If you're lucky enough to be planning a getaway this Valentine's Day, there is no more a romantic destination than Paris, known as the city of love. As you stroll through the city, every nook and cranny prompts the making of romantic memories. However, beyond the fairytale setting and numerous sightseeing trips, Paris is a top culinary escape and a gourmand’s dream, famous for its patisseries, chocolate and fine dining.
When it comes to food in Paris, it’s not a case of what they make, but how they make it. Staples such as bread come in the form of artisanal loaves and baguettes; butter, especially the hand churned variety from Bordier is impossible to resist, and comes in a variety of flavours from speckled salted varieties to the more exotic yuzu infused. Possibly a nation of the most refined palates in the world, there is never a chance of you ever going hungry and if you can stop gorging on the bread and butter for long enough, there is a whole enticing world of deliciousness to explore.
In the UAE, we are lucky enough to experience some of these concepts on home turf such as Eric Kayser in The Dubai Mall, famed for their baked goods, Pierre Hermé, in Mall of the Emirates, renowned for In the UAE, we are lucky enough to experience some of these concepts on home turf such as Eric Kayser in The Dubai Mall, famed for their baked goods, Pierre Hermé, in Mall of the Emirates, renowned for making the best macarons in the world and the newly opened le Relais de l’Entrecote in Downtown Dubai for a Parisian steak that the masses will queue around the block for, so there is an affiliation and comfort factor associated with eating in the French capital, so do your homework about what you do and don’t like prior to going.
Bistro vs Restaurant
There is a certain etiquette in Paris when it comes to dining. In France, a meal is a very relaxed affair, so don’t expect a quick bite. For the best experience, it’s also crucial to know what kind of dining experience you want. For instance, bistros and restaurants are two entirely different ball games. A bistro is where you go for casual dining, but they are super-busy and cramped; a frenetic affair of bustling crowds and only a few servers. Don’t expect the waiter to read your mind when you need more water – they are far too busy serving up orders from the kitchen to notice. If you need something, ask! In contrast, restaurants are more spacious and you are likely to have a dedicated server that will cater to your every need, which is more suited to intimate dining.
Understanding the Menu and How to Order
Don’t expect your server to translate the menu to you. Do your homework and know the key words for your exact preferences. Learning that ‘boeuf’ is beef or ‘poulet’ is chicken isn’t quite enough as there will be several varieties that won’t be depicted this way on the menu.
Order quickly, and your entire meal in one go, so you are then free to graze and enjoy your lunch or dinner at leisure, without putting out the waiting staff. The mandatory bread basket in other parts of the world prior to your meal is not applicable here. Bread is served with the meal as an accompaniment, predominantly to mop up the delicious sauces on your plate.
Be on time, not earlier and not later than your reserved time. If you’re in a bistro, go to the bathroom before the meal instead of disturbing your fellow diners who have already stopped eating just to move the tables apart so you can be seated. Disturbing them again to let you pass mid-meal is deemed uncourteous.
Be polite and don’t disturb other diners, no matter how closely you are seated. Address your server as ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’ and when it comes to tipping (a mandatory requirement of about 10 per cent of the bill), most eateries won’t accept the gratuity on a credit card, so make sure you have enough cash, and that too in notes. Leaving coins is considered insulting. Finally, once you have paid the bill, make a quick exit and be sure to speak to the owner or server about your experience and thank them before you leave.
Top 10 Dishes to Try
Pastries in Paris are an art form, with the city heaving with an abundance of patisseries like buttery, flaky croissants, and popular filled varieties such as the pain au chocolat, stuffed with dark cocoa slabs and the pain au raisin, a swirly pastry with a sweet custard and raisins. Head to Lyczak Michel for the best versions.
INFO: 68 Rue Paul Vaillant Couturier, 92240 Malakoff, +33 1 46 55 07 97
When they’re in season, you’ll see signs for moules (mussels) on chalkboards in front of restaurants all over Paris. They’re a must-have, and worth trying even if you’ve had mussels in other places. For a variation from the norm, try ‘mouclade’, which is a dish of mussels baked in a cream sauce. One of the best places to indulge is at Leon de Bruxelles.
INFO: 8 Place de Clichy, +33 1 48 74 00 43, www.leon-de-bruxelles.fr
3. Croque Monsieur or Madame
The monsieur version of this posh grilled cheese toastie is a topsy-turvy version of what you’ll find elsewhere in the world, with the cheese, usually Gruyere or Emmental on the outside with a filling of meat encased within. When a poached or fried egg is added on top, the monsieur becomes Croque Madame. Try them at Le Petit Cler.
INFO: 29 Rue Cler, +33 1 45 50 17 50
Whether savoury or sweet - a buckwheat galette filled with meat and cheese and with or without the egg, or a traditional crepe with Nutella and bananas or simply au beurre-sucre (butter and sugar) is one of the best street foods in Paris and also one of the cheapest, at under Dhs18 a pop. Try Crêperie de Josselin, which is hailed by many as being the best.
INFO: 67 rue du Montparnasse, 14th arrondissement, +33 1 43 20 93 50
5. Steak Frites
This is a good cut of beef usually entrecote, dressed with buttery béarnaise or other special sauce, served with a side of crisp French fries. The good news is that the best you will find is probably at Relais de l’Entrecote which also has a presence in Dubai.
