Paris food & drink experience

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's best to gather recommendations in advance or ask your hotel. The best food is rarely found in the most popular tourist spots - perhaps enjoy a drink at a prime location and eat elsewhere. Bookings for many places can usually be made same day and the bistros have a high turnover so you're often ok just to turn up. A 15% service charge is automatically added to your bill in most places - sometimes it's stated and sometimes it's not. You can ask if you're not sure. You'd be hard pressed to find a restaurant where English isn't spoken and most places have English menus available, or will translate.

TGV Lyria - a cold meal is included when traveling across borders with the TGV in first class. Outward bound (Zurich to Paris) it was a salmon fillet served with a weird rice concoction. This was not the creator's finest hour and the accompanying small pouring of white wine was terrible. Inward bound things improved with three delicious prawns and a simple smoked salmon starter. If the bundle of carrots hadn’t been horribly soggy I wouldn’t have had any complaints. A cup of tea was served 45 minutes after the meal - well it was more half a cup. Service - it's perfectly summed up by the blissful ignorance on show when a gentleman’s tray crashed to the ground and the staff did not even bat an eyelid.

Relais de L’Entrecôte (20, rue Saint-Benoît, 75006) - no reservations, so join the inevitable line outside. You may be a little taken aback when the waitress's first question is how would you like your meat - but that's because steak frites (24.80€) is the only thing on the menu. Very good it is too, served in their famed homemade sauce. The accompanying fries lacked consistency - perhaps a by-product of a busy kitchen, but the meal is served in two helpings which is a nice touch. Just remember to duck when the waitresses come flying by at breakneck speed. Before your main is served a pleasant walnut salad is delivered. Their desserts are indulgent, unhealthy affairs - our ice cream profiteroles with melted chocolate sauce were the perfect end to this casual meal.

Roger la Grenouille (28 Rue des Grands Augustins, 75006) - our hotel recommended this restaurant. The only negative was many American tourists giving it the 'where y'all from' with other tables. Literally translated it’s Roger the frog - and the frogs at this place don't stop with the multitude of ribbeting memorabilia all around you. The three course fixed menu (31€) was excellent value for money, with a starter of foie gras creme brûlée. If your mind can cope the fact that this isn’t a dessert then it’s a good treat for the taste buds. With a dazzling line up of frogs legs dishes it is hard to choose, but I took battered frogs legs - like chicken wings with an avocado based dipping sauce to accompany. The batter should have been a little crispier though. The other main of duck breast was as huge as it was delicious with an expertly prepared serving of potato dauphinoise. The evening was rounded off with a soft piece of chocolate gateau with a fine citrus sauce. For a small, intimate bistro and an opportunity to sample snails and frogs legs by a proper French chef Roger is the frog you are looking for.

Ice cream macaroon at Berthillon, Paris

Berthillon (29-31 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, 75004) - famous ice cream maker, whose produce is found throughout the city. This is its home address, with takeaway to the right and a lovely seating area to the left. Macaroon with a scoop of ice cream inside (7.50€) is a speciality, but our encased raspberry sorbet was a little too rich - though the accompanying pot of raspberry sauce was terrific. My sundae with a generous serving of fresh cream was great - the ice cream has a pure dreamy quality to it and is available in many interesting flavours. Definitely worth the walk.

Les Tablettes (16, avenue Bugeaud, 75016). This restaurant has recently received a Michelin star - so this was the ‘high end’ restaurant visit of our trip. The seasonal menu is 120€, which is fair value given the size of each of the six courses. Though by the time you add wine, chosen from their iPad menu, this is an expensive evening. What we had:

Service is polished. Criticisms? Well the courses do come out of the kitchen fairly quickly; we'd have appreciated a longer pause in between. And the restaurant seems to try and reuse tables, which leads to people waiting in the small entrance foyer - not an issue for us, but I’d have been annoyed if we had been one of those waiting. Overall, we were pleased that we’d chosen Les Tablettes to enjoy our special meal.

Chez Fernand (13, rue Guisarde 75006) - located on a fabulously traditional street two minutes from Marbillon metro station. Inside it’s red and white tablecloths and waiters / waitresses who pull the table out for you to take your seat. Very popular with French locals, many of whom were obviously regulars. Burgundy snails (9.50€ for 6) to start - you must hold the shell in place and pick the snail out. They were rather pleasant to taste, helped by the generous accompaniment of garlic. The rib eye steak and beef bourguignon look like the star attractions. My duck burger with foie gras (20.50€) was very good - albeit a lot of red meat. A chocolate fondant style souffle (8.50€), looked the part but its solidity provided a disappointing end to a thoroughly satisfying French bistro meal.

City crepe cafe (73, Rue de Seine, 75006). It doesn't have the outdoor seating of the inferior establishments around the corner, but you can't complain when the crepes are this good. Try the salted caramel with a banana filling (6.40€) - its wonderful. By far the best crepe we had in Paris.

Vesuvio (1 Rue Gozlin, 75006). If you want a break from the French bistros then this Italian is a fair bet. Their hopeless inability to co-ordinate the arrival of a lasagne and pizza is forgivable, when the pizza (12.50€) is this good - its base was thin, springy and addiction forming. There is nothing wrong with the generous serving of lasagne (13€) either, although it could not dissipate my envy at the pizza being devoured opposite.

