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10 Top Paris Restaurants
Willi’s Wine Bar
13 rue des Petits-Champs, 1st (01.42.61.05.09/www.williswinebar.com). Mº Pyramides. Open 9am-midnight, food served noon-3pm, 7-11pm Mon-Sat. Closed two weeks in Aug. Average €35. Prix fixe €34 (dinner only). Lunch menu €25. Credit MC, V. Wheelchair access. Non-smoking. Map H5.
This smart, buzzing, English-run wine bar and restaurant manages to do some very French things better than much of the local competition. The long bar at the entrance, for instance, serves as a bar rather than a bit of period décor, where local Anglos and those still based abroad can crack open a bottle and drink as they’ve been brought up to drink, standing up (or, for the Americans, sitting on stools). The cellar has been stocked extensively and with discernment so here, we think, is a chance to let go the budget a little in exchange for some oenological education. We very much enjoyed our couple of bottles of Côtes du Rhône (Domaine de la Clape 2004, €34 a bottle). It was purple rather than red. It clung fetchingly to the side of the glass when you tilted it. It had a nose of complexity and refinement. The sort of wine, in sum, that can lull you into believing that it will make you a wiser, finer human being. The cooking at Willi’s is precise, daring (by French standards), colourful and eclectic (by French standards). Of our starters, we particularly liked a combination of just-seared scallops with leeks, wild mushrooms and a thread or two of hot chilli pepper. When it comes to the mains, chef François Yon is good at glazes on meats that can give a modern and aesthetic air even to traditional favourites like the Salers beef with gratin dauphinois. For pudding, the best was an intense chocolate ‘terrine’ bathed in crème anglaise.
18 rue Gaillon, 2nd (01.42.65.15.16 /www.drouant.com). M° Open noon-2.30pm, 7pm-midnight daily. Average €67. Lunch menu €45. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V. Wheelchair access. Non-smoking room. Map H4.
Star Alsatian chef Antoine Westermann, who runs the successful Ile St-Louis bistro Mon Vieil Ami, has whisked this landmark 1880 brasserie into the 21st century with bronze-upholstered banquettes and armchairs, a pale parquet floor and incongruous butter-yellow paint and fabrics. Young chef Antony Clémot has left Mon Vieil Ami to oversee the dining room here, though you’ll still see him dressed in his chef’s whites as he lingers by the entrance greeting customers. Black suits are de rigueur in a dining room heavy with testosterone (at least at lunch). Westermann has dedicated this restaurant to the art of the hors d’oeuvre, served in themed sets of four ranging from the global (a surprisingly successful Thai beef salad with brightly coloured vegetables, coriander, and a sweet and spicy sauce) to the nostalgic (silky leeks in vinaigrette). The bite-sized surprises continue with the main course accompaniments – four of them for each dish, to be shared amongst the diners. It took a little convincing, but the waiter allowed us to share an order of crisp-skinned pork belly, which left us just enough room to try the series of chocolate desserts of which the best was a lemon-chocolate ‘satin.’
Le Dôme du Marais
53bis rue des Francs-Bourgeois, 4th (01.42.74.54.17). Mº Rambuteau. Open noon-2.30pm, 7-11pm Tue-Sat. Closed three weeks in Aug. Average €40. Prix fixe €32, €45. Lunch menu €17, €23. Credit AmEx, MC, V. Non-smoking room. Map K6.
Most people come here for the setting — and it’s true that the glass-domed, circular former auction room of the Mont de Piété (a sort of municipal pawnbroker) is spectacular— but chef Pierre Lecoutre’s surprisingly ambitious cooking lives up to the surroundings. Lecoutre changes his menu frequently with a seasonal carte and daily-changing lunch menu, featuring some adventurous combination that reflect his modern take on terroir. A salade de bulots — whelks with lamb’s lettuce, red onion and seaweed — was interesting, though the walnut oil dressing slightly overpowered the marine taste of the whelks, and we also liked the hearty homemade black pudding, served warm with dandelion salad. Main courses included magret de canard and a fricassée of lamb’s sweetbreads and oyster mushrooms, but the star turn was the pot au feu de pintade. The cast-iron casserole of guinea fowl pot-roasted with seasonal vegetables (carrots, turnips, savoy cabbage) in an unusual and delicious creamy watercress sauce put a sophisticated edge on a rustic dish. Desserts were satisfying too, a strudel-like pomme croustillante, and a dark-chocolate assortment, including bitter chocolate ice cream, fondant and chocolate cake. With its formal service, this place draws a slightly older crowd than the usual Marais set, including a lunch party of préfets on our visit, but it’s definitely one of the better places to eat in the Marais.
Le Petit Pontoise
9 rue de Pontoise, 5th (01.43.29.25.20). Mº Maubert-Mutualité. Open noon-2pm, 7.30-10.15pm daily. Closed 25 Dec and 1 Jan. Average €35. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V. Map K7.
