This restaurant, run by chef/owner Stephane Jego, opened in its current form in 2002 on the site of a Basque bistro of the same name dating back to 1931. Mr Jego, himself from the Basque country, had previously worked for twelve years with Yves Camdeborde at the famous Paris bistro La Regalade.
It has an open kitchen and an emphasis on higher-grade ingredients than you might expect in such a simple place. It has a bustling atmosphere and is well-known for its generous portion sizes; no-one leaves here hungry. The dining room is noisy and cramped, with hams hanging from the ceiling. At one end of the room is a view into the surprisingly small kitchen. The noise level today was occasionally enhanced by Mr Jego shouting and screaming at his fellow chefs. One outburst was so extreme that the entire dining room went quiet as the diners sat in shocked silence while the tirade continued. According to someone who has been here on several occasions this kind of incident is not particularly rare.
The menu offers a carte choice as well as a “carte blanche” menu at €55 at lunch (we opted for the longer, evening. version of this at €75. Starters ranged from €18 to €20, main courses €38 to €45, desserts €10. The wine list offered selections such as Les Sorcieres 2014 at €48 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €24, the very pleasant Agnes Paquet Chassagne Montrachet 2013 at €85 for a bottle that retails at €55, and Vielle Julienne Chateauneuf du Pape 2009 at €110 for a wine that will set you back €50 in a shop. There were a few posher wines, though Lynch Bages 2006 at €310 compared to a current market price of €117 was no bargain.
The bread is from baker Jean-Luc Poujauran, who supplies some of the city’s top restaurants. The meal began with Parmesan soup with cabbage and bonito flakes. This was excellent, rich and pleasing, the cabbage providing an earthy contrast to the cheese (15/20). A scallop was grilled and served with a spinach puree. The scallop was cooked well enough though was not quite hot when it appeared, but the spinach puree was intensely flavoured (14/20).
Tuna sashimi was next. I am a huge fan of raw tuna, but one of the pieces I was served was stringy and sinewy, which was a pity (12/20). This was still preferable to octopus with pumpkin and cabbage. Octopus is a difficult creature to work with, and even in Japan I have encountered chewy versions; sadly this particular specimen was distinctly rubbery (10/20).
Fortunately it was easy to forget this when the next dish arrived. Hare royale arrived in a cast iron pot, slow-cooked meat mixed with a rich sauce made with the blood of the hare. Just in case this was not rich enough, grilled foie gras was served on the side. This was a fine creation, the hare beautifully rich, the liver lightly cooked (easily 16/20).. Sanity would have suggested something like a side salad for balance rather than the buttery mash that actually came with it.
Grey mullet came with artichoke and was properly cooked, though I personally much prefer red mullet to this (13/20). Chicken came from Drome in southeastern France, steam-grilled and served with salad leaves. This was pleasant though unremarkable (14/20). For chicken I have spoilt by The Landes birds at Ferme au Grives.
We had a selection of goat cheese in good condition, and then the only dessert that appeared was a vast bowl of their signature rice pudding. This dish is not a great personal favourite of mine but was certainly very well made as rice puddings go, having creamy consistency and being nicely flavoured with vanilla (14/20).
The bill came to €226 (£165) per head, but that was with copious quantities of good wine. The food element of the meal was €75 (£55) each, and if you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head would be around £75, though you could eat for less than this at lunch.
Chez Ami Jean was certainly an interesting experience, and the hare royale dish was memorable, though the dish quality was quite erratic today. Whether it is wise for a chef with a volcanic temper to operate in an open kitchen is debatable, but it certainly adds an element of entertainment.