As any Paris-loving Intolerant may know, vegan restaurants and cafés are hard to come by. Removing butter, milk and cheese from dishes is viewed as somewhat sacrosanct in France and I’ve butted enough heads across the city to have had my fair share of (frustrating) experiences. Some chefs are reluctant to make a dish without dairy because they’re not sure what ingredient can act as a substitue, while others are just plain arrogant and seem to think that “lactose intolerance” is a laughable condition that people adopt because they want to lose weight in time for swimsuit season.
Le Potager du Marais, located at 24 rue Rambuteau in the Marais, is an organic restaurant that challenges the notions of the traditional French kitchen by offering a vegetarian spread with a smattering of vegan items that includes soup, gratin and fantastic looking desserts. Admittedly, Le Potager has received mixed reviews in the last year with feedback that ranges from “the best vegan food I’ve ever had” to “bland, uninspiring and disappointing.” Setting the online commentary aside I decided to pop in anyhow and give the place a go; sidelining all expectations and starting with a clean slate.
I wandered into Le Potager du Marais on a dismal Fall afternoon and was met with a moderately busy restaurant still serving lunch. I settled for a bowl of lentil soup (seasoned with anise) and a piece of chocolate cake laced with vanilla custard. The cake (custard included) was said to be gluten and dairy free, which is why I ordered it as I was thoroughly intrigued as to how good it could actually be. Custard without eggs and cream? That’s not possible surely?
As I waited for the soup to arrive I started on the large bottle of tap water (refillable!) at my table and admired the simple, rustic interior that was accented with copper lampshades, wooden tables and worn green benches. I also eyed up the food other patrons had ordered: grilled eggplant, raw salads, vegetable mash and falafel with fries. Everything looked fresh, mouth watering and quite good in fact.
Less than five minutes after ordering, my soup arrived. It was a touch on the salty side, but it went down nicely and was flavourful, warming and the portion size was perfect for my level of hunger.
The real pièce de résistance though was the dessert. I find that vegan desserts have the capacity to either blow you away and make you cry in your in your flan or they come up short in a painful “this tried really hard, but failed on so many levels” kind of way. Such desserts can also be filled with so many unnatural sweeteners, byproducts and other questionable substances (that try to make up for the lack of eggs, butter and the like) that it makes me wonder if it’s just not better to eat a proper slice of cheesecake, have a food baby and get on with it.
The dessert I chose – moelleux au chocolat made with chestnut flour – was of the “blow me away” variety. The presentation was lovely and it looked how a proper dessert should. The “custard” was nice, however given that I haven’t had a proper custard in ages I’m not entirely sure what to expect, which I believe affected my overall perception. I much preferred the fresh raspberries and drizzling of coulée as it lent a summery sweetness to the whole affair. And that piece of cake? My god, it was divine. A chocolate cake so warm, moist and rich I found it hard to believe it was dairy free. I still can’t quite believe it in fact and hours later I secretly await the fallout as I look for the telltale signs of intolerance rising to the surface (bloating, discomfort, cramping).
So far, so good.
A reassuring testament to the fact that food doesn’t need to be dairy and/or gluten laden for it to be fantastically good.