As soon as we walked into this lemon-hued, blackboard-festooned bistro, the dessert menu perched above our heads caught our eye. Having resolved beforehand to forgo the sweets, we suddenly struggled to limit ourselves to three. The old-fashioned, too rare sabayon (a teasing concoction of frothy champagne custard and ice-cream) was sublime; the decadent, grandmotherly chocolate cake came a close second; and the too sugary, pink-praline-topped floating island was hands down the prettiest. We ordered the rest of our meal with this end in sight. An unctuous circle of homemade foie gras and fig terrine made a perfect shared starter and mains didn’t disappoint. The duck parmentier (a shredded melt of confit, topped with mash and pan-fried foie gras) gave new meaning to comfort food. Likewise pots of saucy pig cheeks and boeuf gros sel, lentils and bone marrow were reassuringly earthy. Wine regions get a blackboard each (our well-named L’Enchantoir, a Saumur red, was a good choice at €21) as does the tempting fish, which we missed this time. But that’s just another reason to come back. Be sure to book: the charms of this very friendly place are no secret.
24 rue des Canettes, 6th (01.43.26.25.70). Open noon-2.30pm, 7-11.30pm Tue-Thur, Sun; noon-2.30pm, 7pm-midnight Fri, Sat. Average €30. Credit MC, V. Wheelchair access. Map H7.
This is not somewhere to take your vegetarian friends as the long, narrow Boucherie Roulière glorifies the profession of meat preparation. The blackboard menu offers a simple collection of grilled meat and fish, accompanied by traditional bistro favourites to begin and end your meal. Our guest found the ravioles aux truffes an irresistible first course. Despite the fear that these might not live up to their billing, they managed to have a real perfume of the earthy luxury, and were richly creamy as well. A terrine de canard was a fine, meaty homemade pâté, setting us up for our main courses, which include a perfectly grilled rognon de veau (veal kidney) with a separate pot of sauce and some seriously good mash. The thick tuna steak was pink and moist, showing that the fishmonger’s art is taken seriously here too. Drinking the excellent house red, it was hard to resist the single cheese on offer, a carefully chosen, ripe Camembert followed by some alcohol-soaked griottes (baby cherries) served with a scoop of first class vanilla ice cream. Service is of the boisterous macho Parisian style but friendly enough, and a growing crowd of regulars was crowding in for the marrowbones.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 rue de Montalembert, 7th (01.42.22.56.56). Mº Rue du Bac. Open 11.30am-3.30pm, 6.30pm-midnight daily. Average €70. Prix fixe €58-€122. Credit MC, V. Non-smoking. Map G6.
Three years after it opened, L’Atelier’s bento-box décor still looks fresh and innovative – bright displays of red pepper and green apples prevent the mix of black lacquer, dark wood and red stools from looking too sombre. ‘Small plates’ range from about €12-€30 — and, given their minimalist size (when the menu says ‘the langoustine’ it means just one), it would take quite a few to fill anyone up. That said, the food was pretty fabulous. Our first round of dishes all had a Mediterranean slant: a plate of silky Spanish ham with slightly under-salted tomato toasts; a little tower of roasted aubergine, courgette and tomato layered with buffalo mozzarella; and marinated anchovy fillets alternated with strips of roasted red pepper. Next up, three takes on French classics: three frogs’ legs fritters flavoured with parsley and served with garlic cream; a poached egg atop parsley purée and bathed in mushroom cream; and a single scallop in its shell topped with truffle shavings (€18). In a signature main dish of merlan Colbert, the whiting looked as though it had leaped straight from the sea and into the frying pan, where it acquired a crisp golden coating before being served with a herb butter alongside the chef’s legendary potato purée. The carbonara, made with Alsatian bacon and crème fraîche, proved a worthy interpretation of this Italian classic. Chartreuse soufflé was dramatically pierced at the table with a spoon and topped with a dollop of sorbet. Reservations are taken only for the 11.30am and 6.30pm sittings.
9 place de la Madeleine, 8th (01.42.65.22.90). M° Alma-Marceau. Open 12.30-2.30pm, 7.30-11.30pm daily. Average €85. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V. Wheelchair access. Non-smoking room. Map F4.
Lucas Carton is dead, long live Alain Senderens. This retirement-aged chef has reinvented his art nouveau institution with a Star Trek interior and a mind-boggling fusion menu. Instead of his famed canard à l’Apicius, Senderens now serves roast duck foie gras with a warm salad of black figs and licorice powder, or monkfish steak with Spanish mussels and green curry sauce. Each dish comes with a suggested wine, whiskey, sherry or even punch (to accompany a rum-doused savarin with slivers of ten-flavour pear), and while these are perfectly matched, the mix of flavours and alcohols can prove a little overwhelming by the end of a meal – ours started with whisky to accompany semi-smoked salmon with Thai spices and iced cucumber, then continued with white wine and a sparkling rosé. Senderens still seems to be coming to grips with his new style – a sole tempura was not as crisp as it might have been – but even a slightly flawed meal here is a fascinating experience, as much for the eclectic clientele as the adventurous food. If you can’t get a reservation in the main dining room, consider the tapas bar upstairs.
