Ah, Paris. How can one city epitomise so much that’s good about life? Food, history, art, food, fashion, culture, food, architecture, wine – and did we mention food?
No trip to Paris is complete without a little bit of indulgence, so if you’re planning a few days in the City of Light (and we don’t mean “lite”), here are some favourites to get your foodie trip started.
1. Ladurée tearooms
French pastry shop Ladurée is synonymous with macarons, those delectable double-decker meringue confections that have taken the world by storm. Ladurée’s macarons appeared in Sofia Copola’s Marie Antoinette, and with their pretty pastel colours and subtle fruit-cream fillings, it’s easy to imagine royalty dining on them for breakfast, lunch and tea.
You can buy beautifully boxed selections of macarons from Ladurée’s Parisian outlets, with the original location on rue Royale. We chose to visit the Ladurée tearooms on the legendary Boulevard Champs-Elysees, such an elegant shade of rococo pink and green that it’s easy to imagine the year is 1862, when Ladurée was founded.
Walk through the celadon-green and gold doorway, past the queue of eager pastry lovers waiting to purchase their boxes of pastel-hued macarons, and head for the polished timber stairs. Upstairs there are several tearooms where you can order a pot of fragrant herbal tea and a selection of macarons. The atmosphere is sophisticated and the surroundings feel suitably historic and gilt-edged, with an uneven floor of squeaking timber parquet, cushion-strewn sofas to sit on and crystal chandelier lighting.
2. Prix fixe menu at Le Meurice
Eating out in Paris doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg – even if you choose a Michelin-starred hotel restaurant like Le Meurice at 228 rue de Rivoli. The tradition of prix fixe menus offers a fixed-price meal of two or three courses chosen from a limited selection of dishes, meaning you can dine for a fraction of the cost of dining à la carte.
We chose Le Meurice for several reasons: head chef Yannick Alléno’s three Michelin stars, the sumptuous surroundings (the hotel is owned by the Dorchester chain, after all), the intuitive but subtle service, and the prix fixe lunch menu, considered one of the best you’ll find in Paris.
We loved Philippe Starck’s reworked 17th-century décor of silver and white, with its columns of grey marble and gilt, glittering chandeliers and rococo mirrors, and the glimpses of trees outside in the Tuileries Gardens.
And the food? With classics like French onion soup and foie gras, the menu pays tribute to French traditions and presentation, while also adding contemporary verve with seasonal specialties like spring lamb and truffled scallops. The kitchen also boasts an acclaimed pastry chef, so dessert might be delectable sponge soufflé or peach meringue.
3. Sustainable lunch at les Philosophes
For lunch in a typical Parisian café, we’d suggest Les Philosophes at 28 rue Vieille du Temple in the Marais. It’s a classic bistro-style café-bar with busy outdoor tables with wicker chairs. Indoors, the subtly lit restaurant is quieter, with walls lined with timber and wood. The atmosphere is a mix of tradition and youthful verve, and the friendly staff are dressed in crisp white and black. What sets the café apart is its commitment to serving fresh, organic, sustainably sourced, market-fresh food.
The prix fixe menu is always reliable. This time we chose a sea bass fish of the day and a dish of ‘market vegetables’ featuring just-picked seasonal specialties like grilled zucchini and spring artichokes. Reading the menu, we were introduced to the idea of French food needing to remain true to its traditions, and the importance of sourcing local ingredients. To show our support, we ordered a sublime crème brulée – crisp toffee on the surface, and creamy and bubbling below. Perfect!
4. Bon Marché food hall
If you’re planning a picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens, go gourmet and buy your provisions from the luxurious food hall at the upmarket Bon Marché department store. It’s at 24 rue de Sèvres in St-Germaine des Pres, a short walk from the gardens.
Imagine a food hall in Paris, then multiply your expectations by 100 and you have La Grande Epicerie. There are counters groaning with seafood on ice, every fruit and vegetable imaginable, and a huge choice of take-away picnic fare, from traditional foie gras and oysters to truffled salt to sprinkle on your organic tomatoes. Choose from prepared meals in any cuisine, perhaps Japanese sushi, stuffed olives, sandwiches or salads, and you have a picnic to remember.
5. Rue Saint Antoine cheese shops
Our favourite fromageries in Paris are on rue Saint-Antoine in the Marais. The choice of cheeses at Pascal Trotté, at number 97, is almost as overwhelming as the aromas wafting through the door of this popular cheese shop. Counters groan with ashed goat’s cheese in logs and rounds, washed rind cheeses, meltingly soft brie de Meaux and camembert, vine-wrapped triangles, ripe (in more ways than one) Pont l’Eveque, hard cheeses, yoghurt, butter and cream.
Nearby Fromagerie IV, at number 77, is les boutique, more brightly lit, and has a larger range of hard cheeses. Pick up some Poilane bread and a bottle of wine to accompany the cheeses from the groaning shelves at Caves St Antoine.