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Paris? It’s love at first bite: Digging into France’s haute cuisine, from black radish cocktails to millefeuille of lamb (and £13.50 coffee)
- Will Hide ventured to Paris to get his teeth stuck into its culinary scene and overcome his French foodie fear
- He learnt to make the perfect cheese soufflé during a home cookery lesson with Françoise Guida-Davin
- He dined at the three-Michelin-starred Epicure restaurant at Hotel Le Bristol – where a coffee costs £13.50
Will Hide For The Mail On Sunday
Paris, I have a confession. I’ve been seeing somewhere else. It’s Berlin – a couple of times recently. And while I’m confessing, there’s been Amsterdam and Copenhagen too. I’m greedy you see, but when it comes to food I find you a bit, well, intimidating. That’s why I devoted my last long-weekend trip to overcoming my French foodie fear to explore the most delicious dishes you have to offer.
I quizzed friends, I Googled food blogs, I set up a cookery class and food tour, I chose hotels with strong culinary links, I read guide books, I contacted the tourist board and I polished up my French with a smartphone app (Frantastique).
My first stop after Eurostar (where the Raymond Blanc menu was on offer in Business Class) was afternoon tea at Le Meurice Hotel on Rue de Rivoli (dorchestercollection.com). Afternoon tea (from £57) does not sound very French, but the attraction, other than the splendidly ornate mirrored-and-marble setting, was partly the chance for people watching while I pondered Le Fooding, Paris’s annually updated food guide (in French and English, which you can pick up locally at newsagents, £11.50).
Foodie heaven: A waiter writes up la carte du jour at a restaurant in Le Marais. Will had an evening food tour of the district
Instead of tea, I chose gloopy hot chocolate – rich like soup – and tucked into delicious croque monsieur finger sandwiches, a very French take on scones (almost like brioche), the world’s meltiest chocolate chip cookie and meringuey lime-flavoured cakes fashioned in-house by Cédric Grolet, a tattooed chef whose exquisite pastries are a work of art.
No wonder he has more than a million followers on Instagram (@cedricgrolet). I was not disappointed. They were tender, gooey morsels that dissolved on the tongue.
Curiously, the menu offered an afternoon tea and a 60-minute massage combo for £223 (although I don’t think you could do both at the same time).
Delicious: The dining room at bistro Bouillon Racine near the Sorbonne with its Art Nouveau mirrors. Will said it was a great people-watching spot
I didn’t gorge too much because hours later I’d booked my evening food tour of Le Marais, one of Paris’ trendiest neighbourhoods, where narrow lanes are packed with artisanal stores, cafes, bars and Parisians ambling around being fashionable and cool. I’d been before but needed a guide. That person was Stephane Planchais, a Frenchman who splits his time between Paris and Bath and speaks perfect English.
The tour (originalfoodtours.com, £89pp) was a leisurely process as he seemed to know everybody, so there were lots of double kisses and chat. Over four hours we paused to try ham, cheese, wine, jams, choux buns, pistachio spreads, chocolates and falafels, eventually ending up at L’Alivi (restaurant-alivi.com), a Corsican restaurant on Rue du Roi de Sicile, where we devoured warming bowls of stew containing lentils and figatellu, a feisty Corsican sausage, perfect for a cold winter night (£10.50). The herb-roasted pork chop with mashed potatoes (£18) looked just as tempting.
Passing the Eiffel Tower aboard Ducasse Sur Seine
For a nightcap, I chose the intimate Little Red Door (lrdparis.com), a 15-minute walk away on Rue Charlot. It was the perfect speakeasy to end the night; lit by candles, comfy seats, a convivial crowd, friendly multi-lingual staff and inventive cocktails: I loved the Self Direction (£12.50), concocted of gin, aquavit, vermouth, oyster leaf, kombu and black radish. It doesn’t close till 3am, so if you’re planning breakfast in bed next day, it’s an easy place to linger.
That night I stayed at Le Bristol (oetkercollection.com, room-only doubles from £832), my favourite ‘treat’ hotel. Its punchy prices come with traditional, chic rooms, stellar service, a fantastic roof-top pool and the chance to catch up with Fa-Raon, the in-house Burmese cat. The breakfast is not to be missed in its three-Michelin-starred Epicure restaurant, which adds an air of theatre to the art of dining. As jacketed waiters attended to my every need, I slowly sipped my fantastically priced £13.50 cup of coffee. I devoured pain perdu (French toast, £26) which came with strawberries, vanilla sauce and gold leaf. With every cut, cream oozed out of it like a leaking dam, and it was so spongy small Parisian children could have lined up to use it as a trampoline. Utterly delicious.
Late morning, I caught the metro to Rue Boursault in the 17th arrondissement for a home cookery lesson with Françoise Guida-Davin, a glamorous ex-advertising-agency art director and anglophile who now teaches visitors to Paris like me how to cook (travelingspoon.com, from £60pp, minimum two people). Today I was to learn how to make the perfect cheese soufflé and îles flottantes (meringue ‘floating islands’) in her sunny, orange-hued designer flat so I could take the recipes home and wow friends with my new skills.