Le Repaire de Cartouche
99 rue Amelot/8 bd des Filles-du-Calvaire, 11th (01.47.00.25.86). Mº St-Sébastien-Froissart. Open noon-2pm, 7.30-11pm Tue-Thur; noon-2pm, 7.30-11.30pm Fri, Sat. Closed last week in July and first three weeks in Aug. Average €40. Lunch menu €13-€25. Credit MC, V. Wheelchair access. Map M5.
‘Cartouche’s Hideaway’ honours Paris’s answer to Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and Fagin rolled into one (literally, in fact – the menu describes his gruesome execution, just to whet your appetite). On an icy January night, the dark panelling, impeccable white napery and leaded windows provided a civilised retreat from the bleak boulevards north of the Bastille, and the food was exceptional. After flavoursome goose rillettes and rustic bread, we enjoyed a perfect timbale of firm, fresh whelks with tiny ratte potates in creamy herb dressing, and a generous portion of foie gras, pan-fried and served in a rich, meaty glaze. To follow, the pink-roasted Pyrenean suckling lamb with plump haricots blancs was exemplary. A slab of seasonal venison, with its accompanying pile of finely diced, thoughtfully herbed wild mushrooms, melted in the mouth. Desserts included a sorely tempting cranberry and chocolate-chip clafoutis (cooked to order, in advance) but we plumped instead for a mille-feuille of feather-light chestnut mousse between slivers of dark bitter chocolate, and a chocolate mousse pavé given plentiful zing by the addition of fresh ginger extract. The wine list is exhaustive and well-presented, but look no further than the special selections accompanying each week’s new menu: a golden-delicious white Burgundy from Vézelay (served by the glass) went down well with the whelks and foie gras, followed by a smooth, good-value Vin de Pays de la Principauté d’Orange. Rodolphe Paquin is a chef of stature (in every sense, as seen on his frequent sorties into the dining room), and a tireless communicator of his enthusiasm for fine ingredients and inventive takes on traditional French fare.
Le Train Bleu
Gare de Lyon, pl Louis-Armand, 12th (01.43.43.09.06/www.le-train-bleu.com). Mº Gare de Lyon. Open 11.30am-3pm, 7-11pm daily. Average €65. Prix fixe €45. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V. Wheelchair access. Non-smoking room. Map M8.
This has to be the most glamorous station buffet in the world, complete with 19th-century frescoes to welcome travellers from the famous train bleu, which used to link Paris with Ventimiglia. The cooking is classic but a cut above the average brasserie, and we began with a saucisson de Lyon served on warm ratte potatoes, which set us up nicely for main courses, including a long-cooked, crisply breaded pied de porc; a tartare to which a slug of Cognac gave an added punch; and the most sophisticated dish, a plump and juicy veal chop served with creamy wild mushroom lasagne. The evening ended on a high note with a scrumptious vacherin, a chocolate sortilège – an upright cone of mousse-filled dark chocolate accompanied by pistachio ice-cream – and a rum baba, with a whole bottle of rum temptingly left on the table for extra dousing. Service throughout was particularly efficient and charming. The only caveat is the expensive wine list from which we chose a perfumed red Beaune, the suggestion of the month but hardly a bargain at €48 a bottle.
21 rue François-Bonvin, 15th (01.45.66.89.00). M° Sèvres-Lecourbe. Open noon-2pm, 7.30-11.30pm Tue-Sat. Closed three weeks in Aug and one week at Christmas. Prix fixe (dinner only) €30, €38. Lunch menu €24, €28. Credit MC, V. Map D8.
Crowds of gleeful foodies gather nightly at Chef Christian Etchebest’s shrine to Basque country cuisine to enjoy a modern take on traditional south-west specialities such as chipirons (small, tasty squid), piquillo peppers and ossau-iraty, a ewe’s milk cheese set off with cherry jam. The €30 three-course blackboard menu is excellent value, but we plumped for the six-course menu dégustation, which may be verging on gluttony. We sailed with ease, however, through the modest-sized portions of attractively presented and delicately prepared food, including a double serving of desserts. An excellent début of enticing chorizo-laced chick pea soup served with generous slices of foie gras, was followed with a series of memorable offerings: ris de veau (sweetbreads), lightly cooked with trademark squid, then a seafood-inspired dish of delicate scallops on a bed of aubergines, and a final savoury of tenderly cooked magret de canard served with traditional white haricot beans. While not as sensational as the savouries, desserts were nonetheless satisfying. Good-humoured and efficient service and a cheerful Friday night crowd combine with the delicacies to make this a memorable meal in a friendly Basque enclave deep in the 15th arrondissement.
These reviews first appeared in the 8th edition of the Time Out Paris Eating and Drinking Guide, published by Ebury and edited by Rosa Jackson.