Long lunch

Simon Hopkinson's an expert at turning a trip to Paris into one magnificent feast. Whether you're after a croque-monsieur or a Bloody Mary, he knows just the place
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

It is very rare that I ever go to Paris without packing a copy of Patricia Wells' Food Lover's Guide To Paris in my luggage. Not only is it invaluable as a first-timer's manual to all things gastronomic in the city, it also continues to enlighten and inform the well-seasoned visitor such as moi. In fact, I feel so au fait with my favourite city that I am now able to relate, at great speed, to any who might so request of me, at least 43 Paris Metro stations. Not surprisingly, this is mainly because I actually choose to frequent many of them while there, unlike here, where I see it only as an emergency measure (un carnet, 10 tickets, each of which will transport one from one end of the city to the other, if so desired, costs the equivalent of about £5.50; a single from Shepherd's Bush to Tottenham Court Road currently costs me £1.80). I also never tire of hearing that extremely useful, discordant whine which each train (spotlessly clean at all times of the day and night) emits when doors are abou

It is very rare that I ever go to Paris without packing a copy of Patricia Wells' Food Lover's Guide To Paris in my luggage. Not only is it invaluable as a first-timer's manual to all things gastronomic in the city, it also continues to enlighten and inform the well-seasoned visitor such as moi. In fact, I feel so au fait with my favourite city that I am now able to relate, at great speed, to any who might so request of me, at least 43 Paris Metro stations. Not surprisingly, this is mainly because I actually choose to frequent many of them while there, unlike here, where I see it only as an emergency measure (un carnet, 10 tickets, each of which will transport one from one end of the city to the other, if so desired, costs the equivalent of about £5.50; a single from Shepherd's Bush to Tottenham Court Road currently costs me £1.80). I also never tire of hearing that extremely useful, discordant whine which each train (spotlessly clean at all times of the day and night) emits when doors are about to close, prior to quietly wheezing off upon their very sensible rubber wheels. But, enough of that.

So, it came as no surprise to me to discover that Patricia Wells's exhaustive volume has recently been re-published once more in a fully updated, thicker-than-ever, brand-new fourth edition. Hurrah for her, I say, because over the past 16 years, rarely has there been disagreement over any recommendation she has thought to lure me towards. Putting that most important consideration of cost apart just for a moment, it is surely worth remembering that to have eaten a bad meal is also to have wasted the experience of a good one. I don't know about you, but I always think in this way. And whether it be a bowl of soup, a joint of tandoori chicken, a beef stew, a grilled herring, a bag of chips, a green salad, or even nine exquisite courses of a Japanese kaiseki, I forever hope that it will please.

Patricia Wells is also a woman who does not pull punches. Moreover, this ex-pat American has a rare talent for knowing exactly when it is both right and proper to include a place "warts and all'' simply because she believes in it and truly adores it for all manner of reasons, come what may. Mostly, I guess, this is because Wells would see it as unseemly behaviour to reject an establishment just because the green beans were once over-cooked, or some lamb cutlets arrived at table a little on the chilly side one busy Saturday night.

The occasional off-night may engender stiffer prose than normal, but such lapses are rarely seen as grounds for divorce. But, then, once you have become familiar with her writing, all these particulars are revealed in the text. And, as an added bonus, you will also find in the book many original recipes from participating establishments as well.

Please try and search out the following lesser-known places the next time you are in Paris. Some are listed by Patricia Wells but there are also a few particular favourites from this boy too. As Maurice Chevalier once so implored, "En-shoy eet!''

'The Food Lover's Guide To Paris', by Patricia Wells, is published in paperback by Workman Publishing, priced £12.99

L'Ostéria 10 rue de Sevigne, Paris 4 (0033 1 42713708) I was introduced to this most perfect of neighbourhood restaurants last November by my Italian friend Carlo Bellomo, premier maître d'hÿtel of La Tour d'Argent - laisser tomber les noms ou quoi! Some go so far as to say that it is now easier to find a table at Taillevent than here. As the city has never been exactly poivré with excellent Italian restaurants, L'Ostéria must initially have come as something of a shock to everyone. All I might add to the above is that here I also happened to eat the finest risotto it has ever been my joy to consume.

La Tour d'Argent 15 quai de la Tournelle, Paris 5 (0033 1 43542331) The set lunch is currently priced at Fr350. At just under 35 quid and fully inclusive of possibly the most staggeringly beautiful view from any restaurant in the world (each and every table enjoys differing views from the almost in-your-face Notre Dame to the distant domes of Sacre-Coeur), supreme comfort and calm, perfect pre- and post-prandial nibbles, and service of such correct and courteous manner that it shocks, I truly consider this as one of the great bargains of all Paris. I invariably eat the quenelles de brochet "Andre Terrail'' followed by the duck dish of the day and, if offered, a soufflé. Choosing to eat à la carte here, however, takes true courage. (I must say that I am moderately perplexed over why Wells, above all, chooses not to include this legend amongst her listings.)

Thoumieux 79 rue St-Dominique, Paris 7 (0033 1 47054975) An offal-lover's heaven on a plate. The last time I was at this brasserie, I feasted upon a sublime first course of lip-tacky veal tendons with sauce ravigote (or was it gribiche?) absurdly followed by a large pot of deeply rich, braised tripe with boiled potatoes. The interior is classic brasserie - mirrored, with well-worn-tiles underfoot, the waiters traditionally garbed, unusually helpful and charming (particularly if, like me, you are the occasional Brit who enthuses over extremities and innards) and, unusually, there are also 10 reasonably priced, comfortable rooms to let upstairs.

