Words by James Gregory Wilkinson
Forget the big sights, Paris is a food lover’s paradise, with the city of love offering gourmand experiences on the left and right banks. You just need to know a few locals’ secrets and Flight Centre First and Business has them for you.
One of the principle pleasures of any trip to Paris is indulging in the many gastronomic delights the city has to offer: everything from sweets, to fresh produce and of course, the inimitable French breads and fromage – all preferably accompanied by a perfectly chilled glass of Champagne.
Feasting Like The French
An excellent place to start your foodie adventure is Place de la Madeleine, in the 8th arrondissement. Established in 1755, this square surrounds the monumental, neoclassical Madeleine Church and is home to a number of fine-food shops, cafes and restaurants.
A two-storey temple to gourmet delights, Hediard takes up almost an entire corner of the square. Upstairs is the restaurant, where you can indulge in a three-course lunch or a pot of tea and some macarons. At street level is the specialty food store, with perfectly arrayed own-brand spices, salts, condiments, teas, cured meats and much more. The wine and liqueur selection, particularly the magnums, is also top notch and difficult to resist.
If you happen to be in Paris between November and March, as tempting as Hediard’s beautifully packaged truffle salts and mustards may be, we suggest you hang onto your wallets and pop next door, to La Maison de la Truffe. During truffle season, the heady aroma of France’s finest fungi can be detected wafting out the doors and down the street.
Maison de la Truffe
Inside, the friendly staff are clearly passionate about truffles and will go out of their way to help you choose from both the fresh product and a well-edited selection of truffle-infused salts, oils, mustards, pates and even sweets. Quirky vintage posters and truffle-shaped scrubbing brushes are also on offer if you’re in the market for some unique gifts for friends back home.
Across the plaza is Fauchon. Brash, loud and in-your-face, its pink and black branding screams nouveau riche but the still-warm, freshly baked madeleines being handed out as you walk past will get you in the door anyway. Occupying two corners of the square, Fauchon isn’t for the faint-hearted – fortunately, the sugar hit from their chocolates, macarons, cakes and pastries will fortify you to keep going. The breadth and scope of this confectionery boutique has to be seen to be believed.
For something a little more sedate, head away from Madeleine down the Rue Royale to the nearby pastel ambiance of Laduree. Sitting down to afternoon tea at the very first of Paris’s famed chain of macaron shops is like settling into a Faberge egg, all gilt trims and Easter-bonnet greens, pinks and blues. Modelled on Marie Antoinette’s personal chambers at Versailles, the prettiness of the decor here is matched only be the lightness and delicacy of the cakes.
While Place de la Madeleine and its surrounds are pretty much mecca for posh provisions, to really get a feel for the way inner-city Parisians choose and buy their groceries, it’s well worth paying a visit to Rue Montorgueil, which runs through the 1st and 2nd arrondissements. This is pretty much the closest thing you’ll find to foodie heaven.
Pick up beautiful seasonal fruit and veg from the greengrocers and glistening, fresh poisson from the fishmongers. But, before you make your choices, take time to gaze at the stunning presentation of the treats at Stohrer, one of the city’s oldest patisseries. It's the home of the rum baba and it’s been serving up pastry delicacies from this very same store since 1730. Then, grab a seat and a caffeine hit at one of the street’s cafes to watch the passing parade.
Rue Montorgueil is essentially a one-stop shop, but if you really want everything under the one roof, you’ll need to visit one of Paris’s famed department-store food halls. The biggest and best are Lafayette Gourmet, on the lower ground floor of Galeries Lafayette, and Le Grand Epicierie at Le Bon Marche on the Left Bank. Both well and truly blow their Australian counterparts out of the water.
Imagine an entire supermarket stocked with gourmet food and you’re about halfway there. Every possible permutation of foie gras, truffles, seafood, cheeses and cured meats, biscuits, cakes, chocolates… an entire aisle of designer mineral water and multiple aisles of artisanal salt. The hardest thing about coming to one of these extraordinary food halls is the fact that luggage limits mean it’s impossible to bring home all the jars and boxes you put in your shopping basket!
Le Bon Marche
Shaking up the restaurant scene in Paris of late have been two chefs, Aussie James Henry of Bones and local star Gregory Marchand of Restaurant Frenchie in the 2nd arrondissement. At Bones – a small minimalist restaurant that would be at home in Melbourne’s Fitzroy or Sydney’s East Redfern – Henry has a daily changing menu that highlights fresh produce available in the city served alongside organic wines.
Here, you’ll find a set six-course menu for €55 (or €65 with cheese) that includes salads, seafood, meat, sorbets and tasters. Expect Henry to bring out courses, chat with guests and even suggest a top drop to match his food, probably something from the Loire or Languedoc-Roussillon.
Bones Restaurant dishes
He might be more well-known thanks to his cookbooks, guest columns for magazines and appearances on TV, but also expect Frenchie’s) Marchand to interact with guests in his small restaurant along Rue du Nil and opposite at Frenchie Bar à Vins.
You can either go a-la-carte or the set menu (€58 for five courses) and expect both modern and classic French dishes with an international and European twist like the foie gras with Xeres sherry vinegar and roasted chicken with sweet corn. The wine list is exceptional and there’s plenty to choose from Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone.
