Word about Chinaski seems to have travelled fast. After opening just a few weeks ago, serving coffee and cake daytimes and transforming into a restaurant in the evening (they’re even closed for an hour between the two), much of the clientele already speaks English, and the place is often full.
So what’s behind this instant success? Well, for starters, some very positive reviews on the blogs that matter, and a chef who honed his art at the hotel Meurice, where they have more Michelin stars than bidets.
We went down to see what everyone is raving about…
The name Chinaski comes from Charles Bukowski’s alter-ego, and just a few months ago the space was still an average-looking bistrot (that you can see here on the restaurant’s Facebook page, before remodelling started this spring).
The team is very (very) young, but on their toes, warm and capable. The chef Jean Adrien Buniazet has moved around a bit, but this is the first place of his own, where he is aided in the kitchen by a young Colombian chef who speaks no French but does have some new, interesting ideas of his own.
As the kitchen is actually in the room, and your table will be close (or even just a metre away!), you’ll be able to observe exactly how every dish is composed.
The restaurant is sparsely decorated with white whiles and burnt wood tables. It’s tiny, but an extra corridor with a glass roof serves as a store room and preparation area, keeping things minimalist. There’s space for about thirty diners (if you include the terrace) and two sittings per evening. They really maximise the space…
The enthusiasm of the chef and knowledge of the staff (especially for wine and coffee) are impressive. A positive vibe emanates through the place – the team is busy but seem to enjoy it that way.
To choose a glass of wine, it’s suggested we taste two without knowing their origins and choose the one we prefer – what a brilliant idea! And one not often put into practice.
There’s a fixed menu in the evening – three courses, 35€, with two choices for each course. Some may find this too restrictive, but it’s also possible to ask for a vegetarian option, and if you have any allergies they’ll do their best to adapt.
Before starting our meal, a small pre-starter arrives – a little soup made with the leaves and remains of vegetable used in the dishes (for minimum waste), also containing cardamom and spices. It’s surprisingly tasty and, we are told, inspired by Thai Phở soups…
Just as we finish, our two starters are served.
The first is a stracciatella with asparagus and tiny broad beans, a mix of neutral tastes brought to life by the oil and vinaigrette, with burrata hidden beneath the vegetables. The whole dish is very obviously super fresh.
The raw jack mackerel with sweet potato and blueberry arrives marinaded in a citrus sauce and served with fresh red onion, lemon and black radish.
Both dishes are visually interesting with a mix of carefully-balanced tastes.
For the main dish (served by the chef in person!) we have cod (well salted) with cauliflower and hazelnut. The portion seems small but the vegetables are colourful to say the least, and the sauce wonderfully creamy. Taste-wise, it’s a complete success.
The Tarn-raised pork with carrots, scallion and a cumin-infused sauce is served too rare for us, and is sent back to be cooked a bit more. The carrot mousse and garlic potatoes are absolutely delicious, and the sauce seems almost sweet. Interesting stuff.
The restaurant is now full, and the speedy service is a lot, lot slower (our desserts take about twenty minutes to arrive). With only two people to serve the entire restaurant and just two in the kitchen, it’s understandable (although that’s no excuse to change the music from dub to non-stop Earth, Wind & Fire in the space of an hour) 😉
The chocolate cake with olive oil and raspberries is nothing to write home about, although the filaments of ginger and lovely presentation save it.
As for the tres leches cake with kiwi fruit, mint and whisky, the chef explains that it’s a sponge cake made with three types of milk (sweetened condensed milk, unsweetened condensed milk and cream) then soaked in rum (like a rum, not whisky, baba) and served on a bed of lemon curd. An inventive dish we’d never come across before.
All that remains to be done is to have a final coffee before leaving, but this is no ordinary coffee. The grains, we are informed, have been left to rest in barrels previously used to make an aperitif called banyuls, supposedly to infuse them with a special taste.
To be honest, we couldn’t tell, but perhaps our palate isn’t sensitive enough.
Our evening at Chinaski was a success without a doubt. The team’s enthusiasm is palpable, the space is comfortable and the prices not out of this world (35€ for the three)course menu).
The staff really know their wine and coffee, and the diverse influences of the two chefs produce surprising dishes. Make sure you go before it’s impossible to get a table!