Archive for the ‘Paris’ Category

Resto 41 Restaurant du Musée d’Orsay, Paris

August 13, 2017

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Day two of the Paris trip saw us take the easy option in the face of mucky August weather and stroll the short trip to the d’Orsay for art and food. Of all the places in the world this is the worst in my experience for selfie arseholes. Unlike at the Louvre where much of the art is on a colossal scale and thus less prone to being ruined by a gurning fool standing in front of, say, Liberty Leading the People, the overwhelming majority of art in the M d’O is domestic in scale and poorly equipped to resist the morons. The unoriginality of this observation doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

My sensitivity to such things may have been heightened by the fact that we’d skipped breakfast with an eye on having a two hour lunch to prep for the journey back to Blighty. I was hungry and anxious. It tipping down with rain we went to the Museum’s restaurant despite having had a rather crappy experience last time round. Our waitress was of the type to soothe scowls and restore order, a rather rare breed.

This time, arriving at the stroke of midday, we weren’t packed in a side room next to a coachful of excitable Japanese tourists but rather had a prime spot in the magnificent old ballroom. If only they’d ditch the garish chairs though, they look like some remnants from a line that Ikea ditched as a failed experiment in 1995.

To the food, another set menu with up front a rabbit terrine. This did the job, a thick slab of meatiness with plenty of bread to go with. For main grilled salmon with couscous wasn’t as effective on the flavour side of things but again was generous enough in size to make me forget I’d missed a meal earlier in the day. But where was the veg? I was beginning to see why the people at Sequana grew their own, perhaps it was the only way they could ensure a regular supply.

As we moved through the courses I observed the queue to the restaurant growing and growing while our waitress manfully tried to serve, clear and do the billage for about twenty tables all by herself. This crazy system whereby the staff don’t have a minion to carry out the menial tasks may be due to restrictive work practices or a desire to skimp on wages. Either way it’s stupid and not apt to make for happy diners. Not that I cared, I had a table. But the businessman in me (there is one in there somewhere) was weeping for all that lost revenue.

We spurned dessert and took coffee, which was excellent. And then to the Orangerie, the rain having stopped, to join a whole bunch of Nymphéa-ruining arseholes. Aargh.

7/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 40 Sequana, Paris

August 12, 2017

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I’d booked Sequana in advance on the basis of it’s location by the Pont Neuf and after reading excellent reviews on G**gle. It’s run by a husband and wife team who produce a six or four course tasting menu with matching wines for a very reasonable number of Euros per head for this area of Paris.

The room is charming although those of a nervous disposition might take the spiral stairs to the jakes at the beginning of the evening rather than after four glasses of wine. We were dining in the company of a smattering of tourists from around the world of many different ages. I liked it, it felt convivial.

Before we commenced the four courses we were given an amuse bouche of radish by the chef, which was a nice palate cleanser to begin. Then the main event. I chose the lobster starter and I chose well. A delicious claw of the crustacean swimming in a sweet soup with delicate pieces of courgette and fresh leaves dotted around. Forgive me if I don’t mention all of the wines (we had three), it’s not because they weren’t excellent that I can’t remember them, it’s just that I don’t remember them!

Next up was duck done two ways. Making it a double duck day, no bad thing. This was also excellent with confit canard hiding under slivers of grilled breast. Alongside there was plenty of veg and everything served with a delicious home made sour dough bread. Course three was the cheese. But a rather surprising combination of a yummy sheep cheese alongside a goat’s cheese ice cream. I have to say I was less impressed with the ice cream, which to my tongue tasted mostly of salt and lacked the punchy whiff of the goat. We considered getting a goat for the garden.

This goat blot was erased by the excellence of the Ardbeg ice cream which rounded off the meal. Served with a Basque pastry it was the most delicious ice cream I have ever had bar none. Smokey and sweet and just perfect. With the dessert came a Chinese tea which I really wished would turn itself by the power of my mind into a Grand Marnier. I stared at it but it resolutely refused to become a big goblet full of orange and ice. Oh well, I sipped my tea.

