A sommelier's guide to the pocket-sized wine bars of Paris

Yard's food is explosively flavoured and full of Italian, French and Greek influences.
Yard's food is explosively flavoured and full of Italian, French and Greek influences. Photo: Supplied

For lovers of food and wine, Paris has always been a restaurant city that inspires reverence. It is the combination of the towering reputation of its UNESCO-protected gastronomy, its wine culture top-heavy with the world's most revered wine regions, and the insouciance of its waiters and sommeliers.

But the city that loves a little revolution now and then now also delivers fun, immersive and delicious drinking and dining that is diverse, open-minded and outrageously good value.

That Paris has changed in recent years is not breaking news. With chefs ditching Michelin stars in favour of bistronomy, the democratisation of dining in Paris has quietly led to an equally significant shift in wine.

Yard wine bar, Paris.
Yard wine bar, Paris. Photo: Supplied

As ground zero for the "natural" wine movement, this city has experienced something of a culinary renaissance in its approach to the way wine is not only made and served but the food that can partner it.

This is a new Paris of pocket-sized venues, flexible menus filled with small and shared plates, streetside drinking and no wine lists, all backed with warm and engaged service.

Old and new Paris rub up against each other now, creating a delicious friction between the worlds of classical and contemporary dining.

Redd wine bar, Paris.
Redd wine bar, Paris. Photo: Sophie Le Berre

It is the little things you notice. Wine lists aren't widely available, which doesn't feel like an attempt to confuse or mislead but rather a way of saying "you know why you are here; let me take care of you". And the way wine by the glass is rarely poured until you've been given the chance to taste it.  

This new and more open Paris has resulted in a better gender balance in wine teams. And importantly for the idiot abroad, English is spoken perfectly and with patience.

You can still find that special brand of Parisian service that can leave you with an acute case of Stockholm syndrome, and there is ample opportunity to drop a mortgage payment or two on a Michelin-endorsed tasting menu. "Tome" raiders can still go hunting through encyclopedic wine lists, and it is still a pain to find a place to eat at weekends.

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But it is the overwhelming feeling that diversity is now embraced and truly celebrated in Paris that makes the world's greatest dining city feel more relevant and important than ever. After a week of eating and drinking, here are my five favourite places to get taste of the new Paris.

Redd

You'll find Redd in Rue Saint-Sauveur, one of those tight, cobblestoned laneways that captures and amplifies that magical light that lingers over Paris at dusk. It is  a small, cubby-hole-sized room that is all raw brick and steel, with walls lined with a seemingly endless parade of nudes from local artists. The wine list, curated by former Arpege sommelier Marketa​ Sitarova, is a cross-section of France, with a strong representation of internationals. The food is simple: stunning charcuterie, cheese, rillettes, terrine and a single antipasti plate. Ask for recommendations from the constantly evolving wine list. 

Yard wine bar, Paris.
Yard wine bar, Paris. Photo: Chris Morrison

Frenchie

The Rue du Nil is the fiefdom of Frenchie, with a wine bar, restaurant, cafe and wine shop all squeezing into a small laneway. During service you can watch chefs and waiters run back and forth between venues carrying produce, wine bottles and cigarettes. The wine bar is a stone-encased space throbbing with conversation, rock music and the constant clink of wine glasses being set and replaced. Expect a mix of classical and contemporary wines from across France. Burgundy and Rhone Valley take the lead here, with old-school Clape Cornas syrah coming up against cult Rhone stars like Eric Pfifferling, of Domaine de l'Anglore. There's an outstanding wine-friendly menu, built around a melange of Euro-bistro influences – think tomato and cherry with smoked eel, and saucisson brioche with pickled jalapeno jus

Yard

A detail from the Instagram-famous ceiling at Clown Bar, Paris.
A detail from the Instagram-famous ceiling at Clown Bar, Paris. Photo: Chris Morrison

It's hard not to feel like you have snuck into a club at Yard, where there are lots of regulars and everyone seems to know each other – it's familiar and slightly intimidating at the same time. Most of the patrons occupy streetside tables, smoking, drinking, eating and talking in the agitated, animated but friendly way that typifies young Parisians. It is a bastion of hardcore natural wine and it is good, really good. There's no wine list – just a big fridge full of wines, with lots of magnums and producers whose wines are raw, unpolished, edgy and absolutely delicious. Food is explosively flavoured and full of Italian and French inspo mingling with Greek street food.

Septime la Cave

Septime la Cave is a wine bar that feels like a way station for the seemingly endless flow of locals heading home to or heading out of the 11th arrondissement. A former shoe shop and now the pocket-sized sibling to the red-hot Restaurant Septime, it is a dark, cozy space with arched wooden beams in low-slung ceilings, a small tasting bar and a handful of seats. Food is as you would expect from the team behind one of Paris's hottest eateries – simple, small, potent and empathetic to wine. Again, no wine list; just a faux-antique cupboard, temperature-controlled and full of wines with their prices scribbled on with chalk and a small by-the-glass selection that changes almost by the hour. They are largely natural and a mix of Eurocentric labels, pet-nats and orange wines. There's a great bandwidth in price point with bottles ranging from €16 (about $26) to well over the €100  mark, and all can be drunk in venue with a corkage fee of €7 (about $11).

Clown Bar

Clown is a bistro first and a very good one. But as I sat at its stunning, curved zinc bar with the city's most Instagramable ceiling above me, it made me realise how many great restaurants in Paris have adopted a more casual and relaxed approach to wine. The wine list is heavy with vin de naturel but the service is empathetic and steers you towards the right wine for you and your meal, not just the "message in the bottle". The food is a mix of classical French with a Japanese twist. A juicy, vibrant red from Nicolas Carmarans with a gutsy duck pie was best on ground in a night of exceptional food and wine pairings. Clown is a perfect example of new and old Paris blended. It should be at the top of everyone's list.

Details

Redd, reddparis.com

Frenchie, frenchie-restaurant.com

Yard, 6 Rue de Mont-Louis

Septime la Cave, septime-lacave.fr/en/

Clown Bar, clown-bar-paris.com