Monday, April 27, 2009

Insider's Guide To Paris - Eating: Part I

Greetings sports fans - and welcome back the second instalment of my Insider's Guide To Paris.

Whether you are planning to visit the City of Light or just want to take a little cyber-eander through the gastronomical landscape of Pareeee, this little guide has been compiled to ensure you side-step the nasty touristy restaurants and eat where the locals eat.

This is but a sampler of the full guide, which can be found in the back of the latest edition of my book, A Town Like Paris (available in all good bookstores ...). And while it attempts to give a flavour of the wonderful eating establishments in Paris, it is certainly not an exhaustive list. Great eating experiences hover on just about every Parisian corner- it's one of the great joys of living here.

Extracted from Bryce's Insider Guide To Paris

Eating in Paris is the main event. Sure, you can come here to climb the Eiffel Tower or gawk at the Mona Lisa, but food – and the 24-hour-a-day appreciation of it – is what a visit to France should really be all about.
There’s a benchmark in food circles called the Michelin star register. If a restaurant is “Michelin-starred” it is apparently the highest of haute cuisine. In my experience, these sorts of restaurants are well and good if you have already eaten before you get there. But if you have anything resembling a normal appetite, you’d do well to avoid them.
I have my own benchmark for the quality of a Parisian restaurant. It’s called the “Showgirl Star System”. If the Showgirl’s Herculean appetite is sated after a meal at a particular restaurant, the establishment gets two pom-poms. Extra pom-poms are thereafter awarded for ambience, grooviness, value for money and service.
And the pom-poms go to …

Hotel du Nord – 102 Quai de Jemmapes, 10th arrondissement – This one rates especially high on the grooviness and ambience registers. Located in what is currently the heaving heart of Paris hipness, on the quai of the Canal St Martin, Hotel du Nord is the eating, flirting and cavorting destination du choix of the cool kids set. It’s also a bona-fide historical monument as the setting of Marcel Carné’s classic, eponymous 1940s French film. A word of warning: the place has recently become so hip that it has two seatings (a very un-French, un-Parisian thing to do). There's an 8.30pm seating and a 10.30pm. If you go on a Friday or Saturday night and opt for the early seating, they will rush you out the door. If you go for the 10.30pm seating, you may not eat until 11.30pm-midnight. The service is either really good, or really apalling. But then, apparently, that's the price one pays to see and be seen.

Astier - 44 rue Jean Pierre Timbaud - Regularly written up in travel mags and on food blogs as a dependable Parisian restaurant staple, you cannot go past Astier for good value, top quality French bistro food. The wine list is impressive, the set menus are alway inventive and the cheese basket has to be seen to be believed.

L’Autre Café – 62 rue Jean Pierre Timbaud, 11e – If it’s a no-fuss, dead simple, street corner brasserie experience you are craving, look no further than this neighbourhood staple. The Showgirl never has anything but the entrecote with béarnaise sauce. Be sure to ask for the gratin dauphinois as accompaniment. Stodge central.

La Marine – 55 Quai Valmy , 10e – Especially good in summer, when you can take full advantage of the outdoor seating, La Marine is another dependable bistro. The food may not win awards, but the conviviality of the place is infectious.

Maria Louisa – 2 rue Marie et Louise, 10e – Italian members of the Posse reckon this funky little taverna does the best pizza in all of Paris. All I know is that its collection of Italian red wines, its stripped-back interior and casual dining atmosphere make for a perfectly pleasant Parisian night out.

La Boulangerie - 15 rue Panoyaux, 20e – Straight out of the Hidden Gem File, this restaurant is one of my favourites. Don’t be put off by the neighbourhood (‘down-at-heel’ would be a generous description), this converted boulangerie serves up some of the best French fare in the city. Modern French cuisine has never tasted heartier or better. The wine list is extensive, the service is attentive and the welcome genuinely warm. It’s a five pom-pom eating experience.

Chateaubriand – 129 Ave Parmentier, 11e – Right up there in the pom-pom stakes, even if it teeters dangerously close to the brink of haute-cuisine pretentiousness, is this fine establishment. Art deco interiors, a wine list which meanders through wonderful, little known boutique French vineyards and a dégustation menu that changes daily, depending on the whim of the chef and the seasonal specialties of the nearby fresh food market. Chateaubriand is a deeply fashionable eating experience – and a gastronomical adventure to boot.

Chez Janou – 3 rue Roger Verlomme, 3e – Whenever guests are in town and they ask for a restaurant recommendation, I send them to Chez Janou. It’s a winner every time. Five pom-poms for ambience, three pom-poms for food. The moules marinées are a perfect way to start your meal, and the chocolate mousse has to be seen to be believed. But be warned: the Chez Janou secret is definitely out. The last couple of times I have been there you cannot move for English and American accents. But the mousse remains devilishly delicious ...

