Whenever I discover I’m going somewhere — anywhere — the first thing I do is work out where I’m going to eat. I read travel articles, guidebooks, local food blogs, listicles… pretty much anything that will point me in the direction of a city/town/country’s super foods.
The weekend before last I was in Paris for my birthday and I ate and drank so much seriously good stuff, I thought I’d share it with you here. Just please don’t judge me for how much I ate.
Cafe de Flore
Perfect for: people watching; lunch
Cafe de Flore in Saint Germain is every guidebook out there. It is one of Paris’ oldest and most celebrated coffeehouses, with a long and famous history. As a result it is overpriced, overcrowded and overtouristed — but bear with me.
There is one great reason to drop by at lunchtime. The Jockey au Chester. A croque monsieur ensconced in bubbling molten cheese and topped with a fried egg. It’s not cheap — around 15 euros or so — and perhaps eschew the overpriced drinks in favour of table water, but do go and try it. It’s so worth it.
Service was tres charmant and amiable too.
Perfect for: set-menu dinner with a difference; aperitif
This hipster-accredited restaurant is hidden in the very foodie area east of Bastille. We stopped in at Bones for a little aperitif at the bar, but if you want to book, the restaurant at the back has a fab-sounding 55 euro set menu full of seasonable, fashionable and original dishes.
We shared a plate of Basatxerri dry Palette (dry-cured Basque-country ham) with a glass of red. The slivers of meat were soft and very tender, but packed full of flavour without being overly salty.
Comme a Lisbonne
Perfect for: a sugary pick-me-up
Forget delicate French patisserie, pasteis de nata (those divine Portuguese custard tarts) are what you should be seeking out in the Marais district of Paris. I’ve already hunted down the best ones in London (Lisboa Patisserie in Notting Hill, FYI) and Comme a Lisbonne is responsible for Paris’ finest.
Perfect for: date night; carnivorous cocktail lovers; a dinner to remember
Oh hello, heaven in a bun. Beef Club’s cheese burgers are supposedly Paris’ best. I haven’t done enough research to comment on that, but I can confirm they are soft, juicy, full of flavour and better than the majority of patties I’ve eaten in London. It probably helps that the French have got the bread and cheese thing DOWN.
Don’t scrimp on sides either. You’ll want (one per person of) the mac and cheese with its creamy underside and crispy top, the fries (actually perfectly cooked thick-cut chips — my favourite) and maybe the spinach if that’s up your street. I’m not a ketchup fan, but the Beef Club’s homemade stuff was tangy and sweet in just the right proportions for my palette. It paled in comparison to the blue cheese sauce, however. We had to order seconds and that still wasn’t enough because it was not only the perfect accompaniment to our burgers, but to each and every one of the sides.
Now to pudding. We ordered the profiterole to share. For good reason, my boyfriend and I don’t usually share desserts (resentment is a terrible thing, don’t you think?), but this came a verbal warning from the waiter: don’t attempt alone. He was right.
An enormous profiterole-cum-macaron emerged from the kitchen and I lifted the “hat” as the waiter poured hot chocolate sauce over the tower of cream. Inside was a further treat — praline feuilletine, as cold as ice cream and just the right amount of rich.
Service at the Beef Club was attentive, funny and friendly. We needed a long walk afterwards, but if you can stick around, there’s a great speakeasy bar downstairs.
Perfect for: brunch; hipster watching
Tips for Holybelly: come on weekday; arrive before noon; order the savoury pancakes.
Holybelly! is exactly what I wanted to exclaim after eating brunch at Holybelly. This place is the Paris brunch mothership and its got just the right amount of attitude, toeing the fine line between humour and insolence with aplomb. The warm and hearty welcome is a taste of what to expect from Holybelly’s warm and hearty dishes.
I had my heart set on the pancakes with fried eggs, bacon, maple syrup and bourbon butter and was lucky to nab the last batch of the day before lunch orders started. SO lucky. Rich, salty and sweet, the pancakes soaked up the yolk all mingled with maple and melted butter, while the bacon brought texture and crunch to each mouthful.
