international 1120

Public House

Paris, France

Britain’s ‘Pie King,’ Calum Franklin – the moniker earned from his eye-catching pies at London’s Holborn Dining Room – has boldly launched his latest venture in France. While there are other British eateries dotted around Paris, the opening of this restaurant in the Opéra district feels particularly pugnacious, perhaps owing to its grand scale (300 seats sprawling across three floors). There’s certainly a joke to be made here about how France tends to deal with kings but, for now, the feedback is unanimously positive, with fulsome praise from both French and British press. There’s a frisson of excitement about a Brit succeeding in Paris, serving up fare that, to the French, feels both exotic and slightly amusing. Having enjoyed his cooking at the Holborn Dining Room, I was very curious to see if this new venture could match the high standards set there.

Public House enjoys the robust support of Groupe Bertrand, a hospitality titan with over 1,100 establishments across France, including the tourist-beloved Angelina, classic brasseries like Bofinger and La Coupole, and even fast-food giants such as Burger King (more royalty). The luxurious décor is testament to its generous financial backing. Set in the expansive former ‘American Dream’ entertainment complex, it is a cavernous space that dwarfs many a London restaurant and certainly sets a new standard in Paris. The venue unfolds over three levels, featuring a ‘speakeasy’ basement that still smelled of fresh paint during its opening week. It is filled with large booths and tables and patrons lounging on tartan-clad bar stools, while a mirror-lined staircase leads to plush, carpeted floors upstairs.

On the second floor, a few side rooms have been designed to evoke cosy, pub-like nooks, though these don’t quite hit the mark, feeling too new and stage-dressed with their carefully positioned chess sets. The atmosphere reminds me of a lively bouillon brasserie. My companion, however, felt it leans more towards the British boozer – “like a posh Wetherspoons”. The place was teeming when I first visited during opening week in February, its spacious rooms abuzz with conversation. Staff bustled around cheerfully, setting the stage for an enjoyable evening.

Initially, we were awkwardly seated in the busy thoroughfare at the front of the upstairs area, the team intent on maximizing every inch of space, until a waiter stumbled over one of our chairs, prompting us to move. We kicked things off with aperitifs from a cocktail menu rich in alcohol-free choices. My Negroni, strong and impeccably balanced, was possibly the best I’ve had in Paris, while my companion’s ‘Public House Appetizer’ – a flamboyant goblet overly filled with ice, Pimm’s, rhubarb and lemonade – was unfortunately watery. The wine list, predominantly French, offers a generous selection by the glass.

The starters set a formidably robust standard: a ‘half pint’ of prawns, a Cumberland sausage roll, and a Ploughman’s platter of cheddar, Stilton, pickled vegetables, and ham. There was also a ‘house’ Scotch egg, made with boudin noir, and crispy pig’s head with caramelized apple compote on offer. These hearty starters seemed a bit intimidating as a prelude to the pie extravaganza I was so looking forward to, and the nondescript butter lettuce salad offered little in the way of alternative excitement. We opted for three out of the four available pies – dauphinoise potato and aged cheddar, chicken chestnut and tarragon, and braised beef, giving the lobster pie a miss. For those not drawn to the pies, fear not; the menu is replete with every other British favourite under the sun, including fish and chips, sausage and mash, fishcakes, beef burgers, and more – quite the overload.

The pies arrived in a vibrant parade of colours and steam, with the dauphinoise and chicken pies looking modest next to the imposing beef pie. Oddly, each was accompanied by a limp leafy side salad. The braised beef pie was stunning, presented in a cast pot with a glossy, towering bone piercing its crusty lid. Yet, the pastry was a letdown – lacking the expected buttery richness with no seasoning. Sadly, too, the underside of the pastry lid was undercooked, sitting atop a filling of tender beef and sparsely-chopped carrots in a sauce that hinted at some peppery notes. It attempted a nod to beef Bourguignon but fell wildly short on seasoning, leaving the whole dish feeling unloved and neglected.

The pastry problems persisted with the dauphinoise pie, suffering from a thick, occasionally raw, crust and, once again, a notable absence of seasoning. Despite being accompanied by a vibrant green parsley sauce, the flavour was flat and overall, the dish lacked the boldness and richness expected from such a decadent-sounding pie. The pastry and filling felt disjointed, lacking a sauce inside to meld it all together.

The chicken pie was the most successful of the trio, with its creamy filling bursting with succulent chicken and tarragon. It was accompanied by a piping hot jug of flavourful gravy—just the indulgent comfort I craved. While the pastry on the chicken pie had been shown a bit more love than the others, it was far from exceptional. It was also served with an odd array of raw, haphazardly cut courgettes which felt like a strange attempt at refinement.

The chicken pie failed to dispel our disappointment at spending over seventy euros on three pies that we couldn’t even finish, thanks to the unappealing pastry. At this point, the vastness of the space felt more irksome than impressive. Despite the staff’s commendable efforts amidst a hectic service, we felt like dining inside a corporate behemoth. This impression was cemented when we were prompted to pay via QR code, an option that, while perhaps betraying my Luddite inclinations, struck me as a bit impersonal.

My second visit to Public House came at the start of March, with hopes high that the culinary missteps were teething problems of the opening weeks. As with my previous visit, the place was packed, filled seemingly with businesspeople unwinding after work. I ordered another Negroni – consistently fantastic – and crossed my fingers for a dining experience that had overcome its initial shortcomings.

The menu remained unchanged, still featuring those intense starters. I tried the house sausage roll and fried whitebait with aioli, both served in generous portions. The sausage roll was well-seasoned but had an odd, spam-like texture, and was wrapped in the all-too-familiar soggy pastry. Its structure was compromised by an excessive meat-to-under seasoned pastry ratio, falling apart into three unappealing pieces upon arrival, but it was paired with a pleasant date ketchup that provided a sweet contrast to the salty meat. The whitebait fared no better, suffering from a similar soggy affliction as the pastry, paired with a tasteless aioli.

Writing this now feels like flogging a dead horse, but I gave the braised beef pie another chance on my second visit, this time to share. It looked promising with its golden, caramelised top, but again no joy. The pastry was now incredibly dry and flavourless, overdone. While the seasoning of the ‘Bourguignon’ base was better, it was overly reduced and very oily, with grease pooling at the dish’s bottom. It was quite interesting as to how it managed to be so poor in a completely different way. Dessert continued the trend; the apple and ginger trifle was dense, tasting mainly of fridge, and lacking any creamy richness.

I was appreciative, this time round, of the QR code which allowed for a swift exit. The staff were genuinely lovely and worked tirelessly, but the food simply wasn’t up to scratch. Observing the number of gilet-clad businessmen, I surmised that as an after-work cocktail spot for office workers in the area, this place might be ideal—it has a lively atmosphere and serves a commendable Negroni. But if it’s a decent pie you’re looking for in Paris, a good alternative is L’Entente, which offers similarly priced dishes that feel more luxurious and cared for. Most importantly, their pastry is superb – rich, buttery, and wrapped around a killer chicken and mushroom filling.

Public House
Food & Drink26
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21 rue Daunou
75002 Paris

May 2024


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