Au Petit Riche, Parisian restaurant king of the Loire and chenin

Chinon, Anjou, Bourgueil, Vouvray… For more than a century, these names painted in gold letters on the brown facade of Au Petit Riche have announced the colour. A stone’s throw from the Opéra-Comique, this historical monument of Parisian catering remains an incredible ambassador for Loire wines. Faithful to a tradition, but also in touch with what the head sommelier, Jean-Paul Bruatto – twenty-five years in the house – calls “the exciting renewal of the region’s winegrowers”.

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Time has no hold on this place opened in 1854, partially rebuilt in 1880 by a new owner, Mr. Besnard, a native of Vouvray (Indre-et-Loire), who decided to mark the cellar with its Loire origins. Paneling, brass hats, red banquettes, mirrors… The decor is steeped in the charm of a Belle Epoque which first made it the popular counterpart of its former neighbour, the Café Riche (den of scoundrel luxury on the Grands Boulevards until 1916), with its row of salons, subsequently adopted by the artistic, political or journalistic quarter (the founder of the WorldHubert Beuve-Méry, had his habits there).

The cuisine has spanned the ages, a follower of bourgeois delicacies, lulled by an invigorating Angevin sweetness: pâté en croute, pike quenelle with shellfish sauce, haddock (smoked near Chinon) poached in the English style, calf’s head and its brains… The chef, Pablo Veiga, injecting just the right amount of vegetal and seasonal pep. If around sixty “foreign wines” (burgundies, bordeaux, côtes-du-rhône, etc.) are on the menu, it is an exceptional cellar of more than 300 references from the Loire Valley (including many bottles between 23 and 35 euros) which suggests the most beautiful pairings.

Rabelaisian trips

Born in 1970, Niçois Jean-Paul Bruatto, a graduate of the hotel school in Tain-l’Hermitage (Drôme), took a little time to adapt to the bias of the house. “I didn’t know Loire wines well, and I arrived in 1998, a catastrophic year for chenin”, remembers the man who became passionate about the king of white Loire grape varieties. “The acid potential of chenin allows it to have an admirable tension on the dry, while preserving its tonicity in semi-dry and mellow”he adds, addicted to “old” (Vouvrays from Domaine Huet or Philippe Foreau), as well as to “modern” (Anjous from Domaine Belargus, Saumur from Romain Guiberteau, etc.).

Over the meetings with the winegrowers, the sommelier fell under the spell of Anjou and Touraine. “Better to know how to behave at the table”, he admits, remembering a few Rabelaisian trips to the heart of these vineyards. Thanks to the means of the Lameloise family, owner of the restaurant (and also of the Brasserie Georges, in Lyon), the menu is expanding all the more so as the sommelier convinces his bosses to invest in a huge troglodyte cellar, near Vouvray, intended for the aging of several tens of thousands of bottles. “We store them without a label, because of the humidity”says Mr. Bruatto.

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