In her welcoming bistro hidden on the rue Ramponeau, Véro prepares homemade dishes with touches of Italy, Georgia and Russia
One can walk up the rue Ramponeau from Belleville Boulevard to Belleville Park without noticing the little red bistro at number 33. But those who stop and notice Chez Véro discover a rare pearl. Inside, the 25-seat restaurant is vintage and cozy. Wood paneling and mirrors line the right wall. A zinc bar, stocked with Italian apéritifs and wines, stands to the left. The decor hasn’t changed in more than 10 years, but the menu changes daily, as the eraser marks on the menu slate attest.
In the kitchen at the back, Véro, the owner and chef, is mixing leeks and goat’s cheese for today’s appetizer, poirade chèvre. “I tried to leave this little bistro in its original state, which I found charming, as much as possible,” she explains.
Véro took over the restaurant, then called Chez Ahmed, in 2011. She has since earned a loyal clientele with her homemade dishes and her frank style both in and out of the kitchen. “I found the right formula for me: a small restaurant, where I do what I want – because that’s important. I cook what I want, when I want,” she says. Her cooking is influenced by her travels. “I bring back tastes,” she clarifies, “It’s really influences, not traditional dishes”.
Raised around Paris, Véro spent her childhood vacations with her family in Anzio, a village near Rome. “I mostly learned to cook in Italy with my aunts and grandmother. And in fact, my Italian family is of Egyptian origin, so it’s a whole mix of Mediterranean in the broadest sense. For example, it was eggplant gratins, risottos, but also ful (a stew of big fava beans) and mulukhiyah (chicken soup with rice and an herb, called mulukhiyah, which gave its name to the soup).
Later, Véro lived in Moscow, where she developed a taste for borscht and coulibiac, and takes regular trips to Georgia, where she appreciates the cuisine’s use of walnuts, herbs and slow-cooked meats.
Yet health is her main concern when she is cooking: “I was brought up with the saying ‘your food is your best medicine.’ And that’s something fundamental that animates me on a regular basis.” Whether it’s bouillons for her risottos and cream soups, or puff pastries for her apple tarts, everything on her menu is fresh and homemade. “I don’t buy any manufactured products. It’s all raw ingredients. But that’s the fun part,” she says.
Véro opens for lunch Monday to Friday, and dinner Wednesday through Friday. She tries to offer a choice of two appetizers, with “one vegetal and one more ‘animal’, such as a beet and goat’s cheese mousse and a sea bream tartare.” For the main dish, she usually prepares a choice of meat, fish or her renowned risotto. For her desserts, she draws from her CAP pastry certificate at the Ferrandi culinary school and her time at the Stohrer pastry shop.
Véro also tries to keep her prices affordable for her customers, generally people who work or live in the neighborhood. “I know all my customers. Sometimes I see new people, and then they come back,” she says with a smile. “When I opened, I didn’t think the customers would be so loyal, but that’s what’s really nice. I love it,” she says, noting that she herself had frequented the bistro before she took over it.
Véro has lived in Belleville for some 18 years now. After living elsewhere in Paris, she says this neighborhood is her favorite. “It’s still a working-class neighborhood, but that’s pretty nice. And multi-ethnic, which is also very pleasant. There are children, but there are also old people. And everything mixes together really well. I think it’s great,” she says.
With the dining room closed due to Covid, Véro now only serves takeout lunches that are easy to reheat at the office or at home. Regulars pop their heads in to pick up their orders or to inquire about the week’s menu:
“What’s on the menu tomorrow?”
“Eggplant parmigana! And pork belly cooked with apples. Slow cooked. It’s already in the oven!”
33 rue Ramponeau