Sunday, October 10, 2010

Foodie Paris with Ute Biefang

Paris has to be a highlight on the European map, one of the worlds most visited cities and there is good reason for that. My first impressions returning as a family on holiday rather than on business is that the streets are busy and when I say busy, I mean busy! The grandeur is striking the extravagance of the streetscape and buildings give you cause to think that the wealth of French empire at its peak must have been almost obscene. Looking at Paris you can completely understand why there was a revolution!  

Paris is a city to be walked, there are myriad of little streets and fascinating little discoveries to be had, you just need a little endurance and the rewards are great. Our tourist highlights were the usual: The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Cathedrale Notre-Dame, Place de Concorde, Musee de l’Orangerie, Musee du Louvre you know the sort of stuff I am talking about! It’s all worth the effort and spectacular. Make sure you walk the bridges, the little streets of Ile St Louis and then get yourself out on the metro to discover the neighborhoods or arrondissement of Paris outside of the tourist precincts. This is where we found some real surprises and had the most fun.

We stayed in a quaint little apartment in the 5th or Latin quarter on the rue de la Harpe. This was good choice because it put us within a stones throw of everything we wanted to see and the metro which we used a lot in the five days we were there. If you after the real Parisian food experience however you won’t find it here. We did not eat once in the 5th because it’s really touristy. Lots of restaurants essentially serving the same unspectacular stuff which I am afraid just do not do it for me! In fact for those of you that haven’t been to Paris it’s a real trap. You romanticize the idea that all food in France I going to be amazing and in truth it’s far from it. There is a lot of rubbish much like every city in the world – so do you a favour and do some research before you venture onto the streets. It struck me on more than a few occasions that it feels like a grand and historic theme park set up purely for Americans. The classic cliché bistros serving dodgy renditions of “steak tartare and croque monsieur all cooked very badly – buyers beware!

So to one of the best decisions of the trip. Booking Ute Biefang for a food tour of the Marais or 4th. Ute was an integral part of the food and wine festival in Melbourne for many years and now lives comfortably in Paris guiding foodies through some the best food on the planet. Her charm knowledge and enthusiasm is incredible and set us up beautifully for our visit. What Ute will do for you is give you the confidence to explore the right areas if you love your food, assist in making bookings at all the best places and show you the kind of food and culture that you expect to see but will completely miss if you don’t know an insider. I cannot recommend Ute more highly – do it!

So here are a few places we explored. In terms of food streets the stand outs were Rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement and Rue Vieille du Temple in the 4th, both are different snap shots of life in Paris. The Rue Vieille du Temple has lots of fantastic little bars and restaurants including two of Ute’s recommendations “Glou Restaurant” a funky little joint with a simple Mediterranean inspired menu where we enjoyed a brilliant cesina, tarama, jamon and sea bass w chanterelles.

Breizh Cafe which celebrates Normandy with the best paper thin buckwheat pancakes, filled with delicious and super fresh ingredients and artisan ciders. The cider was an utter revelation for me poured into earth & ware bowls from flip top bottles, ranging from golden to deep brown and amber hues the cider is often cloudy and preservative free. Which means alas it will not travel well outside of France. My buckwheat pancake was filled with a salt brandade of cod, with thin slithers of audouille sausage and a little rocket to assuage the guilt. Bloody delicious!

The best patisseries and chocolatiers included Pain de Sucre, 14 rue Rambuteau, Jacques Genin, fondeur en chocolat, 133 rue de Terenne both in the 3rd and La Patisserie des Reves, 93 rue du Bac in the 7th. The later was incredible, pretty pink & white pastel walls with large glass domes suspended from the ceiling and placed precisely over gorgeous pastry creations like diamonds in a jewelers shop. A trip to the Le Mache des Enfants Rouges was a surprise, a compact under cover market with shared tables dropped around frantic cafes and bars serving up fantastic food including this one which was dynamite serving brilliant Moroccan food, just simply watching them prepare the cous cous and serve up steaming tagines would make even the steeliest of mortals hungry.

A trip to the 10th saw us wander up and down a lovely street, a local neighborhood which gave us a completely different perspective on how good Parisian food can be. Beautiful cheese shops containing hundreds of gorgeous cheeses, butchers selling aged beef on the bone, a myriad of game birds and poultry still with head and feather on or trussed beautifully with spec or lard. In fact whether it is the fish monger, fruiterer, or providore it is a completely different approach to almost all of our food shops here in Oz. They are artisans, it is a celebration of a craft and the quality of produce is a pure reflection of this. I love that.

Roast chickens, turning gently outside the butchers shop. Couldn't do that in Melbourne me thinks!

On the last night we wanted so much to eat at Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier, but we could not get in, I had left it too late as usual and was unable to pull any strings! We settled on La Gazetta, 29 Rue De Cotte in the 12th. It looks on the face of it like a classic Parisian Brasserie, dark colours, richly coloured wooden surfaces and a tiled floor. Simple unclothed and uncluttered tables, swift service and two choices of set menu, a five or seven course. We plumped for the five course, it was beautiful food, simple flavours and technically perfect. To be honest the food felt at odds with the classic surrounds and not all the components hit the spot for me, the savoury “oeuf a la neige” in a white onion soup didn’t do it, nor did the dessert of pain perdu and poached fruits, which were served oddly in two different bowls and served together as if it was an after thought. But I am being picky, I would still go back and it was a good choice.  

  La Patisserie des Reves - OMG!

This is no doubt the best "Gateau St Honore" I have ever seen.

Now this is what you call a concept store - pastry under glass. Loved it.

Nice touch with the eclair - wrapped in a thin seem of milk or dark chocolate - je voudrais trois, s'il vous plait!


  1. I'd be in so much trouble if I stepped into La Patisserie des Reves. I'd have to eat a bit of everything.

  2. MMM Im going to Paris 1st week July, and going to punish these shops!!!