose pink lamb shoulder or sizzling Normandy beef – as they looked stunning. But we didn't do too badly, either – we loved a starter portion of firm scallops on a bed of silky, earthy Jerusalem artichoke purée, mined with knobbly crosnes, a sort of mini-artichoke. The other starter was a beautiful plate of crispy fried barbajuan – a type of ravioli originally from Monaco – rich with ricotta and spinach and prettily arranged on a bed of dark green spinach and cauliflower, the latter sliced through finely to resemble small trees.
Mains were equally successful. Crispy, creamy veal sweetbreads came perched on a tumble of salsify and crosnes (again), slicked with a sweet honey-based sauce. A bowl of crispy-skinned pieces of cod also had parsnips pureed and roasted (a rare vegetable to meet in France, let alone treated in a gourmet fashion) and a comforting slosh of grilled shallot jus. From the sweet things, we tried a clever celery and pear confit with parsnip ice cream, and a huge choux bun filled with nougat-flavoured cream and dribbled with salted butter caramel sauce. If that sounds heavenly, it was.
Reservations are highly recommended, but it's not the most formal venue – just an exciting place doing interesting things with great ingredients – and pairing them with a sophisticated, not overly outrageously-priced wine list. An instant favourite.
54 rue de Seine
|Opening hours:||Daily 12mid-11pm|