Let’s take a closer look.
Pain des Idees
Perfect for: breakfast; lunch; quintessential Frenchness
Pain des Idees is packed to the rafters with the world’s best finger food. Dusted loaves that you want to tear apart with your bare hands and use to scoop up ripened brie; springy hunks of Pains des Amis that you want squeeze between your fingertips and soak in fragrant oils; flaky pastry escargots studded with berries and pistachios that you want to delicately unravel and secrete between your teeth.
As patisseries go, Pain des Idees is le grand papa. Not only does it have the best bread in town, but all the pretty tiling and rustic decor that will make you wish it was on the corner of your own street so that you could pop in every day and grow fat and happy on carbs and French charm.
Perfect for: ice cream; a sugary pick-me-up
Maison Berthillon was closed on the Monday we were by Notre Dame, but nearly every restaurant and cafe on Ile Saint-Louis sells its famous ice cream anyway. The pistachio was the most faithful to the flavour I think I’ve ever had, even incorporating chewy nuggets of nut, but it was the depth of flavour in the salted caramel that really transported me to that cold and sweet happy place only the best ice creams ever touch.
Folks and Sparrows
Perfect for: lunch; coffee and cake; relaxation
Hidden in side street north of Marais but south of Republique is Folks and Sparrows, a folksy haven of carefully prepared food and coffee. The walls at the front of the shop are lined with preserves, soups and sauces made locally, and rums, tins and chocolates from further afield, all of which are for sale.
But what you’re really here for is the oasis of calm in which you can enjoy a decent latte and a baguette wrapped in brown paper and string, into which it tucked a tiny sprig of white blossom. This place has such a light touch to it and yet every detail has been thought out in a way that makes you feel like you’ve found stumbled upon something very special.
Perfect for: coffee and cake; hipster watching
This tiny coffee shop in one Paris’ cooler corners is crammed with tables and filled with the scents of seriously tempting freshly baked creations, which sit in a perspex case on the counter. I eyed them hungrily as I waited (and waited) for my latte to come. You will wait here, but it’s worth it. They take coffee seriously at Ten Belles, and it’s the place to stop off if you’re enjoying a pootle up the Canal Saint-Martin.
Perfect for: lazy afternoon drinks; board games; sunny days
We stumbled upon this place at the end of a long walk up Canal Saint-Martin and sunk into a comfy corner where we sipped white wine and lounged until we almost dozed off, while couples played board games at little tables surrounding us. When the sun showed its face mid afternoon, more punters dropped by, grabbing deckchairs and setting them up on the canal bank just outside.
Le Dernier Bar avant la Fin du Monde
Perfect for: happy hour; board games; rainy days
On the right bank near Notre Dame is Le Dernier Bar avant la Fin du Monde, the geek culture bar designed to make you smile on a rainy day. We just happened to be there on 4 May (may the fourth be with you) and so it was Star Wars central. At happy hour you can get my favourite Belgian beer (Grimbergen) at discount prices.
Septime La Cave
Perfect for: date nights; wine quaffing; aperitif
Don’t expect to walk in and grab a seat at teensy Septime La Cave. Do expect, though, to be served exactly the kind of wine you like by the glass and at a very good price. This little bar, which also serves platters of meat, is the compatriot to the hottest meal ticket in town. Septime is the modern European bistro that everyone wants to eat at. I didn’t manage to, but I did have a snifter in its sibling as part of a very jolly evening out in the area.
Perfect for: beer quaffing; hiding away from the world
Walk into the Bottle Shop and you’ll feel, not in a bad way, that you’re the only non-regular in the joint. It’s the kind of dive bar that beer snobs love and where evenings disappear. The thing to drink is Cheap Blonde, which is accurately descriptive and also happens to be the name of the company that owns The Bottleshop and several other cool bars in the neighbourhood — Stolly’s, Red House and Lizard Lounge. I can only vouch for this one, but I’d guess you’re probably in safe hands with any of them.