INFO: 20 Rue Saint-Benoît, +33 1 45 49 16 00
6. Pot au Feu
Originally a rustic dish that was stewed continuously all winter and topped up as needed, pot-au-feu (pot-in-the-fire) is regarded as France’s national dish. It’s a warming, fragrant dish of stewing steak, root vegetables, and spices. Traditionally, cooks sieve the broth and serve it separately from the meat. For the real deal, head to Au Coin Pasteur Le Pot au Feu.
INFO: 59 Boulevard Pasteur, +33 1 43 20 79 80
When in Paris, you must try the various cheeses served at local fromageries throughout the city. If you’d like a wedge with your meal, ask the waiter for a chariot de fromage and a trolley will be wheeled to your table. Remember that cheese is served post-meal, often in lieu of dessert.
Not to be confused with the coconut macaroon, macarons are an ultra-light confectionery made from egg whites, sugar, ground almonds and food colouring, served in a rainbow of flavours that range from vanilla to lavender and everything in between. The most famous macarons come from the shop that started it all, Ladurée.
INFO: 16-18 Rue Royale, +33 1 42 60 21 79, www.laduree.com
9. Ile Flottante
This is a wonderfully light dessert, consisting of a poached meringue ‘floating’ in a pool of crème anglaise (custard sauce). Try it at Le Bistrot Paul Bert.
INFO: 18 Rue Paul Bert, +33 1 43 72 24 01
Although chocolate wasn’t invented in Paris, there’s a long list of famed chocolatiers such as Patrick Roger, who’s well-known by food connoisseurs like David Lebovitz for his rochers (featuring a contrast of smooth praline filling and crunchy hazelnut flecks), ganaches, or dark chocolate complemented by flavours like lime or hot pepper. Don’t miss his seasonal, and always quirky, store windows.
INFO: 108, Blvd. St. Germain, +33 1 43 29 38 42
Where to Celebrate Valentine’s
This is fine dining at its best, ranked number one on TripAdvisor. Head chef Eric Frechon is a renowned cook who claimed the third Michelin star for Epicure in 2009 and it’s his blend of modern and traditional techniques that are responsible for his rise to recognition. The restaurant includes an a la carte, 4-course seasonal and 7-course tasting menu which includes a variety of luxurious treats, including blue lobster and langoustines with caviar. Located next to Hôtel Le Bristol in their French-themed garden, you can enjoy the scenery as you eat, making it a great setting for a romantic evening for two, and certainly worth dressing up for.
INFO: 112 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, +33 1 53 43 43 40
Founded in the 18th century, this glorious eatery is the epitome of timeless romance, priding itself on the décor which has remained intact since it first opened. Something of a historical monument, it gained notoriety for its food as well as its drinks among some of France’s most famous writers and intellectuals, which saw it rise through the ranks to become one of Paris’ ultimate gastronomic destinations. There are a number of private rooms in addition to the main restaurant for your intimate dining pleasure, with luxurious ingredients such as truffles and lobster, menu mainstays. In addition, here is where you will find the famed French dish of Crêpes Suzette and a dessert that dates back some 100 years, comprised of chestnuts, white chocolate and clementine sorbet, whose recipe remains unchanged to this day.
INFO: 51 Quai des Grands Augustin, 75006, Paris, +331 43 26 68 04, www.leperouse.com
Le Jules Verne
For a truly breathtaking view of Paris at night twinkling in all its glory, head to this famous haunt located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. With multi-Michelin starred chef, Alain Ducasse at the helm, this is where French classics are given a contemporary twist with dishes such as remoulade-style lobster with celeriac, black truffle and wild apple salad, and medallions of venison cooked in a cocotte, with winter vegetables and fruit, are served with the gentle spice of poivrade-style sauce. On Valentine’s itself, the restaurant’s set menu will include marinated gilt-head bream, with gold caviar and a mimosa garnish, with a cheese course and chocolate desserts to end.
INFO: Dhs1,700 per person or Dhs2,400 paired with a selection of grape throughout the meal, Restaurant Tour Eiffel, Avenue Gustave Eiffel, 75007, Paris, +33 1 45 55 61 44, www.lejulesverne-paris.com
A Taste of Paris
1 vanilla pod
30g flaked almonds
130g caster sugar
60g of sugar cubes
A pinch of salt
1 Boil the milk with the vanilla. Allow five minutes for the vanilla infuse and then remove and discard the pod.
2 Separate the egg yolks and beat them with 80g of the sugar.
3 Add the hot milk and then bring the pan back to the stove on a low heat to thicken the mixture.
4 Stir constantly with a wooden spoon and without boiling the cream.
5 When the white foam from the surface disappears, remove the pan.
6 Allow the mixture to cool, before placing in the refrigerator and allowing to cool completely.
7 In a large saucepan, bring 2 litres of water to the boil. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt and slowly add 30g of sugar.
8 Form balls with the egg whites using two spoons and allow to poach in the boiling water for one minute.
9 Remove the balls and drain on paper towels.
10 Toast the almonds in a pan and then remove and set aside.
11 Use the remaining sugar, a squeeze of lemon and 2 tablespoons of water to make a caramel.
12 Place the custard in a bowl, top with the poached meringue.
13 Drizzle with caramel and some almonds before serving.