69 rue des Gravilliers, 3rd
Tel 01 42 74 57 81
Come with me to ze Casbah
Text by Tracey Ellis
Minty mojitos are obligatory at the 404 ‘Restaurant Familial’ in Paris, along with any attempts at belly dancing while waiting for your table. So much can happen before the meal is even served, as I discovered in this Moroccan gem deep in the Marais.
These precursory steps to the eating experience suit the owners’ intention of taking you on ‘a short journey, through the art of eating and art of living, to discover the paradoxes of tradition and modernity’. The North African fare on the menu is described as ‘a tribute to the five senses of my guest’, and all of them are attended to with genuine flavour.
Smell is by far the first sense affected when I walk into 404 off the small street rue des Gravilliers. It is a fragrant, incense-filled atmosphere. Exotic spices blend with the aroma of braised meats and vegetables, and couldn’t be more welcoming on a cold winter’s evening.
My eyes are drawn to the busy kitchen where huge silver pots teeter on open stoves. You just know they’ve been simmering away all day. Terracota tagines are stacked high on shelves above waiting to be filled with savoury seasoned stews.
The restaurant is packed. In a smallish room that should feel claustrophobic with its snug tables, it defies its limited space with high ceilings and a lantern-lit staircase leading to a mezzanine where a more private dining experience is permitted. The Arabian decor adds to the warm and cosy feel – ‘familial’ as the sign states outside.
The ambience is enhanced by the chanting tones of an African beat and clapping begins. A tray of Moroccan pastries lit with candles is taken to a blushing young man in the corner while nearly 50 strangers sing ‘Happy Birthday’. It is hard not to feel happy to be here, and I haven’t even eaten yet.
With all the other senses satisfied it was time to move on to taste. The selection of traditional tagine casseroles and couscous dishes includes both tantalising meat dishes and vegetarian options. Seeing the size of the stews at our neighbouring table, we settle for the mojitos and olives as a starter and order two tagines for the main meal; braised duck and pear as well as a lamb, sultana and prune speciality.
An inexpensive red wine is chosen from the modest-priced list of Algerian selections, a light-bodied variety to complement the potency of the stews.
The meals are as hearty and intense as their scent promised, like velvet in your mouth with the odd crunch of cashew and a garlicky edge, holding an undeniable Moroccan tang and piquancy.
We finish the meal with some small house dessert pastries and smoky, sweet Moroccan tea, poured dramatically from on high by the smiling, Algerian waiter: a perfect ending to the journey of a Berber-style ‘degustation’ in Paris. If you’re feeling funky enough, after dinner try 404’s younger sister club next door, Andy Wahloo’s, for a chic nightcap.
Dinner for two with wine costs approximately €100. Le 404 ‘Restaurant Familial’ is open daily for lunch and dinner and for brunch on the weekends from noon-4pm.
Canadian born and raised, Tracey Ellis spent most of her twenties being properly ‘Anglicised’ in the UK before moving to Paris nearly 3 years ago. A journalism student and mother of two, she takes pride in being a ‘flaneur’ of the French capital, braving the city streets on a velib most days, absorbing every minute detail of its eccentric flavour, capturing it in words and on camera at every opportunity.
wow. brilliant sister! you are a great writer,,,, i would aspire to do what you do any day of the week! i need your expertise on another project,,,, writing could not be done without you!
insightful and purcarious… (SP?) i feel that traceys desc. was more than a reader would look for! in her description, i found delight, and intricate insight to her and myself…. good on her.