Our maitre d’/waiter (husband of the chef I think) was very attentive and clearly passionate about the food, much of which had been grown in their own garden. This passion and care for the food clearly came through in the cooking and in the way that the wine complemented each course. However, this is a slow food evening, if you book here you aren’t going to make it to the theatre afterwards. But it being August everything cultural (barring museums/galleries/cinemas) in Paris was off to festivals so we weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere else. Although the Dutch guys to our left who chose the six course option were still munching when we left at eleven.

8/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

 

 

 

Resto 39 Au 35, Paris

August 12, 2017

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Day one of an overnight trip to Paris and we were looking for a light lunch before attacking the Louvre. Galettes were spurned as being too heavy so we took a punt on Au 35 to deliver. It did so well enough. The room is nice and light and most of the clientèle on our visit seemed to be locals, despite the fact that half of the businesses around were shut pour les vacances.

There was a set menu of two courses for under €20 that contained things that we liked so we went for that. First up for me was a cucumber salad with feta. There was a generous dose of feta and cucumber but I was underwhelmed by the single wee cherry tomato quartered and dotted around the plate. It tasted fine but I’m not Kate Moss and would have liked more of everything. I loaded up on bread.

The main was much more satisfying – a hefty leg of duck in a rich, sticky sauce. Underneath were a couple of herby modestly sized spuds. But again, I was wondering where the veg was? A few green beans perhaps? It slid down well enough though, helped along by some Viognier.

Service was excellent, happy to indulge my French and pleasant in that professional Parisian way. Would I recommend? Yes, if you want a restaurant feel but café-sized eats (if you see what I mean) but not if you’re looking to load up for a 4 hour art binge.

7/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

The Crouch End Players and the Comédie-Italienne

May 24, 2017

Corbyn Island with Cast 2

Artwork © Nick Kobyluch

Since translating Marivaux’s comedy L’Ile des Esclaves for the Crouch End Festival I’ve been immersing myself in the culture of the early eighteenth century in France, partly with an eye on working on something more ambitious sometime in the future but also with my mind on costumes for Corbyn Island, the updated version that’s in production with the Crouch End Players. One way I felt that I could tie the modern adaptation to the work that inspired it would be by having two of my modern characters in fancy dress that had a whiff of Baroque France about them.

Naturally my thoughts turned to the Wallace Collection in Marylebone, whose building is a little bit of France in the West End. The 18th Century French rooms I’d tended to skip through on previous visits – all that flouncy, sleazy Boucher is a bit quease-inducing even if you have the reward of the more civilised Watteau alongside.  I prefer the more sober pleasures to be had in the company of Poussin and De Hooch.

So it was a surprise to find that not only did the Wallace have plenty of canvases depicting eighteenth century French fashion it actually had a picture of our antecedents as interpreters of Marivaux, the Comédie-Italiennes.

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The Italian Comedians by a Fountain, Nicolas Lancret


The painting depicts the actors in theatre dress with the stock characters Pierrot and Arlequin most obvious – each in his distinctive costume with Arlequin also masked. Arlequin appears in L’Ile des Esclaves as the slave to an Athenian aristocrat and displays all of the attributes that his audience would expect whichever production he appeared in. He’s a cheeky, rustic joker who has simple tastes – food, drink and the ladies, not necessarily in that order.

In Marivaux’s production he would have been played by Thomassin, the most famous Arlequin of his age and probably the man depicted by Lancret in the painting above. Our own Arlequin (who now goes under the name of TC, a little nod to the Assistant Coach of my football club, Ipswich Town) is played, I have to say magnificently, by Ric Lindley. He doesn’t have to perform the acrobatics that would have been expected of a seventeenth century Arlequin, nor did we direct him to adopt a ‘high-pitched voice like a parrot’ as described as being characteristic of the part by contemporary accounts.* But I think he definitely captures the earthy qualities of Arlequin, as well as his sentimentality and good-naturedness.

Lancret is one of those artists who seems to be permanently overshadowed (like de Hooch by Vermeer) by a more illustrious peer for seemingly no good reason. Watteau of course is the big name here but they had very similar backgrounds starting as apprentices under the theatre scenarist and artist Claude Gillot. For some reason Lancret seems to be treated as the apprentice to Watteau whereas in fact he was much more of a rival. So researching Lancret’s painting was a lot more difficult to do than if it had been Watteau’s. There are (justifiably) books by the yard on Watteau in the library but very little, even in French, on his fellow painter.

