I'll eat my way around Paris if I have to: the Independent Cook 1992: Joanna Blythman did not need much persuading to accompany John Wood, winner of our cookery competition, on his gastronomic tour

WHO NEEDS prompting to go on an eating and food-shopping trip to Paris? All you need is an alibi, and I found one in John Wood, winner of our 1992 Independent/Le Cordon Bleu Cook Competition. What better accomplice could I have? Mr Wood is the quiet and unassuming National Trust gardener who lives near Banbury, Oxfordshire. He managed to conceive and execute a meal of such ingenuity, harmonious tastes and creativity that he was a clear winner.

Judging by his cooking, this was a man who was all over the place: crisp chickpea fritters with a North African influence, South- east Asian-style stuffed squid with Italianate dried tomato sauce, a Middle Eastern kadaifi pastry pudding with ricotta cheese. But he showed our judges he could blend all this in one clever and delicious meal. Fortuitously, Mr Wood had never visited Paris, so we decided to combine a visit to the headquarters of our competition sponsor - Le Cordon Bleu Cook School - with a whirlwind tour of the city's gastronomic life.

On the restaurant front, we started off with lunch in La Rotisserie d'en face (2 rue Christine, tel: 43 26 40 98) where Jacques Cagna, better known for his restaurant in rue des Grands Augustins, has opened up his idea of a straightforward office canteen. At La Rotisserie he serves an incredibly priced ( pounds 16) three-course lunch, with about six choices for each course. This is simple, unaffected food, cooked impeccably.

Mr Wood, not given to exaggeration, voted the chicken and chips (the former moist, on the bone and deliciously char-grilled, the latter crisp on the outside, floury and soft within) the most brilliant he had ever tasted. After a starter salad of, for example, warm leek batons and artichoke heart, and a faultless creme brulee to end, this is great food at bargain prices.

La Rotisserie d'en face is quite new, unlike Bofinger (5-7 rue de la Bastille, tel: 42 72 67 82), which is the oldest brasserie in Paris. Inlaid wood, celebrated glass decoration, a magnificent facade - no wonder the building, dating from 1864, is designated a monument historique. Bofinger's gastronomic specialities are well recorded - plateaux of oysters and fruits de mer, choucroutes, andouillette.

But on a hot summer's day when there is little to show on the seafood front, Bofinger's appeal seems to rest more on the environment than the food. A workaday cold cucumber and mint soup, acceptable lobster served with that sort of mayonnaise and macedoine vegetable salad which recalls cross-Channel ferries, competent smoked salmon and a stiffly over-meringued oeufs a la neige, left us less than convinced. In winter, apparently, seafood is back on form and the game is splendid. I am not sure I would go back to find out.

If landmark brasseries are your bag and Twenties Deco style - zinc, chrome and jazz-age chandeliers - is more to your taste, then the equally legendary La Coupole (102 boulevard de Montparnasse, tel: 43 20 14 20) might be a better bet. This, too, is a good place to watch Parisian intelligentsia and glitterati, but it does at least merit a mention in the food-oriented Gault et Millau guide, unlike Bofinger. The food at La Coupole has been described as 'simple and serviceable' - perfect for a casse- croute or croque monsieur.

If your focus is squarely on food and cooking, then Arpege (84 rue de Varenne, tel: 45 51 47 33) merits unqualified recommendation. Alain Passard, one of France's most exciting young chefs, has two Michelin stars and is actively seeking a third (his recent refurbishment should help to convince the Michelin hierarchy). A last-minute panic over Mr Wood's lack of anything other than totally casual clothes proved a false alarm - Arpege is not the sort of pompous establishment that gets upset about customers in jeans.

Some of Mr Passard's hallmark dishes, such as his delicious marinated Roscoff langoustines, are highly sophisticated and far removed from their original source. Others, such as the same langoustines pan-fried with senteurs de Provence and served with a soft garlic rouille and tarragon croutons, are almost rustic. We savoured these, the perfect John Dory baked with bay leaves under the skin, and a stunning tourte of brioche-light pastry filled with a forcemeat of guinea fowl. 'This is what haggis really ought to be like,' said Mr Wood gently, in deference to my Scottishness. He was right.

Perhaps Mr Passard's skill is to make his cooking look easy and uncomplicated. There is a refreshing lack of fussiness. For dessert, there was a simple-looking mille- feuille flavoured with whisky (usually a bad sign) that looked no different from one in a patissiere's window, but which tasted out of this world. His braised peach with an ice-cream flavoured with aubepine (an aromatic white Mediterranean flower) again looks straightforward, but tests your palate with its elusive aroma.

Mr Passard is a master when it comes to balancing flavours, spicing and counterpointing textures. The even better news is that, by London standards, his restaurant is good value. If you were careful, two could eat for pounds 120 a la carte with wine. Various set menus from pounds 22 to pounds 69 represent terrific value. It is a place to seek out.

Food-centred activities that do not revolve around eating (well, at least not on the spot) are endless in Paris. During our afternoon at Le Cordon Bleu Cook school (8 rue Leon Delhomme, tel: 48 56 06 06) we watched the chef patissier Michel Besnard's masterly demonstration of the classic Gateau Opera, every chocolate and coffee freak's object of desire. Mr Wood, whose eclectic and laid-back style is the polar opposite of Mr Besnard's highly disciplined, classic approach, was as impressed as I by the labour and skill involved.

Like its London and Tokyo counterparts, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris offers serious diploma courses; but for those en passant there are day-long courses such as the Markets of Paris, where you visit the chef's favourite among the 84 Parisian markets and then return to cook the ingredients you have bought.

An informed guide to markets is probably a good idea. We visited the famous Beauvau-Saint-Antoine market, in rue Aligre in the 12th arrondissement on a Thursday; it was something of a letdown. Architecturally, it gave Mr Wood no more pleasure than Oxford's covered market, and the cut-price fruit and tired mint looked as though they had been hanging around Rungis (the wholesale market) for rather too long. Sunday is apparently a better day for this marche exotique.

The leading snob place to do your shopping is Fauchon (26 rue de la Madeleine, tel: 47 42 60 11). Prices are terrifying - pounds 5.80 a kilo for those esoteric but wonderfully flavoured purple potatoes called Truffe de Chine - but then so is the quality and variety. (Some of the infant vegetables and salad leaves left even Mr Wood at a loss, and he is both a professional gardener and a keen amateur in the kitchen garden.) Ochre-yellow Barbary ducks from Bresse, the tiniest of artichokes, fresh hazelnuts, stuffed soft-shell crabs, luscious blood peaches and breaded pig's trotters the size of a child's seaside bucket . . . you have to see it, even if you do not buy.

But there are two food shops where you should definitely buy something. One is Maitre-Charcutier Coesnon (30 rue Dauphine, tel: 43 54 35 80). His specialities are boudin and sausages. There are black ones with apples, or chestnuts, or spicy a la Creole, or white ones with morel mushrooms, prunes, pistachios and chorizo.

Finally to Poilane (8 rue du Cherche-Midi, tel: 45 48 42 59), where France's most deservedly famous baker produces the famous pain de campagne, made with a sour-dough starter or levain. Catherine Deneuve is an enthusiastic customer and it is said that Queen Noor of Jordan has Poilane bread jetted back to her palace. A few morsels were carried on to the London flight by Mr Wood to nibble on the way home.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape