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A heart between two homes

6 Mar

paris_sydney_cheese_je t'aime

Dear Australia,

I love you. You raised me, bathed me in sunlight and blessed me with beautiful beaches, an awesome lifestyle and my treasured family and friends, but I am sorry, I am leaving you. This little holiday at home has been magical, but the time has come, and I am going back to my adopted country, France.

Now, don’t be like that; please don’t be jealous, we absolutely cannot compare the two of you. And don’t be so presumptuous please- it’s not the wine I’m leaving you for. It’s also not the amazing markets and restaurants, nor is it for the fashion. You did everything right, my dear homeland, but you did one thing wrong. There is just one thing missing in this relationship…. Let me explain…

Chère France,

I love you, too. And I am coming back to you, if you will take me. How you have such a strong pull on me, honestly I don’t know. In reality, you treat me kinda mean. You’re painfully cold 6 months of the year. You make me drink too much wine, eat too much bread and not do enough exercise. You made me tolerant of passive smoking, and living in overpriced shoebox-sized flats. You make me spend too much money on pretty things I probably don’t need. Your metro is an efficient but dehumanising experience. Your lovely pebbled pavements ruin my stiletto heels and your thousands of poodles leave their sh*t everywhere. Too many of your shopkeepers are rude and obnoxious; your Michelin star waiters refuse to serve me real cappuccinos and most of your café coffee sux.

OK OK … maybe that was a little rough, after all, for a love letter, this didn’t start so well. No need to be insecure. I do love your amazing fashion, and strolling around the city at night is like living in a walking museum. Your effortless elegance, manicured gardens and romantic summer nights certainly wooed me, but that is not why I am taking you back. I’m coming back, my dear France because you offer me in abundance one thing Australia cannot – real cheese.

That’s right baby. Unpasteurised, unhomogenized, unadulterated, raw milk, artisanal, wonderful… CHEESE! Fresh ones, aged ones, soft ones, hard ones, stinky ones, mild ones… I’m only just getting started. You know you’ve got what I need my love, and over 400 of them….

So yes, you won me over.

Yours truly,
Rachel

Rachel Bajada with giant Mont d'Or cheese

At Rungis Markets, Paris with a 'Mega Mont d'Or'

And so there we have it. Going home after almost two years in the land of wine and cheese, I have returned as a changed woman. Arriving in Sydney was like walking into my hometown with a brain transplant. My country has not changed a lot, but I have evolved enormously. I’m the same person, with different eyes, and slightly evolved tastebuds. A new language, a million crazy stories, hundreds of new friends and bank accounts in multiple countries.

Out of habit, one of the first things I did was to check out the cheese selection at the local delis and department stores (like, isn’t that what we all do)? Wasn’t that just a depressing experience? Hate to say it but Australia really is the communist Cuba of fromage. We are living in the height of cheese communism. How can such a developed and progressive country still have strict bans on raw milk production? As long as Australia keeps a ban on raw milk cheese production, I’m going to have a hard time living there!

So I’ve decided to do something about it. Next month I’m launching a campaign in conjunction with Slowfood International and Australia’s top chefs to lobby against the ban on Raw Milk production and sale in Australia- the principle thing preventing artisan cheese makers cultivating a rich and diverse industry. Let’s support local producers and artisans and support the freedom of choice over what natural raw foods we have access to.

Watch this space and stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, check out some reading material on the issue here, and while you’re at it, join my Facebook Cheese Fanclub

See you at the Paris fromagerie!

Rachel
xox

French comfort food: Mr Christian Dauve’s ultimate Gratin Dauphinois recipe

2 Dec

It was cold and miserable outside…. the Parisian winter is setting in. My friend and I stepped into the l’Auberge Rouge– a non-descript neighbourhood brassiere, to simply take a drink and catch up. I ordered the best red wine on the menu in an attempt to lift my spirits and defrost a little. The wine was not good at all. I drank it anyway. But then, halfway through our conversation, something happened. Both of us stopped talking, mid-sentence.

Something was cooking. And it smelt incredible.

We both looked around, frantically trying to identify the source of this heavenly smell, and then…. there it was. In front of our eyes, the source literally emerged before us.

A quintessential French chef, like a scene out of a 1920’s film, emerged slowly from a hidden underground kitchen. He was holding an enormous dish of creamy, cheesy, dreamy-looking BAKED POTATOES.

Christian Dauve Gratin Dauphinois

The chef emerges from his hidden underground kitchen carrying....

My usual curious self, driven only by my eyes and stomach, was now on a mesmerised mission. I jumped to my feet and walked over, making a beeline to the chef approaching:

“Monsieur, please, what is that exactly? It smells absolutely divine!”

With a big warm smile, ‘Mr Very French Chef’ in front of me responded:
“Ah madame, ça- ça c’est mon fameux Gratin Dauphinois!”

“Ahhhhh! Bien sûr! Le classique Gratin Dauphinois!”
I responded, not at all surprised that something consisting of potatoes and melted cheese was responsible for this intoxicating allure.