Lancret’s ability is shown by many canvases in the Wallace but is nowhere more apparent in London than in the marvellous Gallery A at the National. Tucked away either side of a large canvas from the studio of Boucher (isn’t that telling of Lancret’s neglect, he could probably chat to Guardi about it who has a little picture up the row) are four canvases depicting the four ages of man. Philosophical pieces describing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, they are little gems that deserve a wall of their own.

They also led me to reflect how one would depict the life cycle in the modern age. Childhood and youth separate? It hardly seems that a tot is out of nappies before it is turned into a consumer and given a screen to suck on. But then how to separate youth and maturity when middle-aged men go shopping in the supermarket in leisure wear and spend their cultural capital yarning the ins and outs of superhero franchises. So, it would seem, we go straight from youth to senility. But I digress.

True, Watteau was the pioneer of the fête galante but it was a genre that Lancret developed and proved to be a master of very quickly, as shown by the portrait of the Comédies-Italiennes. The vividness of their characters brought them into the modern age for me as I was standing in the Wallace and gave me the feeling that even if I’ve twisted and mangled Marivaux out of shape as an author, as a company we’re still communicating with these people through four centuries of theatre history and revivifying the roles that they created. It’s a tremendous credit to Ric, Sophie, Richard, Mia, Victoria, Mike, Nadia and Vic that they’ve taken this project on and given it life beyond the page. If only we had Lancret around to immortalise them.

#Theatre #London

 

*François Moreau, Le goût Italien dans la France tocaille: théatre, musique, peinture (Paris, PUPS: 2011), p. 40

Restaurant 20 Ma Salle à Manger, Paris

April 9, 2017

Trailing back from an extraordinary double of Vermeer and his contemporaries on canvas followed by de Musset on stage we were ravenous and looking for something typically French. Somehow I’d never been to Place Dauphine before, and this seemed the perfect time to have done it. Crepuscular light, a smattering of boule players beneath the trees, Jacques Dutronc in my head.

We selected MSàM on the basis of its homely looking atmosphere. We got a nice table at the back of the room, which is hung with nick-nacks and posters of Bayonne. I wasn’t going to take a starter but was persuaded by the menu which was filled with tempting classic bistro fare.

For starter a rustic pâté went down very well with a good Côtes du Rhone and then onto the fillet steak. The steak was done perfectly and was as tender as you like. Alas the crushed spuds were less successful, a bit bland. I think chips are always a better alternative. But that was the only negative. The service was charm itself and I can imagine that on a summer’s evening this is the kind of place where you could sit on the terrasse and watch the world go by for hours. And even with a debagged pound the price wasn’t too bad for somewhere so at the centre of historic Paris.

8/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Restaurant 19 Galette Café, Paris

April 8, 2017

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We wanted a quick lunch on the way to the Louvre and galettes (or Breton pancakes) seemed a good option. Half empty when we arrived the room was soon full with students, local workers and a few tourists like us. The seating is tight with individual tables around the fringe of the room with a communal table in the middle. This gave the space a nice, informal vibe that was just right for our mood.

The menu has a good variety of galettes to suit most tastes. I had a mushroom and chicken with a Grimbergen on the side. Being Breton they go big on cider so I felt a bit guilty at not trying some (especially with pictures of the producers smiling rustically down at me from the walls) but I lost the need for cider when I was about 16.

The galette was delicious – chunky and rustic with a good helping of mushrooms and chicken on top. I think double up the carbs by adding potato to the mix was a bit unnecessary but it didn’t diminish from the tastiness of the dish. A highly recommended non-touristy spot close to the d’Orsay or the river for a quick bite.

8/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Restaurants of 2016 – the round up

January 1, 2017

New Year’s Day doesn’t seem the most psychologically astute to consider how much time and money one has spent on consuming food and drink over the preceding year. The grip of hang lends a jaundiced eye to even the sunniest experiences while the stinkers on reconsideration become full blown catastrophes.

However, on a day such as this it is wisest to remember how fortunate are those who have the leisure and lucre to dine out. I don’t take my good fortune for granted.

