Last fall, we impulsively booked a trip to Paris for the day after Christmas in 2019. 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. Located in the 11th arrondissement on Rue Popincourt, the restaurant had 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 Living Gluten Free artfully captured their innovative and gorgeous creations, I booked a reservation. I soon received an email with further details about the evening. They planned a set menu with sittings at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The format would be a five-course vegan and gluten-free meal, which would include dessert and a glass each of wine and champagne—for €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 The Friendly Kitchen’s Instagram account for clues of what delights lay ahead.
With the transit strike in full swing and the overnight temperature forecast at 29C, we were happy 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, there was breathing room between the tables, which created an intimate setting. The room soon filled up with a few other couples, a family with a very quiet three-year-old child watching movies on a phone, and a few larger groups. Then the magic began.
Excitement hung in the air as we waited, wondering how the evening would progress. The waitresses first placed a bottle of water on each table and then filled the wine glasses. Next, came the first course, an intriguing appetizer trilogy: 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. Others hesitated, and tentatively looked around the room, too. Once a brave soul took a bite, we all began to taste and exclaim. It was interesting to both dine alone and collectively.
The next dish, Entremet salé façon cheesecake, was the most beautiful of the evening, a contrast of bright orange ribbons of carrot and deep green dill atop a white cylinder (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, but we relished each bite. 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?
A play on the previous dish, the next inventively substituted beet slices in place of pasta, filled with creamy vegan cheese, layered with arugula and hazelnuts, and dusted with a touch of paprika. This is something I would love to recreate at home. It could take many variations with alternate greens or nuts. For me, one of the great joys of travel is gathering fresh ideas for the kitchen.
The waitress served our champagne and then returned to the kitchen for 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 to 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 that we took part in 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.
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 their collaboration. You can also read an interview with chef and owner Fanny Mijon from a few years ago when The Friendly Kitchen was a blog before 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.