Paris gems: Chez Omar

ParisSituated on the Marais’ rue de Bretagne, this restaurant really is nothing special from the outside. You’d be forgiven for walking by and not giving it a second look, but you would be making a very poor decision for your stomach if you did that. The red awning bears the description “Sptés de couscous” (specialises in couscous), and it does not lie. Step across the threshold and you enter the home, no, the temple of couscous. Soft pillows of semolina are piled onto silver platters and plonked onto your table, where the little beige jewels overflow onto your plate and entice you. The menu has entrées and plats, but my fellow diners and I ignored all this and looked straight at the couscous menu, as this is the house speciality. Choose from merguez sausages, succulently slow roasted chicken, aromatic lamb kebabs and this turns up to spice up the couscous mounds, all accompanied by one of the most delicious vegetable stews that this writer has had in a while. Cooked to perfection, the soft courgettes, chickpeas, carrots, celery, swede and friends come in a tasty red jus to moisten the couscous. If, like my friends and I, you have a large appetite, it’s the place for you. Whilst scraping the ladle to the bottom of the pot for seconds, the cheerful waiter came over and asked if we wanted more, promptly returning with a replenished pot of steaming goodness. Thirds were had, and buttons were undone.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned pudding. Again, there was a list of desserts, but there is only one thing to choose: patisseries orientales aka baklava. Piled high onto beautifully painted ceramic bowls, two ceremonial-style offerings of almond and pistachio-based and honey-based sweetmeats are left at the table, leaving you the impossible task of choosing which slices of heaven to pick. This food-lover’s advice: from the honey tray, pick the swirl or the little square parcel, and go for any of the scarily green pistachio ones from the other. They are to die for. Melt in the mouth. Parcels of wonder. Need I continue?

To top the whole experience off, the restaurant has a welcoming and warm ambiance, with jovial and friendly waiters (in Paris, shocking I know) and Omar himself came over to chat to our table, and, having found out that we were a group of Londoners, he proceeded to say “London, great city” every time he walked past the table. It has an old-school Paris feel to it, complete with dark wood, glass details, mirrors and the faded charm so particular of this city. A highlight for me was the tiny kitchen complete with tiny window onto which steaming plates of joy were placed for waiters to deliver to beaming faces.

It really is a great little place, and completely merits the queue inside and outside the door for a taste of Omar’s famous couscous.

Chez Omar, 47 rue de Bretagne, Paris 3e.