Until very late hours after shows, Le Clown Bar used to entertain the artists and clowns from the nearby winter circus (Cirque d’Hiver), the first and grandest of its kind in Paris. The colorful ceiling and tiles, the fresco of Pierrots Lunaires and lively decorations V-shape from the half-moon bar set in the heart of this tiny canteen that jollies now the Parisiennes. Classified as one of the monuments historiques in France in 1995, the space reopened in 2013 as a refreshingly simple yet sophisticated bistro. Today, Clown bar is one of the best bistros in Paris because of the team’s mastery of that culinary dichotomy.
The kitchen team is now headed by ex-Saturne (also natural wines favouring bistro) chef Axel Gallart, who took over the acclaimed, Japan-born chef Sota Atsumi after he opened his new restaurant in town called Maison.
A lot plays in the nearby Septime phenomenon, yet now the reservations are easier to make at Clown Bar and I find the place more inviting and sans the mission impossible of snapping a table less of a headache.
Sitting inside or out on the rue during the warm months, packed tight, the tiny bistro tables snug everyone neatly. Kind of a pandemic nightmare and post-pandemic salvation. We came in three seasons. In a hot summer sitting at the wide open window we could savour a bit of breeze and the hip street action. In autumn one packed inside in the beautiful painterly interior and this winter, bolstered by the strict restaurant rules in Paris, we returned comfortably into a corner table. Cosily wrapped into this lively chapel of honest, seasonal and utterly reliably delectable food, we indulged.
First lands a hearty sourdough bread sourced from an excellent baker who works with top Parisian restaurants. Perfectly generous wholesome Brittany butter always stirs emotions for us. Set for a warm up glass of some vin naturel.
A three course lunch menu includes a dessert and a choice from one of the two starters (seasonal and regular menu features) and main courses, usually one meat and another seasonal fish/seafood. We usually just walk in during the lunch hours if around the 11th arrondissement. For dinner it is necessary to reserve a table ahead since the indoor dining area is tiny like the authentic bistros from the old times.
The chickpea fried panisses with rosemary and spicy harissa dip are a staple on the menu. Oh la la! That texture, creamy hot centre as you bite into the crunchy cylindric sphere fills your mouth with ecstasy. Decadently indulgent as the best in the South of France!
Girolle mushrooms tartine with fresh almonds in July was a gourmand’s heaven on a plate. If I were a Michelin inspector, a star would land with a light speed. A gently cooked octopus salad was less sophisticated, but the tentacled creature was honoured with some fresh parsley and olive oil to a purists’ delight.
Clown Bar always includes some main dish with fish like the tender Cod with carrot soubise sauce I had in February. The holy grail of Atlantic fish, my turbot was delicately cooked with wild spinach and turnips in autumn and so was the seafood bouillon with shiitake mushrooms.
Unless you dine outside at the open street terrace, you find cutlery in a small drawer inside each table. One needs a sturdier knife for the beef. This is a French bistro after all so meat plates halo the menu, from a tartare to veal brain and sweetbreads with white coco beans, the omnivores find their rainbow at the Clown Bar.
At dinner, a choice from two cheeses such as aged (18months) Comtè or Picodon d’Ardeche change seasonally. The quality is best you can get in Paris, which is a high stake!
Seasonal fruit, chocolate, popular sweets and some French classics inspire the deserts. The desserts are more contemporary, think chocolate and pecan cookies, granola with stewed apricots with fragrant sauces or French choux pastry with a generous vanilla cream filling.
Clown Bar bistro naturally seduces foodies and lovers of casually sophisticated atmosphere. Now that most of the city’s art has moved North-east beyond the Republique, current creatives fuel their bodies with the small plates around Marais and this sliver of the 11th arrondissement as once St Germain’s Café Flore did. The contemporary food is closer in style to Semilla, but more consistent.
Natural wines not only from France, but other European sustainable winemakers like Foradori made by Northern Italian biodynamic queen Elisabeta Foradori and the Sicilian Frank Cornelissen, whose vineyards around the Etna volcano produce powerful fruit whose authenticity is being preserved by the winemaker up to the point that each vintage can differ in its alcohol level by two abV points. In summer we went for a lighter Beaujolais red. With our dinner, the French producer Philippe Jambon in Chasselas, about midway between Lyon and Beaune in Burgundy, charmed out late harvest from a difficult 2017 vintage when hails damaged the stems of his vines. Clown Bar prides itself in its vast cellar and offers some bottles on their online shop.
I appreciate the nice tea selection for a zero-roof lunchtime. A tie guan yin oolong paired lovely with the seafood and fish dishes. For a post-meal energy boost, coffee by our favourite Parisian roaster L’Arbre À Cafe on Rue du Nil where hedonism thrives, picks even the pickiest coffee connoisseurs up from their chair.
Le Clown Bar is closed on weekends. Open for lunch Mon-Fri: 12:30-2pm and dinner starts at 7pm.
114 Rue Amelot, Paris 75011
+33 (0) 1 43 55 87 35