3 posts categorized "France, Paris"

03 July 2005

Star gazing

I thought I'd better explain my star rating when it comes to restaurants.  It's a simple range of one to five stars, one being piss poor, five being stonkingly good.

I do my best not to go to the sorts places where I reckon will end up with a one-star, so for the sake of my stomach I hope there won't be too many on here.  I'd expect most will be in the three-to-four star region.  Anyway, here's a quick guide to my thinking.  NB: As management, I reserve the right to change these rankings arbitrarily and more importantly appoint or deduct points as my whimsy takes me (power corrupts, absolute power etc etc.)

* - Ugh
** - In the words of Mr Creosote "Better...get a bucket I'm going to throw up"
*** - Not bad at all but nothing too special, middle of the road
**** - Better than average.  For a local restaurant it'd be considered the dogs doodoos, for somewhere posh, it's probably missing that little something
***** - Oh so good.  Not to be missed and full of superlatives

12 June 2005

L'Atelier du Joël Robuchon *****

I decided I couldn't go to Paris and not at least have one meal at a great restaurant, my problem was that I didn't have much time so I needed somewhere quick.  Joël Robuchon's restaurant is famed for its bar-stool seating and small tasting plates, it therefore seemed to fit the bill ideally.  Plus, because I had to check in at Charles de Gaulle by 8pm I guessed I wouldn't need to book if I turned up at the restaurant at 6.30pm.

There were several striking things when I walked in, and only the dark wood design was related to the restaurant.  The other things related to the customers.  With the sole exception of me, everyone in there was American, in their sixties and looking very confused.  The menu seemed to throw them and they were perplexed how they were supposed to eat at a bar rather than at a table - this is France after all, home of haute cuisine.  One couple went so far as to complain to me that it was bar-stools rather than tables.  The staff were excellent, with unlimited patience when dealing with ridiculous questions and requests - the best being the man next to me, who when offered the sublime mashed potatoes, looked horrified and said he'd eat anything except potato.  Paris is not the place for the Atkins diet. 

One more point on the staff, apart from being patient they are extremely accommodating.  Initially I was sat in the only one of four seats that isn't at the bar but looks out onto the street.  They assured me that if a booking failed to turn up they would move me, they were as good as their word, I was soon moved to a plum position at the bar.

I hadn't realised that there is more to the menu than the small tasting plates, with larger main courses also being offered as well as a menu degustation.  Because I was in such a hurry, I stuck with the tasting plates.  The waiter recommended three to make up a fair sized meal, so I went for five: anchovies; gazpacho; l'ouef cocotte; legumes confits and of course mashed potatoes.  This was washed down with a glass of 2002 Mâcon les Combettes and a bottle of finest Evian. 


I can only give simple descriptions because however flowery my language I won't do the meal justice.  Everything was simple, uncomplicated and delicious, the best ingredients cooked with minute care. 

The presentation of the anchovies reminded me of a game of noughts and crosses.  The anchovies were laid out on the plate, side-by-side, each anchovy separated from the next by a thin sliver of marinated red pepper.  Either side of the five or six fillets was a large X of what I think was a salsa verde.  Very pungent and a good foil to the vinegary (but not face alteringly sour) anchovies.

The gazpacho (or as they spell it gaspacho) was intensely tomatoey, with just the right garlic hit.  The three drops of olive oil sitting on the soup thinned it out nicely.  The one thing that was slightly strange was that I could have sworn that I tasted Worcestershire sauce, which frankly wasn't the most pleasant thing.

L'ouef cocotte was something new to me, which was why I'd ordered it.  It came in a martini glass and looked like a glass of milk with a few brown bits floating in it.  The brown bits were girolles that when eaten with the cream and the soft egg, hiding in the middle, together made a delicious, nursery food feel, but with a strong salty undercurrent giving it that grown-up slug.  Not a hug in a mug, more a bear hug in a martini glass.

Salt seemed to be a bit of a theme as the mashed potatoes were pretty salty as well, but this balanced out the creaminess perfectly.  The only downside to the mashed potatoes is that for the rest of my life I'll strive to make potatoes tasting like this and these potato perfections will no doubt be elusive.

The mille-feuille of confit vegetables was good, the tomatoes especially stood out - the most tomatoey tomatoes I've tasted outside of Italy.  But it has to be said, this was the one let down of the meal for me, although that could have been because I knew it was coming to an end and I would soon be flying home, rather than the unexciting combination of tomato, aubergine and mozzarella. 

