Septime: Joie de Vivre in an Overheated Climate
I got baked at Septime. And I don’t mean a pleasant lackadaisical kind of haze, the sort that you would subsume your holiday dreams; but the kind that torments you with embarrassing sweat patches and clumpy bangs after purposeful cold showers. I had touched down in Paris just hours before, and there were weather rumours going around claiming a spike in the inculpable heatwave that had already overstayed its welcome in Europe.
Being born and bred in Asia and having spent some time in the Middle East, I assumed I would inherit some sort of natural immunity against the torridness. Alas, I was sadly mistaken. After a 20-minute walk and half an hour riding the Paris metro, I wended my way off uncovered pavements into Septime feeling feverish, horrible about myself and absolutely uninspired.
It was my first time ever in France and the city was making a killer first impression (literally)—with a temperature of 42.6°C, the highest in Paris history since 1947. Once I entered the restaurant, a distraught look appeared on my face—there was no A/C in sight, and the blistering heat in the 40-seater dining room was mitigated only by 3 standing fans. For a brief moment, I was overwhelmed in a poetic frenzy that involved the most heinous words in the dictionary, and it would take a miracle of a meal to set things right.
We had rigged up Americano cocktails on the double to our table. I heaved a sigh of relief at the one tasting menu option during lunch as floundering with the menu translations wasn’t something on my preferred agenda. Cool relief came in the form of the cucumber amuse-bouche, which I’ve never been a fan of cold soups up till now. This one, fuelled with a colourful expression of fresh almonds, raspberries and cucumber cubes zinged with freshness. I gorged on the sight of the next dish; the ‘taco’ is a shorthand for Septime’s intricate and soothing composition of line-caught tuna tartare, smoked egg yolk, fermented beets and Thai Basil on crisp lettuce leaf. I drew immediate references to the San Choy Bau instead, but didn’t think twice navigating it into my mouth.
As my kind nature stewed and wilted in the heat, the staff carried on the valiant service—one that displayed grace and courage under fire. They topped up bowls of ice at every table regularly, recommended crisp glasses of Chardonnay from Jura and refreshed baskets of warm sourdough without judgemental stares.
Septime prides itself on the intent of lightening and refreshing a lexicon that French food is rich and unhealthy. There was a medley of cherry tomatoes, both fresh and dehydrated alongside gooseberries, all mingling with buffalo milk and meadowsweet oil. This was destined for your mouth. Every single texture had a purpose, all in a collective effort to emulate summer in your mouth. We may be a little too well acquainted with buffalo cheese and tomatoes by now, but what feels invigorating is the next dish—a mixed bag of beans. Green beans and butter beans bathed in a sultry beurre blanc were given a hay and meadowsweet facelift. The flavours never sit still; each comforting, enhanced by toasted hazelnuts that turn out to be quite a delicacy.
The umami ingredient, miso, is put to good use in the last savoury dish—churned into butter and stuffed between the crevices of the poulet’s skin and flesh. The succulent chicken showed a master’s touch, with every bite vibrantly seasoned. Then there’s the admirable candied lemon jus which had nothing subtle about it and played nicely into the overall composition.
Before long, I was faced with another pleasant sensation: dessert of poached apricot slices and yogurt sorbet sluiced in jaunty mint oil. The perfect condiment for this sweet yet refreshingly zingy scoop: lemon thyme crumb which you would want to doggy bag home. It’s a simple finale: ice cream and crumble, but it hits the spot. Some comforts are timeless, after all.
With recent remarks that French food may be stagnating in a pool of congealing demi-glace, Septime is reinventing the wheel. The No. 15 World’s Best Restaurant (also one Michelin star) prices their 5-step tasting menu at an affordable 60 euros, ensuring that quality food is never out of reach. You’ll just have to go online to secure your seats three weeks in advance.
At Septime, there’s so much heart in this place that I just might overlook the blazing weather and learn to embrace the French way of joie de vivre in any given situation.