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American team Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian started out in Paris running a well-regarded supper club, ‘Hidden Kitchen’, so it's little surprise that Verjus – opened in 2012 after rave reviews paved the way for a full-blown restaurant – hasn’t quite lost its word-of-mouth feel. You reach the small, stylish dining room through an unmarked iron gate on the Rue de Richelieu, up some well-worn steps and through a plain grey-painted door. The adorable, pocket-sized wine bar on the floor below is accessed via a different street altogether – Rue Montpensier, which runs parallel to the Jardin du Palais Royal. A discreet corner, then, in an achingly sophisticated neighbourhood – where Verjus is both charmingly at ease and elegantly distinctive. Though much patronised by Brits and Americans, the light, inventive, precise cooking deserves recognition across Paris.
There’s one eight-course tasting menu, updated monthly (plus an optional cheese board, and optional matched wines). At €60 a head without the extras, save it for a special occasion – but it will be special. On our visit, a Scandinavian-inspired plate of trout and potatoes brought a vivid citrus-cured curl of fish with slices of smoked potatoes and a salty scoop of bright orange roe – the best of the seaside in a couple of memorable mouthfuls. Creamy cherrystone clam soup had a piquant dash of harissa and a lingering, many-layered infusion of thyme and garlic, while thick slices of tender pink duck breast with their rich fat and golden skin nestled snugly on a bed of sharp winter sauerkraut. To close, an ambrosial cardamom honey panna cotta with prunes, pears and walnuts. These were the highlights – not everything sung out clearly, but that’s the licence of a tasting menu. Taken as a whole, with the well-priced wines by the bottle and glass, the easy-going, friendly bilingual staff and the general atmosphere of quiet contentment, Verjus is a genuine thrill.
The wine bar doesn't take reservations, but it does now offer a tantalising lunchtime set sandwich menu – and €15 for a taste of cooking this quality has got to be one of the best meal deals going in Paris.