Moissonnier 28 rue Fosses-St-Bernard, Paris 5 (0033 1 43298765) It was to be at this tiny outpost of Lyonnais cooking (with a bit of Jura too) on the Rive Gauche where I was to eat my very first tablier de sapeur, a particular way with tripe. Although fully flummoxed you may be, and scratching your head, wondering quite how such idiosyncratic nomenclature as gastronomic metaphor ever gave rise to the association of a "fireman's apron" with a 20cm square ply of deliciously crusted, fried tripe. Be assured that we would never embarrass ourselves with such flights of whimsical, gastronomic fancy. I guess, however, if pressed to come up with something similar, it might be dishcloth or doormat, so mentally cleansed have we now become over all thoughts of consuming something quite so terrifying as the lining of a large ruminant's stomach. The particular piece that suits the cut of the "fireman's apron" is taken from one of four possible options - stomachs, that is. Such details are worth knowing.

Ironically, it was to be that other fine American gastro-journo, Johnny Apple, who initially directed me here from the pages of his book Apple's Europe, and what I find so reassuring is that both he and Wells enjoy it for all the right reasons. It has long been a constant source of delight to me that, with the exception of Elizabeth David, it was four American food writers who have inspired and influenced me on the joys of eating in Paris - and the rest of France, too - more than any Brit has seen fit to so do. Chronologically, these are Waverley Root, Richard Olney, RW (Johnny) Apple and Patricia Wells. Great Americans in Paris. PW

Le Duc 243 boulevard Raspail, Paris 14 (0033 1 43209630) Michael Winner recently wrote of how much he disliked this place. My first visit was in February 1981. They have not the slightest idea who I am or where I come from, I always eat here alone. It is impeccable. I sit wherever they put me. "If you love your fish ultra-fresh, sparingly prepared, and barely cooked, then Le Duc is for you,'' says Wells. I feel sure that Le Duc doesn't spare themselves a second thought that Winner might have chosen to disagree. Mind you, now that I pause to think about it, what a huge relief it must also be to them that he was disappointed. That very first taste of their loup tartare aux coquilles Saint-Jacques, almost 20 years ago now, will forever remain significant in my memory as something altogether daring, intelligently thought-out and, most of all, extraordinarily delicious. PW

A few bars and cafés

Samaritane roof-top café 2 quai du Louvre, Paris 1 (0033 1 40412929) From this "combination café, restaurant and salon de thé ... you can see tout Paris. So, you know what they chose to call it? 'Toupary'. Fabulous. A wonderful discovery on a hot and sunny day in the city. Visit on a sunny afternoon, order up a citron-pressé or a beer, and relax before or after a visit to this mammoth, and confusing, (superb art-deco) department store.'' PW

Harry's New York Bar 5 rue Danou, Paris 2 (0033 1 42617114) (above right) Well known indeed to plenty of Americans but not to many Brits, I reckon. It is thought to have been here that the Bloody Mary was first made - the only reason I ever come here. Possibly the best Bloody Mary in all Paris: strong, expertly made and perfectly seasoned. The joint itself is curious, to say the least.

Ladurée 16 rue Royale, 75008 (0033 1 42602179) Although I have mentioned Ladurée before on these pages, I only mentioned their exquisite sandwiches in passing ... "All individually wrapped in neatly folded sheets of crisp grease-proof paper." Truly, these are some of the finest sandwiches it has ever been my pleasure to behold. Some of my favourite fillings are rosette de Lyon (salami), thin, cured ham, egg and cucumber, aged comté (cheese), chicken and watercress and nicely damp tomato. The bread (pain de mie) is sliced almost microscopically thin and spread with the finest unsalted butter. I once watched a slip of a Parisian girl consume 10 of these in 10 minutes flat, one late morning. Buy a similar number to take on the Eurostar back to Blighty in lieu of lunch. "You call that lunch!" I hear you say. Touché. PW

Hÿtel Meurice bar 228 rue de Rivoli, Paris 1 (0033 144581010) A new find. The Hotel Meurice has recently enjoyeda multi-million dollar face lift, and although it still feels all a little new and gaudy, this very comfortable bar seems to have by-passed all of that. Softly lit and superbly well run by the most professional of bar tenders, it is the perfect venue for an early evening Martini (one of the best I have ever tasted) or a late-night, very old, very rare glass of green chartreuse.

Le Crillon place de la Concorde, Paris 8 (0033 1 44711500) Not exactly sure as to where I was to lunch one day, I happened to call into the bar here (the most convenient entrance is in rue Boissy d'Anglas) for a drink. Noticing and smelling a croque-monsieur passing by my table while scouring the pages of Wells' guide, I swivelled round to take a closer look. As near as dammit, it resembled almost exactly those served at Harry's in Venice. "Hmm ... better try one of those, seeing as I'm here," I said to myself. So rich, crisp, buttery and fabulously good they were that lunch was consumed there and then.

Note: 'PW' denotes those places listed in 'The Food Lover's Guide To Paris'

Comments