by Ananda Pellerin
Don’t let the bright yellow sign fool you, Kokoro Restaurant is a sea of calm in Paris’ 5th arrondissement. Beered-up students from the Sorbonne spill out onto the pavement only a block away from the restaurant, which is located on the winding Rue des Boulangers alongside a primary school, a few small shops and the city’s first Irish pub. If you’ve spent too many Paris nights crammed into heaving brasseries, or at uptight, upscale dining rooms, this is your moment to notch down, as the up-to-date Gallic dishes coming out of the kitchen offer all the stimulation you need.
Kokoro launched just over a year ago, and the French husband and Japanese wife team behind the neighborhood venture can be seen at work nightly in their small open kitchen. Seating areas are spread across two small floors, but sit downstairs if you can—the unpretentious dining room is where you get a front row view of dishes being made swiftly, expertly and with riveting concentration.
While not strictly a Franco-Japanese merger—chef-owner Frédéric Charrier trained in France and has only spent two months in Japan—there is an East-meets-West sensibility to the menu, apparent in its unorthodox flavor combinations and light-touch sauces. Charrier has done his time at one-, two- and three-star Michelin restaurants (including Alain Passard’s L’Arpège), and before moving to Paris he studied the culinary arts in his home region of Vendée. Close to the Atlantic Ocean, fish and seafood play a big role in Vendée’s traditional cuisine, and both are found in abundance on the menu here. The rainbow sole, served with lightly pickled parsnips, fish eggs, soy, garlic and fresh herbs, is testament to Charrier’s acute sense of texture and balance; likewise, the simply cooked cod with steamed and dried potatoes and pickled shallots is confidently unadorned. For land-based options, veal tartare is given a subtle but revitalizing turn with coffee oil, egg, capers and semi-dry anchovies.
The wine list is brief and includes some excellent organic picks, including the 2009 Sau 9 from the Loire Valley. With a lightness akin to orange wine, it has a pleasant petrol aftertaste and a delicate fizz. During the day the restaurant is also a tearoom with many leaf blends on hand, including ones with yuzu or brown rice, all from Jugetsudo, a 156-year-old Tokyo-based tea company.
For her part, Sakura Charrier is the inventive pastry chef of the operation. A pumpkin millefeuille with vanilla, verbena and fresh figs is a hearty take on this often fussy classic, here made sticky but not too sweet with warming autumnal spices. A fresh apple tart is pared back, nutty and served with giant slices of dried fruit. Dishes are brought by the chef straight to the table, giving the place a homespun sensibility that makes the arrival of such sophisticated fare an even greater delight. Sit back, relax and enjoy.
Kokoro Restaurant is located at 36 Rue des Boulangers, and is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch, tea and dinner.
Images by Ananda Pallerin