Ratings

The average rating over the year was just over 7 out of 10, suggesting that the standard is pretty steady across the industry. Or I could be a generous reviewer. No restos received a 4, 2 or 1 out of 10 rating with three getting the dreaded zero for utterly crap service that led to a walk out.  Below I’ll recap the worst experiences of 2016 though not at too great length.

To my surprise there are fourteen 9 out of 10 ratings, which means I’ll have to whittle down for a top 10! I’ll give weight to those restaurants which over-deliver on value for money.

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Location

It’s not surprising that the centre of London tops the charts for eating but it’s also been a very French year, which looks likely to last into 2017 with the eldest going to university in Paris (exam results allowing).

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Cuisine

I often feel I could do with a curry so I was not surprised to see that they come out on top of visits, confirming the trend that Indian cuisine is the nation’s favourite. No Chinese (except for the Uighurs) is a bit of a shocker though!

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Okay, so that’s the stats, time to dish out the gongs and the rotten toms.

The stinkers

Let’s get these out of the way eh? I should emphasise that all of the opinions are based on what happened at the time and things may have improved since then.

The Botany Bay

Worst dining experience of the year from a culinary point of view was undoubtedly The Botany Bay, an evening that was only saved from being truly hideous by the patience and good humour of my wife.

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Botany Bay. Go for the view rather than the food.


2. Gustavo’s

Now sadly defunct Gustavo’s turned the pizzeria experience into a marathon from which I thought I was never going to escape.

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Gustavo’s. Their mysteriously non-functioning pizza oven is still in the building though no-one’s set up shop.


3. Cafe de l’Opéra

I asked the waiter for a Coca Light, he brought me an espresso. What a prick. Tourist Paris at its very worst. Doesn’t merit a picture.

Special mentions go to BFI Riverside and Vapiano for having such charmless staff that I didn’t even order anything.

The Good Stuff

In no particular order ten of the best of 2016.

Autograf

Save it for winter because they tee you up with rye bread and pig fat before giving you some serious amounts of wholesome Polish food.

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Autograf on Green Lanes. If you like pig this is the place for you.

2. Standard Tandoori

The go to Indian for the last twenty years. I couldn’t leave them out of a top 10, Tariq would kill me.

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The décor occasionally changes but everything else remains reassuringly the same at the Standard.

3. Bistro Aix

As authentic a French bistro as you’re likely to find in Crouch End or any other London ‘burb. Good cooking, great value and friendly service. A real find.

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Bistro Aix – the set meal is a bargain.

4. De Belhamel

Canalside eating in Amsterdam and a good laid-back feel in the room. I liked it.

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De Belhamel – the best of a good weekend in Amsterdam.

5. Karamay

It felt like dining in someone’s front room but in a good way. Uighur cuisine at its best, or so my Uighur savvy fellow diner informed me.

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Karamay – recommended for a post-rugby feast.

6. Rule’s

Sometimes you want to leave a restaurant light of wallet and heavy of stomach. Rule’s will do that for you in style.

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Rule’s banquette. Sat on by some mighty ass.

7. Vagenende

On the recommendation of Ian Nairn we found Vagenende largely unchanged since his visit in 1968. A good thing.

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Vagenende – keeping up standards on the hell that can be Boulevard St. Germain

8. Pizza Express British Museum

Like the Standard an old reliable that hasn’t lost its charm over the years.

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The near original and in my opinion the best.

9. Salt Yard

In a year packed with Spanish food Salt Yard came out the champion. Top class.

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Salt Yard – pick of the festive season.

10. Le Voltaire

Saving the best till last. It’s not cheap but where else could you dine a historic building, eat perfectly good food and have dignified waiters indulge you with bouts of table shenanigans?

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Le Voltaire. I’d happily di(n)e there.

All of these got 9 out of 10 but so too did Rowley’s, Le Fumoir and Les Babines. Join me in 2017 for more eateries.

#Food #London #Paris #Amsterdam

To see which other restaurants I visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

 

Review #103 Les Babines, Paris

December 6, 2016

Having missed out on Les Babines the day before we made our way back after some morning’s shopping (shout out to Billards Jean Marty, the best alternative to Sports Direct I’m aware of) for a cold collation lunch. Les Babs is a wine shop that does food which seems to me the best shopping of all, even better than snooker.

