This week I am


A bottle of beer is 220mls, a container of yoghurt is 150mls, and most people are drinking wine by the glass or 500ml pichet for two….so serving sizes are smaller, and drinking seems to be much less than it used to be. But there’s a lot of smoking – but not inside buildings, and I’m noticing more Coca Cola on tables.

Cakes are expensive. At the best local patisserie in the rue de Bretagne, a slice of opera and a raspberry tart came to 8 euros. A croissant is 1 euro 10, the same price as a small loaf of bread.

It’s the season for strawberries (gariguette are my preferred) and raspberries. Asparagus is still around – fat white asparagus, and green.

Restaurants: Crom’Exquis, 22 rue d’Astorg. The décor is modern, clean, rather dark colours. The food is updated traditional – very good indeed. Pierre Meneau is the son of Marc Meneau, of L’Esperance in St-Pere sous Vezelay (one of the greatest chefs, for my money). We went for lunch – 39 euros for three courses, which seems to be the spot for many of the better places. I began with a version of oeuf meurette – but the egg had been cooked at 72 C, and it was on a bed of spinach with tiny croutons and lardons, and the wine sauce was rich and smooth. Very elegant, very fine. My main course from the menu was a slice of cabillaud (like cod) on a bed of eggplant ‘caviar’, with dollops of exceptional béarnaise around the edge of the plate. My dessert was a combination of beetroot and strawberries (which seems to be the fashion at the moment): a rectangle of beetroot jelly, beetroot foam, and strawberries with faiselle (like a very fresh cheese) from Normandy. We drank a bottle of Marc  Meneau’s Vezelay 2010 (38 Euros). Excellent service.

Il Vino 13 Boulevard de la tour Maubourg… The owner was sommelier of the world, and the food is built around wine. There is a small wine list: choose your wine, and food will be prepared to match it. Or there’s a 90 euro menu, four courses, four wines. Or the 135 Euro surprise: five courses with unknown wines.

The first wine was a 2010 Saint-Perray Harmonie, marsanne roussane blend from the Rhone. Full and round, some floral notes, very rich on the palate. Served with white asparagus with a parmesan cream, and some assorted salad leaves.

Second was 2010 Domaine Ferret Les Perrieres Pouilly Fuisse, tasted more like a Meusault, with grilled langoustines, a verveine foam, lightly pickled vegetable slices, rolled, and a raw langoustine served in a small bowl on the side, semi-coooked by the clear prawn broth poured over it.

Third was 2004 Chateau de Tetre Margaux, with roast lamb, small pieces, pink and tender, with fresh broad beans and some tiny potatoes.

Fourth, served in a dark glass, was a rose, mainly cabernet franc, served with three different goat’s cheeses.

We sat next to a couple from Texas who own an apartment nearby, and starting talking, first about food and wine, then other matters.  He is an international human rights lawyer, her work includes work with orphans and babies. We were so busy talking I forgot to note the dessert wine.

Sur Mesure, at the Mandarin Oriental, 159 rue St-Honore. The most expensive, and the most disappointing. It was all about the theatre of dining: from the moment of entry through massive glass doors (like going through the Looking Glass), through a white dining space with ragged walls. Everything seems to float. The table is bare except for a cover plate, which is removed. There is a parade of waiters while everything is brought to the table. The menus are presented on a tray in a double-ring napkin ring (and you keep them), the wine list comes in a leather box. We opted for the nine-course degustation, which was a mistake. Six would have been more than enough, but it seemed like a good idea to go through the whole experience. We choose a William Fevre Chablis – and there was some discussion, because it was listed as a wine by the glass and I had to explain that was my preferred chablis.

The starter Laurent Perrier rose came with two ‘chips’, one of which was a slice of dried mango.

Star course for me was the poached egg with peas and mint: actually an egg yolk just cooked, with its surrounding white being tofu, and a surround of fresh peas. A little bowl or pea soup with mint, absolutely smooth, was served separately, and there was a toast finger along the edge of the bowl. Actually it was a tomato flavoured slice of focaccia, the flavour wrong for the eggs and peas, for me.

It’s very inventive food, presented exquisitely, each course on something else, a bit like kaiseki. Everything is transformed in some way. The peppers and eggplant that came with the roasted lobster were like opaque balls, which released juice when cut into.

The dessert bento box was very clever: a stack of dishes, each holding three sweet tastes.