Françoise was the perfect, ever-smiling hostess who realised that the key to any recipe success included popping a bottle of champagne as I stepped through the door. She was encouraging with her praise and soon had me beating eggs whites (‘arder Wiiiiill, you need more than stiff peaks’) and grating Comté cheese (less acidic than Emmental and more rich and fruity) and made custard from scratch, as we discussed her favourite things from across the Channel; Fawlty Towers, Scotch eggs and pork pies. Afterwards we sat down to eat my efforts, which I have to boast were delicious.
Viola! Françoise Guida-Davin teaches French cuisine in her stylish flat. Will learnt how to make the perfect cheese soufflé
That night there was only one place I wanted to loosen my belt: the newly Michelin-starred Frenchie (frenchie-ruedunil.com) on Rue du Nil in the 2nd arrondissement, which is owned and run by Gregory Marchand, a chef who trained at Jamie Oliver’s 15 restaurant in London, where he picked up his imaginative nickname. It’s a plucky French chef who opens up in the centre of Paris with nods to British and American cuisine, but he offers modern bistro fare with all the stuffiness stripped out to a cool mix of locals and tourists in a intimately lit, perfect date-night setting.
What an experience to be at the counter-top chef’s table to see the dishes for the ever-changing five-course tasting menu (from £59pp) come together, with waiting staff who were as knowledgeable as they were friendly.
I made my way through so many intriguing flavour combinations – line-caught meagre-fish tartare with cauliflower dashi, blood orange and hazelnuts, roasted pork belly with miso-braised endive, kumquat and walnuts, as well as cheese from Neal’s Yard in London, and a homemade take on a Bounty Bar with chocolate, coconut and yuzu.
Indulge: Paris is awash with great places to buy and try cheese
I checked in that night at the recently opened Hotel Fauchon (hotel-fauchon-paris.fr, room-only doubles from £350), a sister to the luxury grocer of the same name in Place de la Madeleine that opened more than 130 years ago. In-room mini-bars are stocked with Fauchon goodies, including its famous macarons, which are yours to take home for free.
Greed got the better of me the following day, and I squeezed in several ports of call that had been recommended, one of which was literally a port, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
A river cruise is not really my thing, unless the catering is by Alain Ducasse, the first chef to own three Michelin-starred restaurants in three cities. Last year he launched his own boat called Ducasse Sur Seine with both lunchtime and dinner trips (ducasse-seine.com, from £88pp including three-course lunch).
Lightly smoked salmon with sorrel condiment and the Pont Neuf? Pan-seared scallops with baby leeks’ cooking jus and Notre Dame? Why, merci, yes, that’s my kind of sightseeing.
For my last night I booked the Hotel Amour (hotelamourparis.fr, room-only doubles from £121), with a lobby that’s also an intimate cafe just around the corner from the very foodie Rue des Martyrs with its host of family-run shops and restaurants.
Some of the creations on offer for afternoon tea at Le Meurice Hotel
En route to my final dining destination the next day, I snuck into the exquisite food halls of La Grande Épicerie du Bon Marché (lagrandeepicerie.com) on Rue de Sèvres, a department store that opened in the 1850s.
This is absolute foodie heaven with whole sections devoted to preserved duck, cheeses, wine, chocolates, regional yogurts, macarons, bottled water and teas.
It’s the perfect place to pick up souvenirs for friends and family back home, with seductively lit shelves that beg to be Instagrammed.
Before catching the Eurostar home, I wanted to dine in the ultimate classic Paris bistro, but quizzing five friends offered up 15 options. ‘It has to be Paul Bert,’ said one. ‘No, you have to go to La Bourse et La Vie,’ said another, while a third chipped in with La Fontaine de Mars.
I plumped for Bouillon Racine (bouillonracine.fr) near the Sorbonne, founded in 1906, and was glad I did. What a great people-watching spot, a place to catch every gesture in its Art Nouveau mirrors.
Service was friendly – it’s amazing how much better you’ll get on in Paris if you make an effort with the merest smattering of school French – and the food delicious.
It’s tourist-friendly without being touristy and I watched chic locals tuck into the likes of cream of chestnut and buckwheat soup (£7), millefeuille of crispy lamb shoulder with mashed potatoes (£17) and dark chocolate cake with crunchy praline (£7). It was the perfect place to rekindle my love affair with the city.
Paris, I’m back and this time it’s for keeps.
Will Hide was a guest of Eurostar (eurostar.com; one way in Standard Class from £29, and in Business Premier with meals by Raymond Blanc from £245) and the French Tourist Board (france.fr). For further information about Paris, visit parisinfo.com.
Love at first bite: Digging into Paris's haute cuisine