4 Rue Lamarck, Montmartre,
Paris, France 75018
I was in Paris, France recently with my wife and our son – my first time since I was thirteen – and our second meal of the trip was at Babalou, a quaint restaurant around the bend from L’Eglise Sacre Coeur and away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of Montmartre. Babalou was a chance find but what a find it was!
We didn’t really have any idea where we should eat. We knew we wanted to visit Montmartre. (As a writer, I had allusions that I might have an Owen Wilson experience a la Midnight In Paris but, alas, no such luck.) So, after a day that included visiting The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower and riding the Batobus, we returned to our apartment hotel, showered and headed out to eat. Like I said, we had no idea where to venture so my wife just did a search on her phone and Babalou was the first in a list of Montmartre eateries. We’re goofy people and the name Babalou just called out to us so we decided that’s where we’d, at least, start. If it didn’t look like fun or a delicious gastronomic experience, we’d move on and try somewhere else.
Without a car and uncertain, at the time, how to get to the closest Metro from our hotel, we ordered an Uber and got there in about fifteen minutes. (Our hotel is in the eighth arrondissement, close to Champs d’Elysees, and Babalou is in the eighteenth.) Across the street is an apartment building that reminded me of a block of flats in Hong Kong. In fact, this entire part of Montmartre, on the hill, a concrete wall and block of flats across from the restaurant, and a narrow street brought back memories of visiting my late friend, Ravi, on Conduit Road in The Mid-Levels of Hong Kong.
Our plan to move on to somewhere different if Babalou didn’t look any good was instantly negated. Babalou is far from other eateries and has chosen its location well. It’s away from the downtown area of Montmartre so, unless we chose to walk several blocks or order another Uber, we were stuck with Babalou and I’m glad for that. Being in Paris, a city known for the deliciousness of its food, whether its somewhere five-star like Maxim’s or somewhere cozy and more Mom-and-Pop, Babalou stood up and held its own. In fact, it did better than that. To me, it sets a standard – in taste, in style, in atmosphere, in charm.
Opened and run by two friends, Emmanuel Michel and Federico Colombo, the chef, and managed with the assistance of Michel’s mother, Babalou is like walking into someone’s living room and being offered a meal you won’t soon forget. If ever. The restaurant is decorated with secondhand and discarded items. It’s a quaint place where nothing matches. Michel admitted to us that some of the chairs and tables were taken off curbs, discarded by their former owners. There are old lampshades, being used the way lampshades are supposed to be used, but hung upside from the ceiling light fixtures.
There are shelves of books and LPs (next time I go there, I’m bringing a copy of my novel to add to Michel’s collection) around the room and an old typewriter in a corner, which I did covet – the typewriter, not the corner. The unique style goes to food-related items as well. The salt and pepper, balsamic and olive oil came in large test tubes that stood up in a metal rack. The balsamic and olive oil were capped with spritz tops, which I found to be utterly clever. This allows the diner to apply just the right amounts of each so as not to use too much and either ruin the taste of their food or go beyond any personal dietary restrictions.
The salt and pepper test tubes were capped with an actual bung, which made offered the illusion that we were in some mad scientist’s domain. And, who knows? With the creativity in Chef Colombo’s food, perhaps we were.
Anyway, back to the food. Dining Babalou is like walking into your friend’s house and his mother says you get pizza or pizza. And that’s okay because it’s, quite possibly, going to be one of the best pizza you’ll ever taste.
Yes, Babalou serves pizza, which I found ironic being we were in Paris – a city known for its culinary tradition – but when I found out that Michel is half Italian it made perfect sense. (While Michel is half French and half Italian, and he proudly says so, he will be quick to remind you that he is, however, full Parisian.) His mother, from whom he gets his Italian half, helps manage the restaurant; waiting and busing tables, seating patrons, making Café au Lait, Espresso, and Cappucino. She, no doubt, helps prepare the pizza ingredients in the kitchen.
The menu includes salads and antipasto as starters and there is a small dessert menu with Tiramisu, Panacotta, Baba au Rhum (cake soaked in rum) and a Nutella Calzone but their main offering is pizza. Babalou does have a pasta offering but it’s ravioli topped with the sauce of the day. As for the pizza, there are some standard ones on their menu like Four Cheese, Margherita, and Salami but they also have a Daily Specials Menu written by hand on a small tray-sized chalkboard. Whatever kind you order, you get a large, which is about a foot in diameter, or a small. The small, however, isn’t a round individual pizza. It’s half of the large (meaning it’s like taking a whole or large, cutting it down the middle and serving that) and comes, no matter what, with a salad. The salad, which you can choose from the salad offerings in the menu, fills the other half of the plate.
