Everything at Nanashi Bento is simple and understated: the bare floors, the square white plates that fit together like Japanese lunchboxes, the neat staff aprons. The food: mixed grains, honey-roast vegetables, soy-marinated grilled duck or tofu. Everything, that is, except the clientele. In the heart of the haut Marais, this modern canteen attracts gallery owners, models, all-round artsy types dressed in uncomfortable trousers, perhaps a short kimono, certainly with asymmetric haircuts.
That is to say, come for the fresh, healthy food (people-watching is a bonus). Enjoy a bento style lunch, with fish, meat or vegetarian options. Add sesame seeds and soy sauce, mop it all up with the dark sourdough bread. It is my favourite kind of modern food, the kind that takes inspiration from different cultures (in this case, France and Japan) but not just because. The wild duck with sour cherries and quinoa made sense, it was not just a haphazard combination thrown together and masked with drizzles of this and that. The fresh sushi rolls made with a small taste of foie gras turned out to be an excellent idea.
Peek over the kitchen counters by the entrance and choose a dessert from the Japanese pastry chef. Her pannacotta was one of the best I have ever tasted – made with black sesame paste, the cream was silken smooth and only just set. As grey as a moody sky, adorned with two blackberries and a raspberry, it was even beautiful in its simplicity. The next time we arrived for lunch at 2pm, they had sold out of pannacotta. Disappointed, I settled on another favourite, a matcha cheesecake. Not normally a fan of cheesecakes – too stodgy – but I love matcha (pure green tea powder) and trusted that it would have the same lightness of touch. It lived up to expectations, creamy but not rich. It had the same minimalist style too: one square of pastel-green cheesecake with a thin layer of whipped cream and a sole blueberry. No frills, nothing to hide the pure taste and aesthetic.
Nanashi Bento: recommended by pastry chefs and arty types from France and Japan.
Nanashi Bento – open every day for lunch and dinner (for which reservations are recommended) and takeaway
74 rue Charlot, 3eme – tel: 09 60 00 25 59 (click link for other locations)