Last fall, we impulsively booked a trip to Paris for the day after Christmas. We wanted New Year’s Eve to be special, and The Friendly Kitchen was the perfect place to celebrate the turn of a new decade with a vegan and gluten-free gourmet feast. In the 11th arrondissement on Rue Popincourt, they only just opened in November 2019. However, the beautifully choreographed night is one we will remember always.
After learning of The Friendly Kitchen on Instagram, where Chiara of Baci di Dama Gluten Free @bacididama_gf artfully captured their innovative and gorgeous creations, I booked a reservation. Soon I received an email with further details about the evening. They planned a set menu with two sittings at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The format was a five-course vegan and gluten-free meal, which included dessert; with a glass each of wine and champagne, the cost was €65 per person. It seemed like a wonderful value and we couldn’t believe our luck to enjoy such a meal on one of the busiest nights of the year. As the days drew closer, I kept checking their Instagram account for clues of what delights lay ahead.
With the transit strike in full swing and the low forecasted at 29C, we were lucky that our hotel was only a 15-minute walk away. We found the restaurant warm and inviting, its decor sleek and simple: subway tiles, a small wine bar, light-colored wood tables, and rattan hanging lamps. Unlike many Parisian restaurants, they spaced the tables out a bit. The room soon filled up with a few other couples, a family with a very well behaved three-year-old watching movies on a phone, and a few larger groups. Then the magic began.
There was an excitement in the air as we waited, wondering how the evening would progress. The waitresses first brought out bottles of water for each table and then went around pouring wine. Next, they served the first course to everyone at once. We eyed the neighboring tables as the first dish came out, an appetizer trilogy featuring: an endive leaf with apple, walnut, and cranberry; a little gingerbread toast with candied onion chutney and faux-gras; and a buckwheat flour blini with vegetable “caviar.”
We weren’t sure whether to begin or wait for everyone to be served. After looking around tentatively, we saw others doing the same. Once a brave soul took a bite, we all began to taste and exclaim. It was an interesting experience, to feel we were dining just the two of us, but to have a collective experience.
The next dish, Entremet salé façon cheesecake, was the most beautiful of the evening, a contrast of bright orange carrot ribbons and deep green dill atop a cylinder of white (pictured at the beginning of the post courtesy of my husband, Octavio Fuentes). We were dazzled by the presentation and intrigued by the novelty of a savory cheesecake. It seemed a shame to destroy it. The texture was so rich and creamy we marveled that it was a vegan interpretation.
The main entré featured two perfectly rolled Cannelloni stuffed with mushrooms. They were drizzled with cream sauce, a dusting of paprika, and fresh herbs, in keeping with the color theme of the evening. How would we have room for another course and dessert, we wondered as we enjoyed every bite?
A play on the previous dish, the next dish inventively used slices of beets in place of pasta, with creamy vegan cheese tucked inside, layered with arugula and hazelnuts, and dusted with a touch of paprika. This is a dish I would love to attempt to recreate at home. It could take many variations with alternate greens or nuts. One of the great joys of travel for me is bringing home fresh ideas for the kitchen.
The waitress served our champagne and then returned to the kitchen to get our dessert. We didn’t think we had room but were intrigued by what it could be. What appeared before us was a puzzle. To be honest, I expected a typical Parisian presentation, like a little present. Reading the menu once again helped make sense of the dish, a deconstructed Mont Blanc bursting with distinct flavors and textures. Though a variation on the traditional dish, it resembled its namesake, a miniature mountain range across the dish. The light meringues melted in our mouths. How could this be possible without egg whites? The fresh clementines perfectly balanced the rosettes of rich chestnut cream. It was a clever, unexpected presentation. Pleasantly surprised, we finished it all.
Our New Year’s Eve dinner at The Friendly Kitchen was a special event we will treasure always. We felt part of an authentic Parisian experience, as there was nothing touristy about it. Walking toward a bar to ring in the New Year, we exclaimed over each of the dishes, expressing our hope that the fledgling restaurant will thrive, allowing us to return for many years to come.
Like all restaurants in Paris now, The Friendly Kitchen is temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you will put them on your list of places to try when they reopen. You can view an array of their beautiful dishes on Instagram, and the recipes they’re developing during this time for the re-opening.
8 Rue du Popincourt
Chiara has written a lovely review of The Friendly Kitchen and described her collaboration with them. You can also read an interview with chef and owner Fanny Mijon from a few years ago when The Friendly Kitchen was a blog prior to the inception of the restaurant. If you follow a gluten-free diet, Chiara is a wonderful resource for dining in Paris and other cities throughout Europe.
You may also enjoy my other post, Vegan & Gluten-Free: Paris.