Robert et Louise – 64 rue Vieille du Temple, 3e – Meat, meat and more meat are on the menu at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Marais. Come for the entertainment as much as for the mouth-watering slabs of red flesh. The octogenarian proprietor, Louise, is a study in perpetual motion. If she’s not tending sizzling steaks on the open fire at one end of the room, she’s slapping yet another pichet of Bordeaux down in front of you at the other.

Chez Nenesse – 17 rue Saintonge, 3e – There’s nothing at all pretentious about this humble, yet excellent eatery. Family owned, family tended and committed to doing French classics very well, Chez Nenesse is an oasis of old world charm, food and value for money in a quartier that is becoming increasingly fashionable. Try the duck – you won’t be disappointed.

L'Ami Jean
- 27 rue Malar, 7e - It takes a lot to lure me across the Seine, over to the Left Bank. L'Ami Jean is about as good a reason to visit the 7th arrondissement as you are likely to find. The food is inventive, innovative takes on French classics. The kitchen is a hotbed of culinary creativity. The last time I was there, the riz au lait was so good I could have happily climbed into a bath-tub full of it and slowly eaten myself to death. And you can't ask for a better endorsement than that...

STAY TUNED ... next week's instalment: Bryce's Insider's Guide, Eating Part II

Friday, April 24, 2009

Now, that's what I call a baguette

There's been a deliciously disturbing development in my neighbourhood.
For months, the corner shop opposite our apartment building has lain dormant. The Showgirl and I would emerge from our building each day, nervously eyeing the empty space, worried what kind of retail monstrosity was about to invade it.
A slew of mobile phone shops and "two-dollar" stores had been popping up in the quartier, and we were worried that Rue Oberkampf was about to be visited by yet another of these tacky shops.
What relief then to finally discover our new neighbour was to be a boulangerie. Sure, there are already three boulangeries within stumbling distance of our place, but none of them seemed to produce the perfect baguette. And so it was with no small amount of delight that we discovered the new bakery was to be an outlet of the mildly famous "Gana" collection of boulangeries.
Run by the Ganachaud family - who have baking in their blood - and purveyor of one of the most famous baguette in all of Paris, "la flute Gana", the store opened to neighbourhood fanfare and queues down the street.
Six months later and I have developed a deep and abiding Gana addiction. Lunch times are not complete without a nip across the rue to take possession of a fresh-from-the-oven Gana baguette.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hast truly given us this daily bread - who am I not to gorge myself on it?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Flaneur -- a Thursday morning stroll through the quartier

We have a guest staying with us this week, which is great from the point of view of having a friend to sit up with at night and polish off the odd bottle of wine - but it's not so great from the point of view of having to get up early to tend to the new little man in our life, get him dressed, fed and out the door before his early morning caterwauling disturbs the visitor alseep in the living room.
And while the initial early morning fumble to get out the door is painful, the rewards for hitting the streets of Paris before 8am can be enormous. As they were this morning.
I think it was a combination of a perfect spring morning in Paris (blue sky, sun shining, a slight chill in the air) the fact it is school holidays (meaning the city is much more quiet than usual) plus the fact that Parisians are not early starters (meaning we had the rues, boulevards, jardins, parcs and cafes to ourselves) that made this morning's wander about the quartier so utterly delightful.
Guiding the pram through the obstacle course of dog shit, we floated down Rue Oberkampf, across into the Marais and along Rue de Bretagne (my early morning cafe haunt du choix). While the Rue de Bretagne's fromagers set up their shops, its fleuristes sprayed their wares with water and its boulangers did a brisk early morning trade, the little fella and I set up shop in Cafe Charlot for that first glorious cafe of the day.
Then it was a quick cheerio to the horse butcher in Rue de Bellyeme, before we stopped in the sun in the little garden in front of the Picasso Museum. That I can stop and admire a Picasso sculpture or three on my early morning wander is nothing short of remarkable - and something, no matter how long I stay in Paris, I vow never to take for granted.
Then it was down to the tranquil, sun-drenched garden of Place Louis Achille -- one of my favourite hidden gardens in the Marais. It was deserted. Just me, the little man (who was slumbering in the pram by now -- hallelujah, praise be to God) and an explosion of colourful tulips.
After a stint in the sun, I decided it was time to head home. And being the hunter-gatherer that I am, I stopped by the boulangerie on Rue de Turenne and stocked up on an armful of the most delicious croissants. We're talking melt-in-the-mouth exquisite.
Suffice it to say, both the wife and our guest were pleased to see the men of the house return.
And while I'm definitely not the early rising type - if this morning's experience is anything to go by, mornings in Paris could just about become a new habit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Insider's Guide To Paris - L'introduction

