Paris Part V: Restaurant Review
In my final instalment of The Daily Norm’s homage to Paris (I should add, this will probably be only the first Paris season of many… owing that I am unrepentantly obsessed with the place), I wanted to share my experience of three great restaurants encountered during my time in Paris. In this time of the vindictive TripAdvisor professional complainant, where countless businesses in the hospitality industry are closing down because of picky, negative reviews posted online like school yard insults, without a thought given to the livelihoods of the business men and women they effect, I think it is only appropriate that a good experience is also applauded online, and shared so that fellow Francophiles can also enjoy a great culinary experience to top off a day of Parisian indulgence in the City of Light.
1. Le Gayridon, 19 Rue de Picardie, Paris (75003 – Marais)
They say that the best places in Paris are hard to find, and among the superfluity of mediocre bars and restaurants which can be easily discovered in the Marais, this restaurant is a little further out of the heart of the Marais, but worth the extra few minutes needed to find it. Wanting to eat in Paris on a budget (my last trip to the city for New Year’s Eve during which I visited two fancy restaurants almost bankrupted me for the remainder of the year) I found this place by trawling through deals on Toptable. The deal at this restaurant was either €30 each for a set menu including wine, or 30% off the entire a la carte bill. We opted for the latter and were consequently delighted to enjoy an amazingly good gastronomic experience for only around €65 all in. Starters included a modern twist on Coquilles Saint Jacques and some delicious charcuterie, while for mains we both opted for crayfish cooked en papillote which was served with a creamy vegetable lasagne. Dessert was an oozy chocolate pudding and a trio of very, very good desserts from the entire range.
The atmosphere is cute, charming but edging on contemporary. The outside is painted a very vibrant red, but owing to it’s side-street location, this in itself is not enough to make the place leap out at you if you do not know where you are going. Inside the lighting is satisfyingly, and romantically low, and there is even a very cute resident dog with a diamante collar who may occasionally (but unintrusively) make visits to your table. The staff were very sweet too. Be warned though: being an authentic eatery (with plenty of French diners), the menu is not only written in French, but hand written. If you aren’t able to speak a single word of French and/or comprehend curly hand writing, you may need to take a phrase book with you…and reading glasses… but by the end of the evening just think how much you would have picked up!
2. Le Bar à Huîtres, 33 Rue Saint-Jaques, Paris (75005 – Sorbonne)
This restaurant is SO cool. Part of a chain of four restaurants, it is the height of technological and gastronomic sophistication. As the name of the restaurant suggests, this place is about oysters, seafood and other shell fish. In fact it’s interiors are quirkily adorned with mussel shells guilt in silver ,cast into the cornices and alcoves, while downstairs, the toilets are luminescent with TV screens, ceilings that radiate with stars and even a black toilet (amazing – but difficult to clean without
leaving smears it appeared). The most impressive aspect, for us, was the use of an iPad for the restaurant menus. And not just an iPad but an application which enables you to navigate around the menus in different languages, look at pictures of the food (all very classily photographed – not like the photos on menus for tourists which turn you green before you even walk in the door), browse the varieties of oysters and their provenance, and learn all about the restaurant to boot. This certainly saved us the embarrassment of looking like oyster novices – or of having to request a menu in English.
So, the food – well, always with an eye on the budget, we opted for a set menu which included a vast platter of oysters, whelks, cockles and other shellfish, which arrived in spectacular theatrical fashion, smoking from the centre like a creation straight out of the science lab – very Heston Blumenthal. It certainly made us feel better about the mammoth three-tiered platter being enjoyed by a table a few metres away. The oysters were smooth and highly refreshing. All the other little creatures equally delicious, and the various items of cutlery required in order to eat them, highly entertaining. For dessert the theatre continued, with a flaming crème brûlée, while for starter, we had some amazing grilled squid. And once again, the bill was under the €100 cut-off we had set.
Location wise, this place is great – perfect for an after dinner stroll along the Boulevard Saint Germain des Pres which is just around the corner. However other locations of the restaurant include the Place des Vosges, Ternes and Montparnasse. Highly recommended!
3. Auberge Nicolas Flamel, 51 Rue Montmorency, Paris (75003 – near the Pompidou)
Our final dining experience was at this oldy-worldy auberge which is set in a three-storey townhouse built in 1407 and said to be the oldest house in Paris. Having once been the home of an alchemist, Nicolas Flamel, it retains something of an eery feeling about it. As soon as you walk in, you can sense the age and charm of this medieval home – it smells of aged wood and you struggle to find a straight line amongst all the wooden panelling and creaky floor boards. The atmosphere is low-lit candlelight and should be a romantic setting – except for us it really wasn’t. We walked in and found ourselves sat next to a large party of Japanese businessmen on one side of a long table and Scandinavian businessmen on the other. What followed was what looked like something of a sparring party whereby the respective sides of the table would take turns to demonstrate unashamedly how much whisky they could drink, and how loud they could laugh. As the meal went on, the competition turned into more of a friendly chorus of en-masse camaraderie and cheer, as the businessmen stood up, vigorously shaking hands and patting one another on the back, proclaiming friendship is stronger than business, and generally shouting and laughing together, full of apparent festive cheer. For the rest of us, quickly realising that we were not going to enjoy the intimate, romantic evening we had all been promised, we had to watch this quickly accelerating demonstration of cross-border merriment for entertainment, as it took waiting staff 45 minutes to take our order, and over an hour to bring our first course. Luckily, once the food started rolling out, the service improved and we were totally won over by amazing food – my foie gras with a festive spiced chutney was to die for, and my dessert of gingerbread crème brûlée had me sufficiently warmed up, ready to brave the cold to see the Eiffel Tower sparkling its way into the night thereafter. I think we were unlucky with our fellow dinner-guests. Any other night this restaurant might have made for the perfect romantic setting. However, the staff should have anticipated the service lapse and reflected that when planning reservations… but nobody’s perfect.
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