Lichen on a Sunny Saturday, Freshly Deconfined

We didn’t stray far from home for our first restaurant meal after déconfinement. That 1km max running radius seemed to set in deep psychologically and for the first time we really opened our eyes to the many fantastic options on Palais Gallien. Yes, nearing Gambetta, it turns into kebab country and the suffocating odor of greasy street meat and old oil prevails. But further down, there’s Scandinavian smörgåsbord brunch at Koeben, excellent tea-time cakes and scones at Palais des Saveurs, designer gastronomie cooked on a slab of pink Himalayan salt at Cromagnon, and newly Michelin-starred Italian fine dining at Tentazioni, among many others. Lichen is another one of these Palais Gallien establishments, and I had walked by it enough times to know what to expect: garden-fresh, locally sourced and seasonal everything, kind of like Belle Campagne once was, but with more of a lunchtime vibe… On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in June, following a plant expo where I had become a proud plant mom to four beautiful green babies, we were in the mood for something fresh and raw. Lunch at Lichen on a sunny sidewalk seat hit the spot perfectly.

The kefta starter was delicious, made from beef from a nearby butcher, hand-pressed into a little ball and flavored with smoked paprika, cumin and mint. Perfectly cooked, yet not a touch of excess grease anywhere, so it was probably baked not fried. With it came a Stracciatella di Bufala type creamy, elastic cheese sprinkled with chives and a dollop of fresh yogurt to dip the meat into, a small side salad and cherry tomatoes that looked raw but were actually roasted and warm, a very pleasant surprise. Fat chunks of Mozzarella di Bufala also made an appearance in very generous proportions in our second starter, which was a beautifully presented caprese. A layered, red-white-and-green tower of juicy, ripe beefsteak tomatoes and bright white mozz, which tasted like clean cream and hints of salty brine. The tomato and cheese tower was splashed here and there with a super flavorful house-made basil pesto and sprinkled with red onion, chives, toasted pine nuts and white sesame seeds. Plenty of textural contrast and bright, fresh flavors.

Ben’s main dish was one that will keep me coming back here regularly for lunch on days I work from home. On a pretty ceramic plate were two incredibly tender, moist and smooth fishcakes made of “caramelized” pollock, boldly seasoned with ginger and lemongrass. Biting into these was pure joy, the flakey bits of fish falling apart into pieces, dense and concentrated in southeast Asian flavors, but still very light and airy. These balls were nestled on a bed of “riz cantonnais à la tomate,” which was a simple fried rice in a bright tomato flavored cream. Drizzled over the top was a sweet and sour sauce, which actually did a lot to round out the flavors of the dish, balancing nicely with the tomato, but also enhancing the hints of spice in the fishcakes. And finally, red onions and the same plump, hot little confit cherry tomatoes added further texture. A warm, hearty dish but still light enough for summer, with so many great flavors.

I got the “Salade Lichen,” a big beautiful plate of all their house hits with a single ball of falafel in the middle. The falafel itself was slightly too dense and dry for my liking, but nicely seasoned and served with a mouthwatering, house-made hummus, some bulgur, fresh tomatoes, cucumber and zucchini, raw and pickled red onions and lettuce, with the same white and black sesame seeds and toasted pine nuts sprinkled over the top. Some verdant basil pesto was squeezed over one part of the dish, some Asian sweet and sour suce over the rest. A single prawn chip added crunch.

Washed down with some artisanal sodas, this lunch was exactly what we had been craving: new flavors and textures, new dishes cooked by someone else. Judging by the IG account dedicated to their very photogenic food, they change their menu quite often, so I’m looking forward to being back there for lunch or brunch sometime very soon.

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