Eating with a Companion
Internationally inspired dishes made with seasonal and regional products are prepared with a distinctly French touch at Gesa Hansen and Charles Compagnon’s neo-brasserie 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis in Paris. The couple cooked a favourite for us to sample.
The way to the heart is through the stomach, as the saying goes. And we’re left with no doubt as to its truth after a meeting with Gesa Hansen and Charles Compagnon. Gesa, an interior designer from Germany’s Sauerland region — and a passionate adopted Parisian — met her husband, the restaurateur Charles, in his first eatery, Le Richer, where she started out as a regular and ended up a fixture. And in the same way, the couple is now a family of five: the Compagnon restaurant empire has grown significantly over recent years. Besides Le Richer, since 2014 Charles also runs 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis, right around the corner from the new 25hours Hotel Terminus Nord in the trendy 10th arrondissement.
‘We love the neighbourhood and live right above the restaurant, except for when we escape to the countryside for the weekend,’ says Charles. His country home is tucked away in the picturesque town of Courances, where he cultivates vegetables and even roasts the coffee that he delivers to his own restaurants and a few other cafés. ‘But the 10th arrondissement has become fairly fancy. The idea behind 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis was to open a modern but affordable brasserie here in the neighbourhood.’
Instead of the usual stodgy fare served in many French bistros, Charles has created a weekly menu of light dishes, prepared using regional and seasonal ingredients. They include delicious treats like burrata with puréed bell pepper and olives, mackerel with broccoli cream and thickened coconut, and lentil salad with aubergine caviar, courgette, and tahini — all of them inspired by international cuisine, and artfully arranged by his creative, multicultural kitchen team — using ‘French techniques’, as the native Parisian is quick to emphasise.
For all its modern dishes and eye-catchingly hip style, the neo-brasserie has nevertheless remained a family restaurant. And it’s certainly a family project: while Charles is in charge of the food and drink, Gesa looked after the design concept and the purpose-built solid wood furniture. All of the pieces were crafted by their own furniture company, which they run as a side business with Gesa’s family in Germany. But the designer only returns to visit the studio in Sauerland ‘once a month, tops’. Otherwise, she can often be found at 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis, where the whole family eats together as often as they can.
Gesa’s favourite dish there? ‘Choux’, she fires back, straight from the hip — the French take on cream puffs and a popular dessert in winter. But she’s equally enamoured with the tuna sashimi and artichoke cream that currently graces the menu, and which Charles has prepared for COMPANION. So are we. And it tastes best of all when sampled with all of your compagnons seated together round a big table.
Sashimi à la Française
For 6 people
300–500 g bonito or tuna for the sushi
500 g artichoke bottoms
12 whole artichokes
1 sprig of basil
1 spring onion
1 dash of cream butte
For the sashimi
Ask your favourite fishmonger for bonito or regular tuna to prepare the sushi, reckoning with a good 50 to 70 grams of raw fish per person. Use a sharp knife to slice the fish into roughly one-centimetre thick strips, then season them with salt and olive oil.
For the artichoke-basil cream
Braise the artichoke bottoms — frozen ones are fine, as long as the quality is excellent — in the French ‘barigoule’ style: to do this, lightly braise the spring onion in oil, add the artichoke bottoms, season with salt and whole peppercorns, and douse in plenty of white wine.
As soon as the wine has evaporated, cover the artichoke bottoms with water and leave to simmer for 15 minutes, until they are very soft, almost mushy. Then drain the vegetables and mix in a sprig of finely chopped basil while they are still hot. Stir in some cream, butter, and the zest from half a lemon. Check the seasoning and put the cream aside to cool.
For the artichokes
Strip the leaves off the artichokes until only the hearts remain, keeping around three centimetres of the stalk. As before, braise the artichokes ‘barigoule’ style. The hearts take less time to cook, so check your progress after just a few minutes by poking the tip of a knife into the end of a stalk. The knife should sink in without resistance. Once they are done, leave the artichokes to cool and then cut into four parts.
Arrange the artichokes, cream, and sashimi on plates. Slice the raspberries in half (two per portion). Small basil leaves make for an attractive decoration. Bon appétit!