Apr 19, 2012|
There’s no lack of fantastic food in Paris, but there’s no lack of blah and downright terrible food either. So after my recent re-visit to the beautiful city, I felt it only my duty to share my foodie findings here. The trick to a satisfying experience is to read up in advance, and when in doubt, to stick to what the Parisians do best, which are, in no particular order: things with butter, cheese, bread and/or foie gras. I say this because I had the blandest, soggiest, most disgusting pasta of my life at Chez la Mère Catherine (6 Place du Tertre, Montmartre, 75018, +(33) 1 46 06 32 69), and also so many mediocre salads and meat dishes at other establishments that I simply lost count. But for every bad restaurant, there is also an amazing one, so just remember to do your research and not to lose faith.
Paris is a city where there are as many ground-floor, street-facing bistros as there are cha chaan tengs in Hong Kong. But that doesn’t mean you can just stumble into one of them and expect a stellar Parisian experience—oh no, these deceivingly attractive cafes are definitely a hit-or-miss. La Belle Ferronnière (53 Rue Pierre Charron, 75008, +(33) 1 42 25 03 82) rocks a solid jambon and gruyere baguette, while Le Fumoir (6 Rue de l’Amiral Coligny, 75001, +(33) 1 42 92 00 24) has a yummy sliced beef dish that’s topped with spring onions and caviar. Former intellectual stronghold Les Deux Magots (6 Place St. Germain des Prés, 75006, +(33) 1 45 48 55 25) serves a rich and thick hot chocolate that serves as a meal substitute, while equally popular neighbor Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006, +(33) 1 45 48 55 26) dishes out a killer croque madame and soupe a l’oignon gratinee.
The high-ceilinged, impeccably posh three-Michelin-starred Le Meurice (Hotel Le Meurice, 228 Rue de Rivoli, 75001, +(33) 1 44 58 10 55) is supposed to have the best fixed price lunches in town—and so of course I booked us in for lunch a month ahead, NOT knowing this in advance. The space was retouched in 2007 by the ubiquitous Philippe Starck (whose designs are EVERYWHERE in Paris), but all I saw in that dining room was the old-world opulence and Parisian glamor that only Paris gets exactly right. Ed and I had one look at the titillating tasting menu and set our hearts on that instead of the set lunch everyone else (smartly) seemed to be having. It was an insane decision, to say the least. Imagine having an eight-course meal in the middle of the day, not including amuse-bouches and post-dessert desserts. The portions were ginormous as well (waaay too generous, and the one glaring error of our experience), so it felt like we were eating not only lunch, but dinner and the next day’s breakfast too. The food, executed by chef Yannick Alléno, is superb—it better be when you’re paying almost 800 Euros total (including a bottle of champagne) for it!—and exactly what you’d expect from a proper French fine dine. We had baby-smooth stalks of asparagus covered in anchovy béchamel, delicate and creamy foie gras, succulent langoustine made divine with farmer’s butter and other fancily presented, crazily combined dishes. In all honest truth though, you can’t think that you’re paying for just the food, you gotta be willing to splurge for the whole experience (the Versailles-vibe decor, the lovely tableware, the plate presentation, the clever staff, etc), or you’ll be walking out of there cursing you didn’t put the money towards a nice handbag instead. Branding is everything at a restaurant like this, and when you get the brand right, you get willing customers.
We then made a stop to two-Michelin-starred L’Abeille (Shangri-La Paris, 10 Avenue d’Iena, 75116, +(33) 1 53 67 19 98) on invite, to sample chef Philippe Labbé’s tasting menu. Again, the food was spectacular—fresh royal scampi meat served with lobster-bisque-like jelly and foam, a surprisingly mild but delectably fresh (and barely cooked) white salmon roll, a tender piece of Limousin veal, amuse-bouches and appetizers with contrasting but complementing flavors. But it was the elegant décor (the restaurant is housed in a carefully renovated former home of Prince Roland Bonaparte), the paintings on the wall and the perfectly synchronized staff who uncovered each dish on the table at exactly the same time, that really justified the experience. To really understand fine dining, or at least Michelin-style dining, a trip to Paris is a must.
Stay away from Aux Délices de Manon (400 rue Saint-Honore, 1e, +(33) 1 42 60 83 03) as if your life depended on it. This casual eatery is a shameless tourist trap that extorted us out of 80 Euros—for breakfast! We have to take some of the blame for being the stupid, gullible tourists that we were; when the friendly waiter asked if we wanted some water and a side salad to go with our mains, we nodded unsuspectingly. Of course, he came ‘round with two bottles of expensive still water, already opened. And gave each of us a bowl of the largest, most over-priced salad ever. Then we found that they overcharged us on the coffees too—although we couldn’t tell from looking at the illegible bill; we had to ask the waiter to read it out for us. We easily paid 60 Euros more than we were supposed to. It was all we could do to keep our composure and not flip a table over.
Eating sweets and pastries are the easiest here. Many local boulangeries do a great job with the croissants and baguettes, and chocolateries—no matter the brand—usually hit the mark. My heart melted after a bite of the sweet, buttery madeleines and mini-financiers at Eric Kayser (10 Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie, 6e, +(33) 1 43 25 71 60—thanks for the pointer, Luxe Guides!). So affordable, and so darn good. Ladurée (75 Avenue des Champs Elysees, 75008, +(33) 1 40 75 08 75) is an obvious choice for macarons and has already been written about to death. I’ll only add that the rose, pistachio and vanilla flavors are as good as they say, but the caramel one is so treacly it’ll make even a sweet-tooth cringe.
And… we’re back in Hong Kong!
We have a new Italian resto on Kowloon-side: Messina (5/F, the Harbourfront Landmark, 11 Wan Hoi St., Hung Hom, 3746-2733) will be offering modern Sicilian specialties like crispy suckling pig and tuna carpaccio in a soft and cheerful space that seats 55 comfortably. The head chef here is Francesco Greco, who’s worked at fancy restaurants all over the world including Paris, Milan, New York City and Shanghai before taking up the post.