It is very expensive. Oddly, the night we were there, there were people going out for a grand dinner – but not particularly enjoying it.

Le Violon d’Ingres, 135 rue St-Dominique, was the great disappointment. It’s one of a run of Christian Constant restaurants in the street, and the most formal. We were there last year, and had a great meal. This time, not so. Waiters were extremely competent, but seemed too stressed to be pleasant. A couple of little dishes arrived at the table the moment we were seated – tiny savoury a pastries, a bowl of spiced almonds. We ordered a glass of Laurent Perrier rose, drinking very nicely, thankyou, and a bottle of Albert Bichot 2010 Montagny 1er cru – pleasant but not outstanding.

First course very good: I had an asparagus bundle wrapped round with a slice of cured ham, a poached egg, and a very good mixed salad. The other entrée was pan-fried foie gras, which had not been prepared properly because there was still a stringy vein through it, served with a single baby carrot, a miniature leek, and an alleged ginger sauce. Really great butter with the bread – the kind of butter that makes me think that bread and butter could constitute a meal.

The problem came with the rotisserie of the day, which was chicken. Would we like wing or thigh? Wing, please. Ten minutes later the waiter returned to say there were no wings left. A long wait, then the chicken arrived, served with an elegant macaroni gratin. The chicken skin was almost burnt, but the meat was undercooked – quite red. We caught the waiter’s attention, he frowned, and took away the plate. Another plate arrrved, with more macaroni gratin and two small pieces of chicken, one of which was still very red at the bone. Interestingly, at the table next to us, the woman sent back her fish because it was undercooked.  Clearly a bad day in the kitchen: and not what I expect from a one-star Michelin restaurant.

Note that English is spoken in all the restaurants above.

In Bordeaux:  The Bar a Vins near the tourism office does a selection of small dishes with a range of wines. Best buy: the terrine of foie gras with a glass of 2010 Barsac, for 12 euro. An excellent way to try wines by the glasss, with or without a plate.

La Tupina, rue de porte-monnaie, Tel. 05 56 91 56 37Everyone’s favourite bistro, and consistently good. It’s big, warm, rustic, and the food has a decided south-west France bias. I began with an excellent spring salad of peas and broad beans with artichokes, on a beetroot puree, and then had roast chicken (I was in search of the best roast chicken) which was very good. Not notably tender, but excellent flavour. Servings are enormous here: the chicken wing was the size of a small turkey wing.  We drank a bottle of 2007 Les Charmes de Kirwan, after some discussion with the waiter. Lovely drinking. There’s a brilliant choice of Armagnac here. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Try also:

Le Bistrot du Sommelier, 163 rue Georges Bonnac, tel.  05 56 96 71 78 isn’t a bit smart, but it has an excellent wine list – 2008 Les Fiefs de Lagrange at 38 euro meant I would be lenient on the rest. An excellent tomato and goat’s salad, a fine roast chicken (the farm, Vertessec, was named on the menu) that came, inexplicably, with three kinds of potato – mashed, with some crisps, and chips on the side. The peppered roast duck breast was very good. There’s a briskness about the service, and if they speak English here, they don’t admit it. But there’s a no-nonsense atmosphere that’s quite engaging. It’s as if the sub-text is “You’re here to eat and drink well, and we’ll look after that. You want fancy service, you’re in the wrong place.”

In Montpellier

The reason to go to Montpellier, apart from admiring a medical school that was founded in the 12th century, is Le Jardin des Sens, 11 Avenue Saint-Lazare, tel. 04 99 58 38 39, the restaurant and hotel established by Jacques and Laurent Pourcel in 1988.  The large dining room is surrounded by Mediterranean garden, and it feels light, bright, elegant – and happy. Waiters everywhere, and never obtrusive. We had the degustation – since it changes, there’s not much point in listing every dish, except to say there was a glass of hot pea and asparagus soup with some foie gras as a greeting to the menu, and that the zucchini flowers filled with langoustine, served with orange scented langoustine, were outstanding, and so was the roast duck fillet, with a sauce lifted by cardamom. The cheese selection is excellent – 25 of them, and, interestingly, the trolley was not refreshed during the evening. If you want the best choice, don’t leave it too late. There wasn’t a low point in the meal or the service. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, the special lunch menu is 49 Euros, including a glass of wine.  Next time, I’m going to stay in the hotel for a couple of nights and eat nowhere else.

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