Saturday, 30 March 2013

Eating Paris: in French

I love Paris. I haven't always, but every time I go back I love it a bit more, uncovering new layers of fascination as I explore different neighbourhoods and get more of a sense of how the city works.

One of the reasons I love it more every time is that I am no longer a penniless student, so I can enjoy a bit more of its culinary offerings. That said it's still pricey and you have to choose your restaurants carefully. This time I did some research in advance and it paid off, with some cracking recommendations. Unfortunately quite a few places were booked up by the time I put a call in, so make sure you make reservations well in advance.

In this post I'll cover some of the best French restaurants I went to; other restaurants will follow in a later blog.

Le Hangar
A tip from my boss, Le Hangar was one of the best meals of the trip. In a quiet backstreet near Le Centre Pompidou and on the cusp of Le Marais, initial impressions are of a slightly drab, tired joint - plain walls, worn carpets, naff artwork on the wall. All sans irony. But it's buzzing with in-the-know locals who have been frequenting it for years.

The meal started with a complimentary serving of tapenade, which we enjoyed with our Cotes du Rhone (excellently selected and good value winelist FYI).

This was followed by starters marinaded sardines and a fennel and buffalo mozarella gratin. The sardines were essentially raw, very fresh and nicely dressed. The fennel gratin was substantial, with a stocky, creamy sauce and al dente fennel.

For mains, we both ordered the pan fried foie gras (du canard) fillet on potato and olive oil puree. This was possibly the highlight of the trip - the meat being perfectly cooked, rich, tender, slightly crisp on the outside. The potatoes were a world away from any mash I've ever had. I shudder to think how much high quality olive oil went into this, but it was all worth it.

Dessert was chocolate fondant (incidentally, this appeared on almost every brasserie menu I saw), a warm, sizable disc of chocolate, again cooked to perfection with a soft gooey middle. Those M&S melting middle puddings now pale in inadequacy.

We really enjoyed this one - it felt very authentic, low key and informal, but with real care taken over food and service. It wasn't cheap, with two people having three courses, wine and badoit coming in just shy of €100, but it's probably not bad for the quality/location in Paris.

Quedubon is located high in the hills of the exciting and rapidly changing eastern suburbs, and was a tip from Rachel Khoo's amazing googlemap of Paris tips. We stayed in bustling Belleville and Quedubon was 10 minutes walk from our Airbnb apartment. Located on a quiet back street near the rolling Buttes Chaumont park, it's a wine shop through the day, converting to a wine-focused restaurant at meal times.

It had a modern, open and light feel but lots of traditional touches - a big wall-length blackboard with all their wine selections, and portable blackboards with the evening's menu were balanced on a chair next to tables who were at the point of ordering. I liked that the waiters didn't slip into English for us (same at Le Hangar too, although they really talked and talked here).

My starter was incredible: a pork knuckle patty (with lots of herbs and onions) coated in crispy breadcrumbs and served up with sauteed potatoes and a lambs lettuce salad. The meat was so sweet and juicy and made me think I need to be a lot bolder at cooking with interesting "forgotten" cuts more often.

We also ordered a pate de campagne to start - really incredibly flavoured, meaty, herby, sweet pate, with sharp cornichons and tasty bread.

For mains we both ordered slow cooked veal legs with wild mushrooms, other veg and sauce. This was very substantial and left us with no space for dessert. But it was good, tasty, tender meat.

My only complaint was that the service was a little inattentive - we ordered a second glass of wine that never arrived, and sometimes lacked warmth.

Restaurant Perraudin
Perraudin is a classic bistro in the Latin Quarter with chequered tabelcloths and a very good value lunch menu (€18.50 for three courses). It's all about proper French classics served up mostly for local residents, students and academics at the nearby universities.

We had boiled eggs with dijonaise - one of my favourite simple French dishes - nothing quite conjures up the taste of childhood holidays like this dish.

I had my first steak tartare - I was pleased how seasoned it was with finely chopped onions, capers, herbs and mustard. Served with a well dressed salad and crisp fries, I made it through all that raw meat and really enjoyed it!

Desserts were classic too. Ille flottante for me - with generous lashings of creme anglaise and toasted almonds.

The service was very friendly, the atmosphere very relaxed - leisurely lunchers debating philosophical points over tasty, unpretentious, good value food.

Creperie Suzette
After trying to get a walk in at Breizh Cafe and failing (this highly regarded Breton creperie is VERY popular), and desperate for crepes, we ended up at Creperie Suzette in Le Marais. We were not disappointed with this lovely restaurant and their friendly service. It was a cold Sunday evening and the place was full of gaggles of Parisians toasting the end of the weekend over cider and galettes.

I started with a complete - ham, egg and cheese - the classic. It was just what I wanted.

For dessert I had a crepe with cooked apples and very generous lashings of caramel sauce.

All in all very delicious, and I did not feel cheated out of my crepe fix after not getting a table at Cafe Breizh.

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