Brilliant Japanese Food in Montmartre

August 2, 2008

If you’ve read HUNGRY FOR PARIS, you know that I didn’t include many foreign restaurants in the book. Only places that I found really exceptional, like Liza, a terrific Lebanese in the 2nd, made the cut, because I think most people come to Paris to eat French food. Tonight, however, I went to one of the best Japanese restaurants I’ve ever been to anywhere, Guilo Guilo in Montmartre, and it will certainly be included in any subsequent editions of HUNGRY FOR PARIS.

I’ve only ever been to Japan once, but seated at the counter of this delightful restaurant tonight, I realized that this single trip four years ago had had a big impact on me. Quite simply, I fell in love with Japan–the people, the food, and a culture that attaches so much importance to the aesthetic side of life. I ate some of the best food I’ve ever had during this trip, too, notably sushi at 4am at the Tokyo fish market, fresh soba (buckwheat noodles), and an amazing Buddhist vegetarian lunch at a temple south of Tokyo.

Unfortunately, most of what passes for Japanese food in large western cities very little resembles what you find in Japan. In fact a Japanese friend from Kyoto who recently passed through Paris told me he wouldn’t touch the sushi served in western cities with a barge pole, or perhaps a very long chopstick. Why? He could see that the fish just wasn’t fresh enough.

Guilo-Guilo is the new Paris address of renowned Kyoto chef Eichi Edakuni, a charming man who runs the open kitchen with the precision of an orchestra master. Edakuni explained that the name of his restaurant is a variant on the Italian expression “Giro-Giro,” which means turn-turn, or a process of evolution. The reason he chose this term is that the single menu at his restaurant changes monthly. Assuming I’ll be able to book a table every month, this means that I’ll be looking forward to at least one spectacular meal in the future.

Our meal began with tempura of New Caledonian shrimp with an intriguing corn sauce, a dot of real wasabi and a chunk of mango, and it was an exquisite preview of what was to come. Next, a plump Gillardeau oyster cooked tempura style and served with a deep-fried chicken liver, a seaweed and sesame salad, and a sushi wrapped in a fried tofu wrapper. White miso soup with seaweed and a delicious dumpling of chopped sardine followed, and then an exquisite dish of mackerel mi-cuit (I watched Edakuni as he flamed the fish skin side up so that it became completely charred). The mackerel came with seaweed and creamy codfish eggs as a garnish. Next, drop dead good beignets of taro root and foie gras with a sauce of eel and mirin and garnish of enoki mushroom and okra. Finally, a cold noodle dish with sliced omelette, a grilled sardine, and pickled cabbage and bitter squash. Dessert was a green tea flan made with soy milk and garnished with watermelon balls marinated in lychee licquer.

This fabulous feast unfolded over the course of two hours and ran 45 Euros a head, a relative bargain given how astonishingly good the food was. Guilo-Guilo has a wonderful sake menu, and also serves wine by the glass–Edakuni told us that he finds that white Macon is the French wine that best teams with his cooking.

It took three weeks to get this reservation, and even then, we had to settle for the 7pm service (the second one begins at 9.30pm), so even though the restaurant is going to be closed for most of August, you should try and book asap if you’re going to be in Paris in September.

Guilo-Guilo, 8 rue Garreau, 18th arrondissement, Metro: Abbesses.

  • Kay Rothman

    Alexander! I was so sorry to see that you’d disovered Guilo-Guilo! I know I’m being selfish, but it’s been our favorite restaurant in Paris for the last couple of months and now I fear that it’ll be even harder to get a reservation. You’re a great sleuth, though. Best, Kay