Spring has sprung in the City of Light! Want to know how I can tell? Could it be the rows of daffodils that have flowered in the local park? The blossoms that have appeared on the cherry trees on Boulevard Richard Lenoir? Or is it that subtle shift in the attitude of the locals from permanently-annoyed to just-plain-pouty?
Actually, it's none of the above - the reason I know that winter is officially over here in Paris and that summer is on its way is because the city is starting to fill with tourists.
Credit crunch, credit schmunch. The global recession is clearly not having too much effect on people's Paris travel plans. And why should it? Afterall, Paris is the perfect destination, no matter how dark the economic clouds or how wild the global financial storm.
And because I hate to see a fellow foreigner fumbling around in the cross-cultural wilderness, and because it pains me to see tourists being treated awfully by service-averse Parisians, I have decided to share with you my very own "Insider's Guide To Paris".
This is but a taster of the complete guide that comes with the latest edition of my book, 'A Town Like Paris'.
Over the next few weeks/months, I will be posting on this blog extracts from My Guide to Paris -- and lacing the posts with updates and errata, for those of you who already have the guide and want to make sure it is still kosher.
And so, without any further ado, I humbly present my guide to getting the most out of the City of Light ... Enjoy!

Extract 1 of Bryce's Insider's Guide To Paris

Anyone can pull a guidebook off a bookstore shelf, learn a rudimentary French phrase or two and declare themselves ready to be launched on the City of Light.
But to really get under the skin of Paris, you need to have lived and breathed it. You need local knowledge.
To properly understand the Parisian, to get a handle on what makes him tick, you need to have undertaken years of intensive, on-the-ground research. Entire days must be given over to the singular activity of lazing in a terrace café, sipping Sancerre and watching the world go by. You have to be prepared to drop everything and commit yourself to a daily (and nightly) regimen of bar-hopping, brasserie hanging and restaurant haunting.
It takes the dedication of an Olympic athlete, a Teflon-coated liver and the constitution of an ox.
But because not all of us have the luxury of time to spend years splayed at the altar of hedonism, I’ve gone and done all the hard work for you.
With the selflessness of a saint, I have dedicated countless hours (not to mention euros) to the arduous task of separating the Parisian wheat from the tourist chaff, so that you don’t have to.
That’s a whole lot of runny crème brulées, sub-standard steaks, desperately unhip bars and overpriced cafes I have saved you from.
All that is left for you to do now is to pull up a chair at the moveable feast, roll up your sleeves and tuck in.
But before we get underway, permit me a few disclaimers.
Firstly, if traditional, tourist Paris is what you are looking for, there’s a good chance this guide is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to scratch a little beneath the picture postcard façade and discover the Paris that I have come to know and love, then read on.
Secondly, getting the most out of this guide will require somewhat of an adventurous spirit. Some of the destinations are well and truly off the well-trodden tourist track. But then, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Coming up next .... a selection of my favourite places to eat ...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pizza: the new national dish of France

Think French cuisine and immediately you conjure images of confit du canard, a juicy entrecote steak, foie gras, croissants and cassoulet.
Certainly, French cuisine is one of the proudest gastronomies in the world. France is the home of haute cuisine, the crucible of fine dining, the last word in elegance when it comes to the lionising and preparing of foodstuffs.
Indeed, you only need to engage the average French person for two minutes on the subject of food and you realise how food - its preparation and consumption - is a national obssession in France. Shopkeepers will wax lyrical about the artisanal origins of a wheel of cheese or the firmness of a melon. French people from all walks of life will have an opinion on the best wine to drink with a 'souris' of lamb. And time (glorious time) is taken over the eating of every meal.
How to reconcile this then with the news this week that France is the world's second biggest per capita pizza consumer - just behind the United States and well ahead of Italy?
As La Tribune newspaper this week reported, the pizza business is booming in France, helped along by the recession as people look for something cheap and easy to eat.
Domino's Pizza in France (coincidentally run by an Aussie friend of mine) is the biggest pizza chain in the country. It saw sales rise by 12 percent last year.
According to a report by The Times correspondent, Charles Bremner, every person in France now eats an average of 45 pizzas per year. That's almost one a week.
There's no doubt at all France produces a stunning array of foodstuffs - and its cuisine has contributed more than it's fair share to the global melting pot of national gastronomies. But the next time a French person makes a snide comment at eating habits in your home country, remind them that 'la pepperoni et cheese' is fast becoming the French national dish.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter in Paris .. it's a conspiracy

I don't want to come across as the Grinch That Stole Easter or anything, but why in God's name does the chocolate-fest have to happen two weeks after I have committed to a wife-imposed diet and exercise regime?
And why does the patisserie on the corner taunt me with its selection of home-made, ribbon-festooned, fine chocolate Easter eggs?
I'll tell you why. Because it's a conspiracy. It's a cruel twist of the knife in the side of all of us who find with the advancing years that shedding those pesky extra kilos requires a Herculean effort.
And so I sit here in the gastronomic capital of the world, staring at my bowl of sunflower seeds (and I'm sorry, it doesn't matter how you dress them up or what seasoning you put on them or how many books you read about their health benefits, sunflower seeds are for birds, not humans).

