The French are justifiably proud of their food. They have every right to be so, because even for the least auspicious looking little cafe, the minimum standards of expectation are so high, that lovely, well-prepared food is the norm, not the exception. Even in busy service stations, the French don't seem to inflict the reheated slop on their travellers that is the norm in the UK's generally lamentable pit-stops. The French atitude to food is in fact so good, that the highest praise that can be heaped upon it is to say that it is perhaps the opposite of their attitude to toilets.... (I generalise, of course!).
When in Paris, it therefore seems appropriate, not merely to visit the usual landmarks, but to savour some of the tasty treats bursting forth from the many fine French kitchens that dot the city. The problem for food-hunters in the Euro-zone however, remains the crippling exchange rate. The days of going to Paris with a wallet of strong pounds which seemed to double in value when spent in weak Francs or latterly Euros, are long gone. Eating out in France is now as expensive as it is essential!
Here then are some recommendations on how to get some very fine food without taking out a second mortgage!
1) Don't just guess, use a reliable guide book. Some of the best meals we have had have been tracked down courtesy of the "Paris Top -10" book published by Dorling Kindersley.
2) Several of Paris' top, multi-Michelin starred chefs have 'other' restaurants as well as their flagship ones. The food in these places is absolutely stunning, the chefs design and oversee the menu and are happy to put their name to the quality of the produce. While the star-chef himself might not always be in attendance, the quality of the food prepared is breathtaking, but served in a less pretentious atmosphere, and without a bill at the end that would make a millionaire wince or choke on his after-dinner mint. In this genre, Guy Savoy has "Les Bouquinistes" on the Left Bank; Alain Ducasse has "The Spoon" just off the Champs Elysees - and it was the latter in which we treated ourselves.
3) Go at lunchtime not in the evening. The food is just as good - but the prices less like the GDP of a medium sized country.
4) Look for lunchtime specials. The Spoon (on the ground floor of the Hotel Marignan), with its funky collisions of Gallic and Oriental flavours, has a lunchtime tasting menu (called the Bento Dej), which was simply tremendous and provided four courses for little more that £30/head- before drinks. The set-menu we enjoyed for that price was as follows:
Warm pumpkin Soup
(poured over delicate pieces of poached egg and various seeds and pulses)
(served with a choice of eight flavoured pastes, such as oriental, pea, mustard, apple curry)
Tuna Ravioli with Hot and Sour Sauce
Veal and bulgar wheat 'risotto -style' with vegetables and spices
Now that does not add up to a cheap meal. But it certainly did make it one of the genuinely best value meals I have ever eaten - world-class food for a lot less money than you'd think.