The Paris restaurant scene has sprung back into life. That may sound like a bizarre observation considering its reputation as the gastronomic capital of the world. However, throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Paris sat haughtily on its laurels, ignoring the food revolution that was taking place from Sydney to LA. The Michelin starred establishments continued to hike up their prices serving predictable food with lots of foams, gels and ‘skid marks’ on the plates, plus liquid pearls, powders, swirls and fronds unaware or un-phased by the change in millennial eating habits and taste.
Then Daniel Rose opened Spring in 2006 and Greg Marchand followed in 2009 with Frenchie on Rue-de-Nel - a breath of fresh air, simple fresh contemporary food made with superb ingredients. The media and customers flocked eager for change and the revolution was born and so it continues.
As criticism grows about the astronomical prices and poor value for money offered by many of the Michelin starred restaurants, a whole plethora of tiny restaurants, bistros, cafés and coffee bars have sprung up all over the city, serving small plates and sharing platters of simple delicious food. I squashed into as many as possible over a busy weekend in Paris recently – most don’t take reservations so you’ll need to be prepared to queue but all of the following are worth the wait.
Here are my top picks:
La Buvette on Rue Saint-Maur, not to be confused with another of my favourites, Buvette in Manhattan. This tiny restaurant chalks up the menus on a mirror on the wall – close to the tiny open kitchen. I loved the huge meltingly tender white haricot beans with cedre zest and extra virgin olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt. This was followed by a tiny burrata rolled in mandarin dust and a super coarse terrine with pickled pears and some sourdough bread. I still had room for the pickled egg with black sesame and bonita flakes. I love this kind of food, edgy and delicious but possible to recreate at home.
Sometimes you only need to be famous for just one thing….In the case of tiny Comme à Libonne on Rue du Roi de Sicile in Le Marais it’s their Portuguese custard tart. There will be a queue all along the sidewalk. They bake just 24 tarts at a time…they are snapped up like the proverbial hotcakes. If you are lucky there may be space along a tiny shelf in the shop to enjoy with a cup of espresso with your little treat.
Fed up and disheartened by ‘no shows’, many of the chicest places no longer take bookings. There was an hour and a half wait for Clamato, a seafood restaurant on Rue de Charonne. So we had a little plate of some saucisson and a couple of glasses of natural wine from their superb list at Septime, a tiny wine bar across the road.
Eventually we gave up on Clamato and had dinner at Semilla, a much talked about and now super busy restaurant serving modern French food.
Veal sweetbreads with salsify confit was the stand out dish rather better than some of the more bizarre combinations e.g. sea urchins with coffee mousse.
Watch Parisians shop, there are numerous markets around Paris, check out the nearest Farmers Markets to where you are staying by searching for Farmers Markets on Google Maps. On Sunday, the organic market on Rue Raspail is worth an amble although, quality didn’t seem as good as hitherto.
There are many coffee bars serving superb brews. Try Télescope on 5 Rue Villedo but it’s closed on Sunday. Farine & O on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoin and Ten Belles on Rue de la Grange aux Belles are also worth a detour. As is Boot Café, a hole in the wall on Rue du Pont aux Choux.
Mokonuts, on Rue Saint-Bernard is a definite favourite, can’t wait to go back for breakfast, brunch or dinner. It’s a tiny café run by Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem. Loved the labneh on toast with olives and the flatbread with sumac and melted scarmosa on top. They also make what is perhaps the best chocolate chip and oatmeal cookie I have ever eaten, plus superb coffee.
E Dehillerin on Rue Coquillière is like Hamleys or Smyths Toys for cook and chefs. Every time I visit, I feel like a kid in a candy shop surrounded by tempting cookware and gadgets in this ‘no frills’ store which has remained pretty much the same since it first opened in 1820, narrow aisles, wooden shelves and metal canisters full of superb quality utensils. Just around the corner on Rue Montmartre, you’ll find M.O.R.A., another iconic cook and bakeware store, that also sells a huge range of cake decorations and baubles for pastry chefs Both shops are geared towards culinary professionals but also welcome keen cooks.
Paris is full of exciting patisserie; swing by Yann Couvreur Pâtisserie, Courou in the Marais and La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet on Rue de Castiglione
L’As du Fallafel on rue des Roses is justly famous for its falafel.
Sunday brunch was at Racines, a bistro in the charming Passage des Panoramas Arcade
A whole series of little plates of real food from the chalk board, the least ‘cheffie’ but elegantly earthy comfort food. Loved his winter tomato salad with extra virgin olive oil or the pan grilled scallops on mashed potato and dill. No swirls, pearls, powder or fronds here, just real food and a suberb natural wine list.
Breizh Café on Rue Vieille du Temple, is another good spot for breakfast or lunch….
A long weekend is nowhere long enough and I haven’t even mentioned chocolatiers, cheese shops or cocktail bars. Daily flights to Paris from Cork, Dublin, Shannon….