It seemed as though we’d crashed a family get together but they didn’t seem to mind and set us up in the corner of the room with a view of some Mike Gatting sized bottles that were tempting as train booze.

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Mike Gatting wrestles with a Rickety Bridge

So we went for two planches again, this time with the little wrinkle of a fish planche followed by a duck planche. Various textures of each tastefully arranged with a scattering of veg, all good. We asked our host to recommend some wine to go with the fish and he slipped over a generous amount of Chablis. Very good. And with the duck? He gave us a cheeky grin and fired out some French about something that was as good as a Crozes Hermitage without being a Crozes Hermitage. We were sold and we took a glass of that followed by another one as we started to ease ourself into the afternoon.

All this for about 20 euros a head?! Best value of the weekend, and if we’d a had Gatt with us we would’ve got a carryout.

9/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #101 Café Charbon, Paris

December 5, 2016

In Paris for a weekend of social frivolity we were staying in a new area for me between République and Père Lachaise. Hot off the train we were looking for a planche or two while we discussed what to do with the rest of the day. Les Babines being closed in the afternoon (don’t worry, we went back) we opted for Charbon on the basis of its shabby chic décor.

It was a good choice. Not only was the décor a perfectly aged classic bistrot interior, they also have a superior product on the food side of things. Although we just had a plate each of cheese and meat to share it was all very good. High quality thin, raw meat, plenty of cheese and a generous helping of salad. With a bottle of red this was an admirable start to the weekend.

The staff were very cheery and happy to listen to our crap French. On Sunday alas I had to break the rules. On the back of one hour’s sleep Saturday night we needed reliable sustenance for brunch, which we sought chez Charbon. They did the trick – a croque monsieur with a helping of strong coffee and half a Guiness helped to stave off my sleep-starved decline until it was time to head for Gare du Nord. The croque was a thing of glory as a saltycheesy restorative.

8/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #73 Le Fumoir, Paris

August 29, 2016

In Paris for the day I’d booked Le Fumoir on the basis of good ratings and its location – half an hour’s stroll from Victor Hugo’s gaff (v good) and virtually next door to the Louvre, for which I’d booked a 3 o’clock entry. It was hot.

Victor Hugo – not just a long-winded medievalist he was also a gifted interior designer

Yes, it was so hot that I was tempted to roll my sleeves up. But I kept a stiff upper lip about it.

Salvation came in the form of an ice cold towel presented to us by the waiter barely before we’d sat down. It was the best thing I’ve had in a restaurant this year bar none. Cold towel applied to brow, cheeks, back of neck and wrists put me in a very good frame of mind.

As well as being hot I was also very thirsty. Fortunately our friends at Le F had a solution for that too. One side of the table got a negroni while I had a dolce vita. Freshly made cocktails fizzy sour and poured over a colossal goblet full of ice. Already Le Fumoir had become one of my favourite places on earth.

We contemplated the room. Fans spinning lazily from the ceiling over a mixture of workers lunching, well-heeled tourists and one middle aged couple engaged periodically in sucking each other’s face off in between pecking at their food. An eclectic crowd. All this in a subdued light with blinds half drawn to allow a discreet view of the passing trade of standard issue bumbag charabancists, their adipose tissue visibly melting as they slithered their way to take selfies in front of Renaissance art.

Our waiter, who made Bradley Cooper seem a second rate Marty Feldman, was out of the French Old Skool. Formal but willing to chat if it was to a purpose. They have a prix fixe menu at lunch of three courses for €27 which even in these troubled times of the sterling drop seemed an incredible bargain. Courgette velouté (still looking for chills) was gorgeously smooth and then bass with celeriac, all excellent. The bread kept coming and was helped along with a Domaine des Schistes (‘An excellent choice’) and I was seriously considering selling everything I had in London to move into Le Fumoir. We couldn’t resist dessert and so combined coffee by taking an affogato each. The total bill for two was just over €100, which is an absolute snip.

Our next stop was the Louvre where we spurned the hordes to seek out Chardin and Poussin, two painters guaranteed to take the feverish mess out of any day. Having gorged on them we couldn’t resist another stop in Le Fumoir on the way to the station for their happy hour. This time we sat at the bar while another male model, this time trained as a mixologist, made us a mint julep and a Tom Collins.

Good times.

9/10

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here


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