I don't like food. I don't even love food. A huge part of my motivation to travel abroad is finding amazing places to eat and tasting delectable new dishes. Cuisine is both an authentic and intimate way of experiencing local culture, so seeing what's on offer food wise is always number one on my to-do list.
As you might already know, I love dining out and writing reviews for all the amazing delicacies I've savored around London. The French are known for doing fine dining really well, with a selection to get any mouth watering. I decided to take a Eurostar last weekend to taste some famous Parisian food and wine (mostly wine). So here's a run down of a day of decadence, where I managed, through sheer luck, to find some of the best places to eat and drink in the city of love.
Le Petite Dejeuner
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and in Paris it can also be the best. Soggy cereal and shriveled up toast are not de rigueur here. Paris is a joyful city, and even the first morsels of the day should explode rapturously against your taste-buds.
I spotted La Cafeotheque the night before and pressed my eager face up against the glass. It looked so inviting that I decided to venture back the next day. The sign on the door told me that opening hours are at 10am on a Sunday, but at 10.10am I was still waiting impatiently on the doorstep. By this time a small queue had formed. This was my first hint that this place must be really good. A waitress openly walked around inside, glancing at the anxious group of coffee addicts congregating like zombies outside. She completely ignores us. Hint number two. This must be the definition of fashionably late.
When the gatekeeper finally let us enter at 10.12, I was greeted by a wall of coffee beans. Staring in awe and whipping out my camera I snapped away. "Oui, mademoiselle?" a voice intoned from the doorway. A man, who is presumably one of the owners, is watching me quizzically. I swoon at being mistaken for French. But wait, he looks annoyed. "Just looking", I mutter before hurrying over to the seating area.
The furniture is what I would describe as a mixture of Moroccan shisha bar and English reading room. The walls are covered in unusual, garish prints . The Virgin Mary, mermaids and colourful birds surround my mustard yellow fringed armchair.
I order a latte and the feta cheese quiche with side salad. I don't think I've ever eaten something like this for breakfast, but it turns out to be just what I need to feel set up for a day of roaming the Parisian streets. My quiche and coffee set me back around €12 (about £9.50).
P.s. the carrot cake is also fabulous and is, apparently, quite famous!
Wandering the backstreets near Notre Dame I didn't expect to stumble on such a unique, authentically French little corner of culinary perfection. Au Vieux Paris d'Arcole has been standing in this spot since 1512. To put that into perspective, this is 21 years before the birth of Elizabeth I and the year the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was unveiled to the public by Michaelangelo. There is a lot of history in these stones.
Honestly, my pictures cannot do this magical little place justice. From the outside it looks like a quirky little cafe, on the inside it becomes a cross between a rustic farmhouse and European boudoir. I'm so in love with this place, that I will be writing a separate post about it, complete with envy - inducing images- so watch this space!
To whet your appetite (both literal and figurative) in the mean time, here is a picture of what you can expect inside.
This one is a bit of a cheat, as the cuisine is not strictly French. L'Alimentarie is a traditional Italian restaurant situated on Rue des Ecouffes in the historical Le Marais district, just off Rue de Rivoli, a long shopping street that runs parallel to the north bank of the Seine. This unassuming little side road is more like a narrow alley, filled with charming little shops and restaurants. My discovery was by chance, as my Airbnb happened to be right next door, and a day of traipsing the streets had made me super hungry and super lazy.
This turned out to be the third great decision of the day. I was starting to feel like I might have some sort of psychic powers leading me to so many great places, but nope, that's just my incredibly attuned greed radar.
The incredibly smiley owner gave us a warm Mediterranean welcome, beaming dazzling white teeth, 'Ciao bella!' I hope you like getting up close and personal with strangers because the tables in the restaurant are very intimate. By which I mean, they are touching. Leonardo, the toothy owner, without missing a beat, chivalrously pulled the closest table out for us, giving a small bow. Twirling rather than laying down the cutlery, he swept two wineglasses on to the table with a flourish.
In a city where meat seems to be the main event of every meal, L'Alimentarie is a haven of vegetarian friendly options. I order the gnocchi, which in my experience is a gamble, my friend goes for tagliatelle with shrimp. The air in the restaurant is thick with the wonderful smells of olive oil, fresh bread and tomato sauce. As if reading my mind, Leonardo blesses our table with a basket of bread, still hot from the oven.
The food is perfect, the wine is perfect, the service is warm and personal. It would be rude not to linger a little longer for dessert. The delicious morsel below is a warm sponge cake filed with very generous chunks of chocolate, dusted with caster sugar. We gobble them up before they can even begin to cool down.
The bill for 2 starters, 2 mains, a dessert to share and 2 red wines is just shy of €50. With heavy but happy bellies, and purses much lighter than this morning, we skip out into the night. Leonardo waves us off elaborately, and we are left with the echo of his voice calling 'ciao bella!' into the night.
If you still have room after all that, make sure you visit Lot of Wine for a nightcap (or several). The name doesn't beat around the bush and neither does the bar itself. Rows and rows of shelves stacked with hundreds of bottles of wine, which you can peruse and buy to either drink in or take home, provide simple yet effective decor. Running my fingers over the fancy French names and tastefully designed labels, I silently curse my weak shoulders and flimsy weekend bag. There just won't be room to take anything home. To make up for my disappointment I order myself a large glass of red, to gulp, not sip, whilst I admire the old movie posters on the walls.
The small space only houses 6 small wooden tables but is buzzing, with people crammed into every corner and sprawled across tables holding earnest conversations . Everyone in here is French- it's always a good sign when you find yourself in a place filled with locals. You can also order cheese and meat boards to soak up the alcohol. Parisians don't drink to get drunk remember; so you can enjoy some after dinner snacks guilt free!
Just walk away
Louis Phillipe on the river front is a tourist trap with its convenient location and an exterior which looks very inviting with its glass conservatory and hedged fencing. Don't fall for its superficial charm. The food is one step above school canteen fare, dished up by waiters as sour faced as an underpaid dinner lady. The beef bourguignon is dished up lukewarm and consists of overly large, tough chunks of meat (you can only hope) in a mess of thick sauce which engulfs the plate. Considering the relatively low quality of the food on offer, this place isn't that cheap either at €18 average for a main course. If you're on a budget it is possible to eat well, so don't waste any money on overpriced, mediocre offerings.
The laminated menu, below, pretty much sums up how bad this place is.
The infamous crepe
Just to clarify, crepes are acceptable at any time of day. Eat them with almonds and Nutella. Eat them expensive or cheap. Eat them for breakfast and eat them for dessert. Don't feel bad, it's just a thin floury thing! It's not greedy if you're keeping your energy up for more eating and drinking later.