'Underground' restaurants rise to the top

Underground restaurants have finally arrived in the food capital of the world.

by: Rosa Jackson: AFP | 03 Mar 2009

When Claude Cabri was a child, she had a habit of re-arranging the furniture in her family's living room to create a café scene before dressing up and serving crepes and tea to her friends.

These days, her childhood passion for elaborate tea parties has evolved into "Lunch in the Loft", one of several unofficial restaurants in Paris that are set in people's homes.

Similar "underground" restaurants have been popping up in secret locations around the world for the past decade or so; Berlin, San Francisco, New York and Hong Kong are a few cities where they are well-established; but only recently have they taken off in the self-described world capital of food.

That has been changing lately thanks to a handful of English-speaking expats with a talent for entertaining but no desire to chain themselves to a restaurant stove and all the paperwork that comes with it in France.

What started as a year's sabbatical for Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian turned into the successful underground restaurant "The Hidden Kitchen" when Perkins decided to use his experience as a cook at "The Dahlia Lounge" in Seattle to serve a 10-course tasting menu to groups of up to 12 paying guests. With a website in English only and the support of influential bloggers such as Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini , the weekly dinners, which started in June 2007, quickly took off.

Among dishes on offer this month are cabbage stuffed beets with dill potato salad, red wine vinegar reduction and cumin flatbread, and hibiscus poached wild salmon. The menu costs 70 Euros and comes with wines from small producers.

Cabri juggles her "real job" as an artist, with "Lunch in the Loft", which she launched with a website last year.

"I've always loved lunch, and the idea of telling a story by having lunch," says Cabri, alias "Miss Lunch," whose Parisian-sized kitchen is hidden from the dining room by a theatrical curtain that allows her to pop her head out every now and then.

Vives, who previously worked as a chef in Marseille but grew tired of strict hygiene regulations that prevented him from preparing traditional stocks and sauces, believes that underground restaurants are the way of the future in France.

"People are tired of impersonal restaurants and the mediocre food they often serve. They are ready for something different." It seemed that way as the guests drifted after lunch to Cabri's living area, where they settled in like old friends.

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