Thursday, March 24, 2011

Restaurant Astier

 First published Canberra Times newspaper 22 March 2011.

Astier cheese platter

It’s hard to believe that we are finally here in France - the land where eating, preparation and foraging for food is almost an art form.

If the main course was to be our three month home exchange in Alsace, it was inevitable that Paris was to be our entree. So with months of preparations behind us, we start to relax and absorb the daily pulse of Paris life with a particular focus on our stomachs.

Wandering through the streets of The Marais, our home for the next week, we stroll past the mouth-watering, abundant displays of food, so artfully arranged in the shop windows.


Chocolate Fondant
 We pass by the well known La Fougasse bakery, where the locals patiently line up out of the shop and down the footpath to buy some of the glistening tarts or crunchy golden breads. It’s the brightly coloured macaron’s that catch the eye and I find myself drawn into the line, eavesdropping on snippets of conversations happening around me. I wait behind an older man in a beret who is smiling and singing while waiting his turn, but he is sadly disappointed when he reaches the counter and there are no more baguettes. There is a lot of muttering in the line, but the stalwarts remained, glued and fastened to the serious business of bread.

Vanilla Creme

To celebrate our wedding anniversary and Steve’s birthday, I had pre booked the Restaurant Astier a few months ago on the recommendation of a Parisian foodie friend. The restaurant was conveniently located a short 500 metres from our apartment and provided an outstanding night of food and company. From the moment we stepped in through the door, the attentive and professional wait-staff provided immediate service and we were shown to a small table that adjoined another table for two.

Shortly afterwards a couple arrived and they were shown to the adjacent table. We were sitting so close, we could overhear their conversation and their toast to a birthday and were drawn into discussions about the great food, respective birthdays and their lives in Dusseldorf. By the end of the night and a couple of bottles of excellent French wine, we had swapped contact details, shared our experiences about the delicious food and pretty much sorted out the world’s troubles.

Our meals prepared by Chef Christophe Kestler were exceptional, with the winner the enormous cheese tray that provided an array of cheeses to sample. For mains, Steve and I could not go past the Magret duck, cooked to perfection and still slightly pink. As the duck was rare, our knives were replaced with sharper knives to deal with the resistance of the pink duck meat. This was prepared simply, pan-fried with no added spices or herbs to detract from the gamey flavour and served with tender, green asparagus and crunchy, French potatoes. My dessert was a mini, salted chocolate fondant pudding with house-made caramel ice cream atop. The chocolate pudding was still warm with a centre puddle of gooey salted chocolate. Steve chose the rich vanilla crème, presented with a vanilla bean poking out of the top - tres elegant!

The Astier’s cellar door opens from the dining area through a small arch to a set of steps that lead down to a cellar. This was situated under the restaurant where our waiter fetched a young bottle of Bourgueil cabernet franc wine from the Loire Valley.

JeanneA's interior
After our meal, we were shown to the Astier’s new venture, JeanneA, located next door, a less traditional but equally tempting bistro and delicatessen that showcased tarts and pies of all descriptions.

Restaurant Astier is located at 44 Rue Jean Paul Timbaud, Paris.

Chef Kestler provided the recipe here for the delicious salted chocolate fondant pudding. I have changed the wording of the recipe slightly.

Quantity makes 10 mini puddings.

Chocolate Fondant

500g of dark chocolate, 70% cacao
375g egg whites
250g egg yolks
250g castor sugar
200g icing sugar
375g butter, ½ salted butter
250g plain flour, sifted

Ganache

250g dark chocolate, 70% cacao
1/3 cup whole cream
Good pinch of sea salt flakes

Firstly make the ganache, combine the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir with a metal spoon until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside at room temperature to cool, stirring occasionally, until ganache is thick and spreadable. Mix in sea salt flakes. Leave to cool and thicken for approximately 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C and grease and flour 10 individual patty cake pans or silicon moulds.

Place the chocolate and the butter in a saucepan over a low heat until melted, set aside to cool slightly.

Beat together the egg yolks and sugar until light and creamy. Add the cooled, chocolate and butter mixture.

Whip the egg whites until firm and fold carefully into the mixture. Finally fold in the plain flour and pinch of sea salt.

Spoon the mixture into each patty pan until half full, then add a spoonful of ganache, then fill in the remaining half of each patty pan. Cook in a hot oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Allow to set and cool for 10 minutes before removing with a small spatula.

Serve with a vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.