Le pub St Germain (17 Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, 75006). This bar has a really nice vibe to it, with leather seats, upbeat music playing and a mix of tourists and Parisians. Like most places there's a 1€ surcharge for drinks ordered after 9pm - so it’s certainly expensive. Infact 12.50€ for 50cl of beer is ridiculous! Order a bottle of champagne though and it arrives with a pyrotechnic strapped to it - elsewhere it could be tacky but here it seems entirely appropriate. Le Relais Odeon is adjacent, which is another historic spot for a drink.

Square Saint Honore (40, place du marche st Honore, 75001). This was our wildcard choice. We had followed the guidebook to Le Zinc d’Honore, but it had no outside seats available and their menu was limited. The welcome at Saint Honore was warm and the sea bass, on a bed of vegetables, was fantastically fresh and moist (21€). My duck (19.50€) was served ready sliced slice, but unfortunately well overcooked. The great garlic roast potatoes alongside it were somewhat redeeming. The creme brulee (8€) was up to the mark and gave me the opportunity to try this French classic. I wouldn’t rush back to this restaurant, but it’s located on a square packed full of bars and restaurants - a pleasant spot and much quieter than the surrounding congested streets.

Le Bar at Hôtel de Crillon (10 Place de la Concorde, 75008) - this is a renowned hotel, which has stood in its prime location for hundreds of years. So it’s well worth a visit just to spy on this hotel’s interior. The piano bar is fairly compact, but there were plenty of spare seats on the Saturday night we visited. The barman seemed more interested in creating his own cocktails than delivering what the customer wanted - eventually he poured a glass of champagne and took away the martini he’d been trying to push. The piano playing was ok, but overall this bar lacked sparkle.

Cafe Bonaparte (42 rue Bonaparte, 75006) - typical Parisian joint with outward facing seats. The road in front is fairly quiet and there are views of a church to the left; so a pleasant spot and the service was very good. We had breakfast here on a couple of occasions. The omelette (9€) is done well and of course the baguette basket (like everywhere in Paris) is superb. A croque Madame was the highlight - definitely my favorite simple French dish of all time and Bonaparte does it justice.

Paul (77 Rue Seine, 75006) - chain bakery on Rue la Seine. Went for breakfast. Service was well meaning, but pretty hopeless - forgetting to bring milk despite constant reminders. Orange juice was full of pips; the pain au chocolate was ok. It's a chain bakery, but despite the lush interior it was all a little uninspiring. We did notice some other tables browsing different menus, so perhaps this chain has more to offer. We didn't return to find out. 7.65€ for a pastry, orange juice and tea.

Le Café Richelieu / Angelina (Louvre, Richelieu wing). Again expect to queue for a spot of lunch with a window view of the Louvre’s glass pyramid. The prawn risotto was huge and a good effort. The club sandwich was fair fayre - but it’s somewhat of a sin to fill it with deli style sliced chicken. And without fries is it really a club sandwich?! Not in my book. The patisseries are a positive and the service is super welcoming.

Pierre Herme's Macaroons

Pierre Herme (72 rue Bonaparte, 75006) - a tiny shop, with a constant queue outside and staff who ask for no photos to be taken. The star attraction is the macaroons, which really are fabulous. They're big, but soft and squishy - all containing generous amounts of wonderfully flavoured filling. The passion fruit was particularly intense. Maybe some of the special appeal of this place is lost by concessions opening throughout Europe, but as the hordes of people treasuring their purchases showed - there's still some sparkle to buying his macaroons in Paris.

Strawberry tart at Gerard Mulot

Gerard Mulot (76, rue de seine, 75006) . Throbbing place again and more fabulous cakes and patisseries. I'd read his strawberry tart was the best in Paris. It is very good, especially the delightfully light pastry base. The dark chocolate tart satisfied the chocolate junkie inside of me. This is another visit which is an experience for the eyes. Very tiny seating area inside - would be better if there was more space.

Hippo at Patrick Rodger

Patrick Rodger (108 boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006) . Our favorite chocolatier. Wonderful huge hippos made out of chocolate in one window and a huge chocolate dice in the other. Fantastic staff who showed us through a book of Rodger's wonderful creations - he had a zoo sized portfolio of different animals. Loose chocolates are available and also bars of varying strengths from various South American countries cocoa (6-7€ per bar). Just a very nice experience going here.

Laduree Macaroons

Laduree St Germain (21 Rue Bonaparte, 75006) - the flagship store on the Champs-Élysées was closed and they were serving out of a temporary building. But the traditional tearooms in St Germain were still open. Expect to queue for a table in their Chinese style tearoom. The cakes looked fabulous, but the coffee eclair was a little disappointing - stored too cold and it become too solid. The strawberry millefeuille looked the business, but the cream was too sweet. The famed macaroons were better, especially the Ghanian chocolate version - but they didn't have the wow factor of Pierre Herme's creations. Laduree has a fantastic heritage, but this felt a little stale. Service was snail paced - not that you can influence it as the 15% service charge is included automatically.