If I were in Paris now, you could find me having lunch at Rose Bakery, 46 rue des Martyrs.
It's my favorite restaurant in Paris --- and I've never been there.
But I have Rose Carrarini's book, and it conveys so much of the spirit of her establishment that I know I'd love to be at Rose Bakery --- not just for her food, but for the ambiance, the people who work there, the regular customers and, above all, the idea that drives it.
An unreal idea, huh? But there it is. "My intention was always to dissolve the distinction between home and restaurant cooking," Rose says. And so she works from a Bible with just three commandments: "simple" and "natural" and "homemade."
The restaurant --- a one-time storage room for fruit carts --- is just as elemental. Concrete-and-metal tables on a bare concrete floor. White walls. No display window. Open kitchen. Staff in white aprons. And a single splash of color: a large abstract painting on a back wall.
Rose's Bakery is also a shop. The packaging is plain. There's not even a web site.
And yet, I'm told, this total anomaly --- an English bakery in the capital of France --- is beloved by foodies and cool kids alike. "Le meilleur brunch de France," says Le Figaro.
What makes it great?
Rose tells a story that says a lot. It's about a meal she had at the Hyakumizon restaurant in Tokyo. She was served a dish of carrots. "No sauce," she recalls. "No garnish...The taste was intense and exquisite, and was mostly of the carrot itself. Possibly blanched, cooked, cooked again in a dashi and flashed under a grill, this was one of the most humble yet delicious dishes we have ever had the privilege of tasting. Whatever the technique the chef had used, I was convinced that you don't need any fuss or flourish, as it's the flavour of the dish that counts."
She learned that lesson well. Rose Bakery now produces 90 per cent of the food and products it sells. And the proprietors are sticklers for freshness --- today's leftovers will never be tomorrow's special. As her husband and partner, Jean-Charles, explains, "At nine-thirty we start cooking until midday, when we open. We don't have any storage fridges, so everything has to be eaten that day. We normally sell everything, which often means that we sell out by 2.30."
This oversized hard cover cookbook is equally fresh. There are full-page photographs of the bakery's butchers and apple suppliers and even a regular customer, who looks to be one very happy nine-year-old schoolgirl. To flip through the book is, I suspect, very much like a visit to the Bakery.
The recipes? Traditional. And that's the point. Rose is big on breakfast --- "my favorite meal" --- so she starts with recipes for fruit salad, rhubarb and orange, scones, muesli and pancakes (classic or with ricotta). Lunch starts with soup (green bean and almond, spiced chickpea and lemon, celeriac and porcini), moves through salads and tarts and risotto, and closes with just a few animal-based entrees, like braised lamb shanks with cumin, eggplant and chickpeas. And then it's on to cakes and pastries, the stuff of afternoon tea.
There's nothing here that's esoteric. The hardest part of duplicating these recipes is in the shopping --- finding organic produce that can stand up to simple preparation.