As I keep saying, it was a great meal that I thoroughly enjoyed, you just need to get your head round the concept of small plates of food, no structured courses and eating at a bar - all very un-French and from the confusion of my fellow diners, un-American too it would seem.

L'Atelier du Joël Robuchon, 5 rue de Montalembert, 75007, Paris, France
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 22 56 56
Google Earth

What others think
New York Times - The most exciting restaurant in Paris

09 June 2005

Sore feet, sunny Paris

Talk about wearing out shoe leather.  Having spent yesterday from 8am until 8pm trudging around Paris my feet were and still are killing me.  I accept I may not have chosen the right footwear, but somehow I felt that wearing a pair of trainers wouldn't quite cut the mustard.  The payoff for not looking like a tourist from Louisiana was that I was in agony from lunchtime onwards.

My trip to Paris was primarily to get hold of some decent charcuterie, which I'm pleased to say I did and managed to smuggle it back into the UK without getting caught or going to prison.  I also managed to eat and drink my way through the City and as such returned home fully sated.

I got a flight in time for breakfast and my first stop was at Maison Kayser just off bvd St Germain.  Following a café au lait, a brioche aux raisins et noix, and a pain au raisin I was back on the streets.  I must say that although the brioche and pain au raisin were excellent somehow neither managed to hit the spot.  I was hoping for something a bit more buttery (I should have gone for a croissant) and with a bit more depth that I felt these lacked.  That's not to say they weren't delicious, it was just that I was looking for that little bit more.

Suitably fortified I headed back out to brave the tourists when the urge for a toilet meant that all other plans were put on hold.  I don't want this post to end up in the gutter but it is worth noting that it is hard to find a clean loo in Paris.  Anyway, I snuck into quite a nice hotel by the Louvre and made full use of their facilities.  Somewhat more comfortable, I was able to undertake the main task of the day and headed to the Marais. 

The Marais is an unusual place because not only is it historically the old Jewish area, but it has become the gay quarter as well.  You therefore get the rather odd sight of Hassidic Jews walking down the same streets as skimpily dressed young men holding hands.  I'm not sure whether it's a consequence of this combination but it is an exceptionally vibrant part of Paris.  The Jewish part of the Marais now only takes up a few streets centred around the rue des Rosiers.  Along des Rosiers there are several Jewish book shops, bakers and restaurants.  Having scoped out a few of the butchers I chose to buy my meat from Rene Panzer.  The deciding factor being the large keg of cucumbers that were being pickled by the front door.  Seeing it, reminded me of stories my grandmother used to tell me of her family pickling their own vegetables, and for that memory I felt the boucherie to be worthy of my custom.  It also helped that they let me try virtually everything in the shop before I bought.

CharcuterieI ended up buying a terrine of foie gras; chorizo; goose fat sausage; duck paté and a few slices of a beef saucissons.  I haven't yet tasted the foie gras but have eaten all of the others.  The chorizo is good, with a thick meaty consistency and a lingering but by no means overpowering spiciness.  The paté is sublime, thoroughly creamy and takes me back to the days before I kept kosher when it was easy buying decent paté.  I have no idea how they make kosher stuff taste this good, but I intend to find out.  The quality and selection in France only reinforces my utter confusion as to why in the UK the kosher shopper puts up with such limited and poor quality.  Oh, and of course I had to have one of the pickled cucumbers.

Despite having been fed by the nice lady in the boucherie I decided it would be rude not to have some lunch, so I had a lamb kebab at Mivami, a schwarma place on des Rosiers.  It was nothing spectacular, but was good and filled a rapidly diminishing hole.

After lunch, in a nod to culture, rather than food, I visited an exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville about the Jews in the Marais.  Although it was all in French, the old photos were fascinating and one didn't need a translator to understand about the impact of the Vichy government, who were eager and willing agents of the Gestapo.  That once again Jews are afraid to walk in the street in Paris is a sad indictment and shows how short memories can be.

It seems trite to say it but by this stage my feet were causing me real discomfort so after lunch I decided to sit down and watch Paris go by me so I in the course of three hours I spent the afternoon sipping an espresso in the Marais, having a beer in the 1er and drinking a cup of Ceylon a few doors down from Poilâne.  This was all in preparation for my dinner at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  I'll save the stories of that for another post but suffice to say it ended off a day of gluttony perfectly.