Izakaya in Paris
I was completely unprepared for my first visit to Paris in the late 1990s. It was my first time traveling on my own in a country where I didn’t speak the language. Obviously, a lot has changed since then and I was much more comfortable on my recent visit. I’d just spent 6 days in Lyon (the French are fond of saying, “If Paris is the heart of France, Lyon is the stomach.” – in French, of course), so I had a different objective. Find the best izakaya in Paris. There are about a dozen places that might be considered izakaya in Paris proper, but google and recommendations from both Japanese and French foodies lead me to Lengué (れんげ), a small izakaya on a side street in the notoriously touristy Latin Quarter neighborhood.
Walking to the izakaya past Notre Dame and other sites, things seemed sketchy. I walked along narrow old cobblestone streets full of flashy restaurants with hawkers outside trying to draw in thirsty & hungry tourists. I stayed my course, and nearly grimaced as I turned the corner onto Rue de la Parcheminerie, expecting more of the same. I exhaled deeply as I saw an empty alley with a single shop, which at first glance (thanks to the wine bottles in the window), I walked past thinking it was a cave-a-manger (French wine bar). Turning back, I found myself in front of the izakaya. With a single sign in hiragana, it was easy to miss.
The inside was full of French customers enjoying izakaya cuisine with … wine? Yes, Lengué likely has the largest wine selection of any izakaya in the world. The owner is not sure just how many different wines he has, but he estimated “more than 500.” Having had a peek at his wine cellars (yes, plural), I don’t think he’s far off. Fortunately for me, he had a half dozen shochu as well so I was not completely immersed in French izakaya culture. Japanese beer, wine, umeshu (plume wine), and nihonshu (sake) are also available.
The menu is small, but deliberate with lots of izakaya favorites such as ebi mayo, potato salad, kara-age, and ochazuke. I was particularly impressed with the pan-fried baby shrimp and the renkon salad, which was fried renkon chips over mizuna with a lovely tart dressing. Sashimi wasn’t available, but the suzuki carpaccio was just about the same. The fried chicken thigh with pickled lemon was also fantastic. Both of these dishes also spoke to the fact that we were in Paris as some French culinary preferences entered into the menu. I hate to admit it, but I did order more than half the menu despite dining alone. And went back the next day to retry the dishes I liked best.
The staff was all Japanese and most only spoke Japanese and French, but a couple spoke some English (one was fluent, but by the time you read this she’ll be back in the US). The menu was only in French, but fortunately I have enough French menu familiarity and enough izakaya Japanese to get by with minimal English required.
On my trip I developed a new appreciation for French cuisine while in Lyon, but I must say that my visit to Lengué felt as comfortable as any izakaya in Japan or New York despite the language barrier.
Reservations highly recommended. It’s a tiny place and they only do 2 seatings per night. In a way more French than Japanese, they close early (11pm for last order).
Izakaya Lengué (れんげ)
31 rue de la Parcheminerie
Phone: +33 1 46 33 75 10