Paris: the food


OK, I’ll come right out with it and admit that I didn’t get to eat as many cakes and cheese as I thought I would on my recent trip to Paris. It unfolded as a more cultural journey as opposed to a food oriented one, much to my mum’s surprise. The pressure to find good food is high when you’re only visiting a place for a short while. That challenged is doubled when you arrive on a Friday night and leave on a Monday. The cheese shops are closed from Sunday afternoons and don’t open again till Tuesday. But that’s OK, I managed to bag myself a little twin pack of St Marcelin on my way to the train station and I think even the Parisians were impressed to see I had found a boulanger open early Monday morning in our area.

Our first day ended with a rushed croque monsieur at a rather shabby brasserie in Ecole Militaire. I won’t go into details, but at least we had good intentions. Our segway tour was scheduled for 7pm so we didn’t have a lot of time to assess the neighbourhood. Little did we know that just around the corner was a hive of restaurant activity, as our kind segway host pointed out. We returned to the area the next night for a meal at Les Crocs De L’ogre on 81,Avenue Bosquet on the recommendation of our segway guy. It looked like a chic steak house where we thought we might get the best steak and chips in town. We didn’t. It was run by earnest young men who take their meat seriously but it was all a bit over priced and our steaks – though very nice pieces of meat – came out under cooked (rare) and cold. It seemed we should have ordered a ribby hunk of meat that was being delivered to all the tables around us which looked and smelled delicious. Nevertheless, it was a fun night. Mum swore the guy sitting next to our table was George Clooney on a rent-a-date for $58,000. It wasn’t. I still don’t think she’s convinced.

The next day was jam-packed with more walking and seeing of sites like the folk art museum in Monmartre and the Opera Garnier followed by a browse around the food court of Galleries Lafayette and a rummage through the tiny corridors of E. Dehillerin in Les Halles. Our first best meal was at L’Entracte brasserie on 1 Rue Auber opposite the Opera Garnier. It was exactly what you’d expect from an established Parisian bistro. All the cafes and brasseries do people-watching well, with their large terraces assembled with street-facing chairs for diners and drinkers to watch and be watched. But L’Entracte did the inside bit well also. It was wood panelled and cosy, bustling with hot and bothered waiters and serving up plates of delectable dishes like French onion soup and roast chicken.

The French onion soup was perfectly light and rich with flavour. It was just the meal to have before a course of cheese. We had Roquefort and Camembert – pedestrian choices I know but it’s what they were serving. But a lovely meal it was and a very nice ambiance. I would recommend it to anyone looking for that quintessential Parisian experience.

The pastry at Coquelicot was excellent. The millefeuille was rich and creamy with crispy layers of pastry. VC had a chocolate tart that was exceedingly rich and yet not overly sweet. People were lining up for pastry at this place and I could understand why. You can see the dry, brittle layers in the photo, sandwiching the cream filling exactly as it should.

Activists and duck enthusiasts look away for the moment because my next meal of note was the fois gras at Le Pres en Clercs St on Rue Bonaparte in St Germain. After a long walk around the famed neighbourhood, we spotted this little brasserie festooned inside with faux blossoms – sounds tacky but it wasn’t somehow. We had to wait for a table but it was worth it because after a little recce of the neighbourhood the prices were more reasonable than most. Mum ordered a roast chicken with mash, VC had burger with goat’s cheese and I had one of my favourite meals of all time, foie gras. It came very simple on the plate, with only a little bit of fig jam and some toasted country bread. The actual foie gras was perfect; creamy, light and not so rich that I couldn’t eat the whole thing. Yes, I ate the whole thing (I say that quite a lot).

Most of our meals were accompanied by wine and it made for some languid afternoon sightseeing but added such pleasure to our long-awaited meals. Our last dinner was in Monmartre in a place not worth mentioning, not because it was bad, but because I think you could do better. But it was getting late and we were tired and just wanted to eat. We ended up having a lovely cheese plate where I discovered the St Marcelin cheese – so it was good for something I guess.

To end our discussion on French food, I’ll leave you with a few albums that are great for cooking to. The first suggestion is anything by Charles Asnavour, the second is the soundtrack to Woody Allen’s flick, Midnight in Paris – this is my current favourite, I even ordered Sidney Bechet’s Petit Fleur I was so impressed with the first track. I also think anything from Yves Montand would be appropriate, but perhaps not as jaunty as kitchen music should be.

I had better run, I’ve gone all Julia Child and made a beef bourguignon. I made it yesterday but the meat was still rubbery at dinner time – what a disaster! Note to self: when using extremely cheap meat cuts, give it the courtesy of many hours of slow cooking. These dishes are better with an overnight stay in the fridge anyway, so I am looking forward to a fancy French beef stew tonight.

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