43, rue Godefroy Cavaignac, in the 11th Arrondissement. 09 80 75 32 08.
Open Tues–Sat, 7 p.m.–1 a.m.
When Australian chef James Henry arrived in Paris, he did what a lot of us do when arriving in the City of Light. He thought he’d learn some and then move on, and he did just that, but never ended up leaving France. He started at Spring, one of the well-regarded Paris restaurants, and then was given the opportunity to act as head chef at Au Passage in the Oberkampf area. Henry thought he’d fill in for a week, but that week turned into a year, and during that year he became known as a bit of a culinary phenom, cooking unique, inventive small plates for a reasonable price.
When it was time to move on again, he decided to try it all on his own, from the physical structure of the restaurant to the end concept. James found an old Irish pub in the 11th Arrondissement and had the vision to know this was his place. He ripped the fake wood paneling off the walls to reveal the original stone walls and tiles, and that’s when James could see the true “bones” of the establishment, and he knew he had his restaurant.
Rugged but beautiful exposed rock surrounds the open room, with a decent-sized bar up front that was bustling with energetic hipsters enjoying a drink and some oysters the night we arrived. The staff was casually dressed and equally enthused, and helpful about the unique fare they were serving from James’s kitchen.
It’s a four-course tasting menu, with just two choices for your main and an option to include a cheese plate. Beyond that, you’ll be treated to a few locally sourced small plates to get your mind around where James is going to take you on your meal, like a single oyster cooked in a smoker to bring the best of earth and sea together. Shrimp was grilled and served in the shell with a luscious herb butter, one of the many items made in-house. Our final amuse-bouche was a beef heart with a sprinkling of fleur de sel, tender and flavorful, even for those at the table who were organ fearful.
I feared not, and even had veal heart for my main, which was bursting with flavor, along with the tender white beans and Tuscan kale it was served beside. Between hearts, we cleansed our palates with a light and delicious cuttlefish gently folded with fennel and pig’s cheek, followed by a heartier, seared white fish with a reduced piperade of tomatoes, peppers and onions.
James isn’t afraid to push the envelope outside of plain fish and steak frites. In fact, he worries that the youth of Paris are growing up not being exposed to offal and organ meat, so he’s doing what he can to put them back on the menu and make them digestible and enjoyable for everyone.
Our final course started with cool, green grapes served in a small white bowl filled with ice. Then we curiously devoured our dessert of a creamy almond and plum ice cream served with a homemade plum meringue cookie—certainly nothing I had ever had before, like most of the combinations, but definitely interesting flavors for which I’d happily return.
In a nutshell: James Henry colors outside the traditional French food boxes with his first personally owned and operated restaurant in Paris. If you’re open to venturing off the beaten path, then you’ll be rewarded with unique flavor combinations, all thoughtfully prepared.
Price check: 40–49 euros for the four-course tasting menu.
If Bones sounds good, you might also like the tasting menu at the nearby Septime. Read the review.
80, rue de Charonne, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 43 67 38 29. Lunch, Tues–Fri; dinner, Tues–Sat.