Royal Boucherie: A Jewel in Chef Nick Elmi’s Philadelphia Crown
Nick Elmi is one of Philadelphia’s leading culinary luminaries, and helms one of its most in-demand fine-dining restaurants, Laurel, as well as its next-door small-plates bar, ITV. For his third effort, Elmi took a decidedly different tack, though: a low-key, bi-level French-inspired brasserie called Royal Boucherie, with plenty of dark woods and exposed brick, (very) dim lighting, housemade charcuterie, a raw bar, creative cocktails, and a meat-heavy menu. When we visited on a recent weekend evening at the invitation of the restaurant, it was loud and bustling, with hourlong waits for a table in a neighborhood (Old City) with no shortage of good restaurants. These crowds were there for a reason, and our meal there made it pretty obvious.
The restaurant is divided into a handful of spaces: a front bar room, a back dining room, and a dining room and outdoor space upstairs. We were seated in the back room, which was dim and cozy, with a fireplace and convivial vibe. We started our meal with a couple cocktails (including a very well-made classic Gibson, which the menu helpfully points out was invented by Walter Gibson in San Francisco in 1898), followed by a couple appetizers.
Pea and leek-filled “barbajawns” (a play on the traditional barbajuan, a fried turnover from the South of France), were were crispy and addictive but a bit too salty.
Roasted baby beets with whipped Parmesan, charred garlic scapes, and rye gremolata put a creative spin on a now-ubiquitous app.
The restaurant also received a whole mangalitsa hog when it opened last November, and they’ve been breaking it down into charcuterie since then; on special when we visited was prosciutto, which we were eager to sample. It was delicious but was probably about 75 percent fat, making it much closer to lardo than traditional prosciutto.
For our mains, we ordered roasted lamb top sirloin, belly, and rib with charred eggplant, zucchini, vadouvan and romesco and steak au poivre with bordelaise and whipped potato.
The lamb was a complex, North African-inspired assortment of perfectly medium-rare cylinders of lamb sirloin, a slab of slow-cooked belly, and a tender, lightly gamy rib atop a stewed vegetable mélange, and it would have been right at home at a restaurant far more upscale than this.
The steak was nicely seared and perfectly cooked, atop a creamy mound of mashed potatoes and doused with a ladle of rich, peppery sauce and grilled scallions.
The wine list is limited but interesting, sourced from some unexpected lands. Whites include a callet-prensal-muscat blend from Majorca, a pinot grigio from Slovenia, a žilavka from Macedonia, and a vermentino from Corsica; reds include a grenache from Sardinia, a malbec-merlot blend from Cahors, a Zweigelt-Blaufränkish blend from Burgenland, and a baladi from Israel. It’s always nice to see a wine list that takes you out of your comfort zone a little, and I was impressed with the Zweigelt-Blaufränkish (a 2013 Weingut Heinrich Neusiedlersee).
Royal Boucherie is one of those restaurants that’s ideal for a weekend night, and has a lot to offer. Whether you just want to sit at the bar to enjoy a house-made charcuterie platter and sample some off-the-beaten-path wines, have a big, celebratory meal in a jovial space, or enjoy a warm evening with cocktails and appetizers on a charming patio, we’d recommend seeing what all the buzz is about for yourself.
The meal that was the subject of this review was provided at no cost to the author.