Bones Restaurant: fois gras (left) & organic wines (right)
Hotels with Taste:
When it comes to bedding down in Paris, gourmand experiences continue at many of the city’s leading properties.
The newest kid on the block is The Peninsula Paris, which opened just over six months ago and is Peninsula’s tenth hotel worldwide and first in Europe. It’s located off the Champs Elysees on Avenue Kléber in the heart of the elegant 16th arrondissement. It also happens to be just a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe.
Frenchie Restaurant: street sign (left) & bar (right)
It features 200 rooms and suites as well as six restaurants and bars, and our pick is L’Oiseau Blanc. Located on the roof, it serves up views of Paris’ iconic monuments and traditional French dishes Chef Sidney Redel calls “bistronomique”. Here, expect the finest luxury touches and the latest in technology – think opulence meets practicality. Guests can even make free phone calls anywhere in the world.
The Saint James Hotel, a member of Relais and Chateaux, is on the site of the first ever hot-air balloon airfield in Paris and as such you’ll find things that pay homage to these balloons right throughout the hotel, from wallpaper in the stairs to hot air balloon shaped cabanas in the gardens.
The hotel has a real country-château feel in the heart of Paris. There are 48 rooms, including 20 Junior Suites, 11 Suites and two Pavilions. And the feeling is very much classic French from the late 1800s. There’s also a Michelin-starred eatery Le Restaurant with exceptional classic French food and a bar next door that has classic décor and cocktails to match.
At Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris, fashion, food, the arts and music intertwine in a fusion of modern and past Paris. Here, there are guitars in every room, soundproofed walls and a mobile recording studio, along with an art gallery, art-book shop and a dedicated art concierge, as well as a decadent, modern décor right throughout the property, including exposed brickwork, plush carpets and iron railings.
Saint James Paris
It’s home to the biggest day spa in Paris, featuring Clarins products, as well as two restaurants and a bar serving up both modern French at La Cuisine and Michelin-starred Italian at Il Carpaccio. The room to book is the two-bedroom Ray Charles Lifestyle Suite, where you can see the Eiffel Tower from the toilet of this seventh-floor suite.
Last but not least is the Shangri-La Hotel Paris. This former home of Napoleon Bonaparte’s grandnephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte, offers incredible views of the Eiffel Tower from many rooms. It’s a five-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower and is a beautiful blend of classic Parisien architecture and Shangri-La’s Asian roots.
Saint James Hotel
The rooms are well appointed, have large bathrooms and comfortable oversized beds. Many have a view of the Eiffel Tower even when you’re lying down. There are three restaurants and a bar, including two with a Michelin star. This includes L'Abeille for sophisticated French cuisine, and Shang Palace for authentic Chinese.
A Side of Reims
It’s not exactly within Paris, but a day trip or overnight adventure to the Champagne district is easily possible and highly recommended, with high-speed TGV trains getting you to the town of Reims in around 45 minutes.
Le Royal Monceau
Unlike Australian wineries, which require a drive out into the countryside if you want to have a cellar-door experience, here, the cellars run in complicated networks underneath the town – meaning you can stroll from one storied Champagne house to the next without compromising your driving record.
A visit to Taittinger is mandatory. One of the last great Champagne houses to have retained its original name, it was founded in 1734 with the headquarters now occupying the site of a former Benedictine abbey, which was destroyed during the French Revolution.
Le Royal Monceau Hotel
Fortunately, the monks, who had been winemakers, didn’t lose their caves, or cellars, which are now a fascinating mix of 4th century Roman chalk mines, beautifully carved 13th century archways and endearing carvings from the tunnels’ time as a safe haven during WWII. Exploring the tunnels and seeing the bottles resting will only whet the palate, and the two standouts here are the Comtes de Champagne and the Comtes de Champagne Rosé.
Nearby, you’ll also find cellars located in former chalk mines at Ruinart, the oldest Champagne house, which dates back to 1729. Inside one of Reims’ most picturesque chateaux, walk through the caves and then rise back up for a tasting of their top drops, the Dom Ruinart blanc de blancs and the Dom Ruinart Rosé.
Domaine les Crayeres (photo by James Gregory Wilkinson)
Located across the road, Domaine Les Crayères is a chateau that dates back to 1904 and is surrounded by a seven hectare park in the heart of Reims. This Relais and Châteaux member property features 20 rooms in the main building and in a cottage in the gardens. All feature classical French country elegance, from the wallpaper to the furnishings, curtains and service.
There’s also a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, Le Parc, under the guidance of Philippe Mille with a menu that’s dominated by delicacies including caviar, foie gras, lobster, scallops with black truffle and veal shank, all of which is ready to be paired by one of the 600 Champagne labels on the wine list.
Amongst the trees at brasserie Le Jardin, find both a-la-carte and set menus featuring local produce, from escargot to country-style terrine, lamb’s leg, cod fish, veal rib steak and more. Here, there are also wines by the glass starting from EUR$3 and an excellent range of reserve bottles from the cellar.
In town, winemakers and locals alike head to Brasserie du Boulingrin where it’s about classic French dishes at a steal of a price (six escargots will cost EUR$6.70, terrine will set you back EUR$9.50 and the beef fillet is EUR$25) and a wine list that’s affordable as well as exceptional. Champagnes – over 60 of them – aren’t priced much more than the local cellar doors and there’s a top selection of French reds and whites.