Restaurant AT in Paris: “Unconventional and undeniably delicious”
Nestled in the ever-trendy Rive Gauche, AT sits on a road made famous by the ultimate French culinary institution La Tour d’Argent, mere steps from Notre-Dame. Yet stepping inside, you’ll quickly see that chef Atsushi Tanaka isn’t taking cues from the grandeur of foie gras terrines and numbered ducks. With its concrete floor and matching walls offset by light wood furnishings, the restaurant’s ambiance might not be what you typically associate with Paris, let alone the rest of the country. It’s a perfect embodiment of Japandi – just like the chef’s approach to cooking – merging Scandinavian cuisine with Japanese technique, accented by a touch of Spanish creativity.
As I settle into my corner of the room, the impeccable service starts to roll, never missing a beat. The opening amuse-bouche of leek and brown butter, swiftly followed by shiso and tuna tartare, heralds the minimalist presentation and straightforward flavours that characterise Tanaka’s creations. A standout early on is a bowl of fresh tomatoes, red berries and tuna, over which my server pours some pure tomato water. Its deeply Mediterranean vibe has me feeling instantly transported to Spain, despite the surrounding Nordic atmosphere.
The wine pairing’s beginning catches me off guard with an Italian pét-nat from the Alps, completely upending my champagne expectations. However, by the third dish, I’m entirely won over by the impeccable match between the briny freshness of the oyster, sorrel and lovage, and the similarly nuanced notes in Robin Carette’s Les Salines 2022 chenin.
The spider crab, graced with a foamy bisque, is sweetly enhanced by carrot and tonka bean. When introduced as the chef’s signature dish, the build-up of expectations slightly altered my experience. However, it’s the mussels’ course that takes me by surprise. A similar approach, the mollusc is enveloped by a warm foam of its essence: it’s fulfilling, well-balanced and the best plate thus far.
Another classic from Tanaka is Camouflage, with Banka trout, juniper and parsley. It’s obvious why the chef insists on keeping this on the menu; aesthetically and texture-wise, it’s the most accomplished of all the dishes. The trout is covered with layers of juniper, parsley and charcoal – some crunchy, some sandy, some liquid – and I’m struck by the thought of how smart it is to have a concept course, one that carries a bold identity yet can adapt to different ingredients.
The menu transitions to a slightly more classic approach, starting with a three-piece lobster, followed by a Nordic-style piece of turbot accompanied by courgette paste and ending with a pigeon from Poitou. Everything is cooked to perfection, especially the bird, which comes with an array of tasters of savoury ingredients to experiment with, the Japanese black garlic being my favourite.
Dessert is a celebration of marigold, a produce I understand the chef fell in love with during a recent trip to Mexico. It’s a play on texture contrasts, ranging from meringue to granita, ice cream to cake. A cherry and marjoram sorbet wraps up the meal, leaving a refreshing, pleasantly acidic aftertaste.
Clearly distancing itself from the Parisian neobistros and the French-Japanese restaurant movement, AT stands out not just for its unique look but more so through the individualistic style of its chef. Atsushi Tanaka deserves a space that matches the complexity of his cuisine, which has the potential of being an articulate experience rather than just a very good meal.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Restaurant AT, 4 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine 75005 Paris, call +33(0)156819408 or visit their website here.