The cruel thing is, I know that a short lift ride away (yes, I know, I am supposed to take the stairs, but it's the weekend and I am spoiling myself) there are éclairs to die for, tartes abricots that dissolve on the tongue, buttery croissants and more mouth-watering pastries and cakes than you can point a set of scales at.
It is Easter afterall. And wouldn't it be sacrilege not to partake of the bounty of the Good Lord? Isn't it ordained by God himself that we should eat chocolate on Easter? Isn't the 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not deprive thyself of hand-made, ribbon-festooned, fine chcocolate Easter eggs from the neighbourhood patisserie"?
That settles it. To hell with the diet. La Durée here I come. If I don't get me a rose-flavoured La Durée macaron today, then it has been a wasted day in Paris.
And you, gentle reader, who have borne witness to my mental anguish, will surely only wish me godspeed.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lost your job? Kidnap your boss!

In this current economic climate (hitherto to be referred to in this blog as 'this CEC'), I'd be the last person in the world to defend fat cat company bosses.
Even here in France, where it is usually nigh on impossible to be sacked, company bosses are running around sacking people left, right and centre.
You can't turn on the TV news here in France without hearing of another couple of hundred poor souls being turfed out of their jobs.
And while, in this CEC, the sacking of workers may not be unique to France, the reaction of workers to these sackings is quintessentially French.
Instead of quietly accepting their fate, packing their bags and skulking back to their homes to lick their wounds, newly laid-off French workers have taken to kidnapping their bosses and holding them hostage.
Last week, in a Caterpillar factory in Grenoble, three of the company's management staff were bailed up in their offices and held hostage for over 24 hours by irate workers who had just learned they had lost their jobs.
Phone lines were cut, mobile phones were confiscated and threats were made against the bosses personal safety.
And because this is France, the police didn't get involved, the media and public were generally sympathetic towards the workers and the government made rumbling noises about shoring up struggling companies with taxpayer's money to protect jobs.
And while I am utterly sympathetic to the workers' cause - and more than slightly impressed than their novel approach to fighting the sackings - I can't help but wonder how sustainable a practice this is.
The boss-napping is becoming so widespread that today's Figaro newspaper included a feature article about a company that is offering special training courses to executives on how to manage kidnapping situations.
In the article, a business consultant (who is apparently now doing brisk business advising business men on how to behave in a hostage situation so as not to upset your kidnappers) explains how "boss-napping doesn't just happen out of the blue" but that "there are always signs, and as a company manager, you can learn to read those signs and avert being kidnapped".
That this is even being discussed as a commonplace, workaday occurrence is nothing short of remarkable.
You have to love this country ...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Get 'em hooked early

If the spiritual powers that be were ever so kind as to give me a second turn around at this crazy thing we call life, I think I'd like to come back as a Parisian school kid.

Sure, the inner-city school environment means there's precious little in the way of grass to run on or trees to climb, but man, look at how well they eat.

In the corner of the globe that I come from, school lunches are a case of soggy sandwiches, hot pies and - if you were feeling especially gourmet - sausage rolls. And while it has been over thirty years since I was a primary school kid (that's enough sniggering from you up the back ...) I don't imagine too much has changed when it comes to culinary options for your average Aussie school kid.

But Parisian school kids? They eat like kings every day. Just take a look at the 'menu' (yes, they have a 'menu') posted outside the little school down the street from our apartment.

Each lunch is broken down into an 'entree', 'plat' and 'dessert' -- of course. A recent week's dining at the school included such entrées as "salade aux croutons", avocado with vinaigrette and "tarte aux poireaux". For their main course, the little darlings feasted on "filet de lieu au court bouillon", "sauté de porc a la moutarde" and "pavé de saumon a l'oseille". And for dessert, it was a choice between "flan patissier", "compote pomme-fraise" and that grand French classic "ile flottante". And of course, because this is France, there is a different cheese each day including "camembert", "tome blanche" and "Saint Paulin".

This is a public school - a government administered, free-to-attend, open-to-all public school.

It speaks volumes for why the French have such healthy eating habits. From a very early age, good quality food and carefully balanced meals are foisted on them even at school.

Now all I need to do is work out how I can sneak into the cafeteria each day for lunch.