As much as the quality of the food is crucial to an eatery’s reputation, the personality of the proprietor and those who work there are equally important. Michel is much like his place. He is charming and pleasant and, while I was anxious but intimidated on having to rely on my four years of French study in secondary school, I was eager to practice speaking it. Alas, thanks to Michel’s stellar English, my lessons under Miss Emery, Miss Geddes, Monsieur Couderc, and Mister Safranek weren’t needed.
As for what we ate, I had the Speck,
a four-cheese pizza with jambon and mushroom, and a Caprese salad. The tomatoes in the salad were some of the juiciest and sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Moreover, they weren’t acidic. I don’t know if tomatoes are in season this time of year in France – I suspect they’re not – but, either way, they were delicious. The flavours in my pizza were balanced, too. None of the flavours – the cheeses, the ham or mushroom – overpowered the others. With ham and cheese, you might also expect the pizza to ooze with grease. At Babalou, the pizza doesn’t.
My son ordered a small Four Cheese, which came with a roquette (arugula) salad.
He enjoys the ‘white pie’ here in the U.S. and he is a picky eater so we decided that Babalou’s Four Cheese would be his safest choice. He enjoyed it enough but found the cheese combination to be a little sharp for his taste. Kids can be finicky but he didn’t love his pizza; that is, until I gave him some of the jambon that came with my Speck and he ate it with his pie. My wife ordered a pie off the night’s Specials Menu, Tartufi,
which was topped with artichoke, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and an olive tapenade. It was an interesting and well-matched blend of flavours. The artichokes were lightly browned, the mushrooms remained juicy, and the olive tapenade added a subtle undercurrent that brought the ingredients together. The cherry tomatoes were sweet and sliced in half and spread over the pizza.
My son ordered a small Four Cheese, which came with a roquette (arugula) salad.
He enjoys the ‘white pie’ here in the U.S. and he is a picky eater so we decided that Babalou’s Four Cheese would be his safest choice. He enjoyed it enough but found the cheese combination to be a little sharp for his taste. Kids can be finicky but he didn’t love his pizza; that is, until I gave him some of the jambon that came with my Speck and he ate it with his pie. My wife ordered a pie off the night’s Specials Menu, Tartufi, which was topped with artichoke, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and an olive tapenade. It was an interesting and well-matched blend of flavours. The artichokes were lightly browned, the mushrooms remained juicy, and the olive tapenade added a subtle undercurrent that brought the ingredients together. The cherry tomatoes were sweet and sliced in half and spread over the pizza.
For dessert, I had Babalou’s Tiramisu. When Michel mentioned it, it was a given that I would order it. Tiramisu, like New England Clam Chowder (click here for a review of the NECCs I’ve tried on Montauk) and Monte Cristo (the best I’ve ever had is the one from the Holiday Inn coffee shop in Hong Kong, circa 1978) is something for which I am on a quest to find the best; the version that after I have it I can’t – physically, emotionally, psychologically, logically, morally – have any other one again. Unfortunately, while tasty, the Tiramisu at Babalou was good but not better than any I’ve had at other restaurants. My wife, however, ordered the Panacotta aux Fruits Rouges (Panacotta with berries)
and she loved it. It was a clean Panacotta, smooth and not overly sweet, and was served with a nicely tart raspberry sauce. As my wife put it, it was the best she’s ever had and “the way Panacotta should be.” Our son, a chocoholic at nine, had the Nutella Calzone; a Nutella filled pastry made of pizza dough that is a twist on a more common Nutella-filled crepe.
So, while one or two items didn’t make go us gaga, everything we ate at Babalou was delicious and I wouldn’t hesitate to order any of the same dishes again. Babalou was an excellent discovery for us and, in this foodie’s opinion, somewhere you have to go to when you’re in Paris. The food is excellent, the atmosphere eclectically cozy, and the host charming. If you do go, please pass this message on to Emmanuel Michel: “Merci mon ami. Quand je reviens à Paris, je vais certainement vous rendre visite. Bon appetit.”
Rating: 1 1/2 bites
0 bites = Don’t bother. I suffered for you.
1/2 bite = I enjoyed it enough – I had to eat something, after all – but I wouldn’t recommend it.
1 bite = Good. I’d have it again but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.
1 1/2 bites = Very good/super tasty. I’m definitely going back and I’m bringing friends. If I weren’t married, it’s somewhere I’d take a first date to. That’s how good it is.
2 bites = Unique, I’ve never had (and probably won’t ever have) better than this, this is what I want if I were going to be executed and I could have whatever I wanted for my last meal, Epicurean Orgasm!