However, it was not enough for me, I simply had to know more.

“But what did you put in there? It smells sooooo good!”

The chef chuckled, grinning with pride at the attention, but responding with full modesty:
“Well, it’s quite simple actually… potatoes, garlic, cream and nutmeg.”

“That’s it? What about the cheese, what kind of cheese goes in your gratin?” I queried.

“Cheese? Oh no no, there is no cheese, madame. The traditional recipe for Gratin Dauphinois is only done only with cream, not cheese.”

And from this point on, my ‘Aussie inquisition’ began, and whilst quizzing my new chef friend about his gratin, before I knew it, a mini pot of the gratin had been served up and whisked over to our table.

gratin dauphinois

The culprit: Mr Christian Dauve’s amazing Gratin Dauphinois served up before us, moments before being devoured

We had just finished lunch an hour ago. Of course, we ate it anyway. And yes- it tasted just as good as it smelt- really, really, really damn, GOOD.

So good, in fact that I went back the next day and asked my new chefy friend for the recipe. In the end I got much more than the recipe- I walked away with a full history lesson on the Gratin Dauphinois and a new knowledge and appreciation of the origin of food, including some fascinating facts on the main ingredient- the humble potato.

So for a quick ‘French food history lesson’, this is how the story of the Gratin Dauphinois goes:

Scroll down if this has made you so hungry that you just want to get to the recipe!

Why does the traditional version of Gratin Dauphinois not have cheese?

Back in the 17th Century in the Haute Savoie region of France, cheese was practically a form of currency- it was an aliment of its own. Cooking with cheese it was unthinkable, and would have been extremely wasteful, not to mention expensive.

Farmers would milk their dairy cows in two rounds. The first round was called “le Bloche”– this was literally the cream of the cream. The first round is rich and very creamy. This would be then put aside and sold to local artisanal cheese makers who would produce quality butter and rich mountain cheeses such as the famous Comté .

The second batch of cows milk was called the “Re-bloche” (‘re-milking’) and results in milk which has a lower cream content and is less ‘rich’. The ‘rebloche’ would be kept by the farmers themselves and used for milk, cream, and for making a secondary cheese- the wonderful “Reblochon.”

The cheese was of course sold, and the cream would be used for cooking and enriching regional specialities such as the ‘Gratin Dauphinois’.

How did potatoes first arrive in France? We can thank the Americans.

It’s hard to imagine French cuisine without potatoes- they are such an inherent part of French food today that I never imagined this staple was an introduced product and has only been part of the French diet since Louis XVI in the 17th Century. My new chef friend Monsier Dauve was like a talking food history book as he explained the origins.

Apparently Jacques Quartier brought potatoes to France after an expedition exploring the Americas. In France, Count Parmentier (yes there is a potato dish named after him) a pharmacist, chemist and employee of Louis XVI, planted them in a garden with the intention of growing and harvesting the potato on a mass scale in order to feed the French peasant population. Unfortunately the potato was not an instant hit with the French who, at the time regarded it with great suspicion and fear. Since in its raw green state the potato is somewhat poisonous and not even dogs would eat them, the potato was a hard sell for Parmentier until he adopted a bit of reverse psychology.

Parmentier planted 50 acres of potatoes on a plot of land on the outskirts of Paris. During the day, he instructed a royal guard to watch over it. When the locals noticed that that the crop was of such value that royal guards were protecting it, their curiosity grew and hoards of people came to see what all the fuss was about. The trick worked. The potato gained a heightened intrinsic value overnight, and very quickly attracted widespread acceptance – today being one of the major foods in Europe and the rest of the world.

So that’s probably enough history on cheese and potatoes now- let’s get down to the best bit: Monsier Dauve’s amazing recipe. Don’t bother trying to read his handwritten version in the photo- I’ve translated if for you below. Enjoy!

Gratin dauphinoise recipe

The original, handwritten recipe given to me by chef Christian Dauve (Here's a pic, just to prove I'm not making it up)

Recipe: Traditional Gratin Dauphinois

Ingredients:
(Serves 6)

• 2 kilograms Bintje potatoes
(Bintje potatoes have a high moisture content and are low in starch, making them a ‘waxy’ variety. They are oval in shape, with pale yellow flesh).

• 3 cloves of garlic

• 1 litre fresh cream

• 1 heaped tbsp salt

• Half teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

And that’s it!

Here’s how you make it:

Preheat the oven to 200 Degrees Celsius

Using a large baking/casserole dish- either metallic or ceramic, finely grate the garlic cloves into the dish evenly so the inner surface is sprinkled with garlic. This is important- the garlic needs to be on the base of the dish, and not IN with the potatoes. This way it flavours the potatoes aromatically during the cooking time without having actual pieces of garlic throughout the potato gratin.

Wash and peel the potatoes. Slice them into rounds approximately 3-4 mm thick. And evenly layer and distribute them into the dish.

Sprinkle the sea salt and nutmeg over the top

Lastly, pour the cream evenly over the top of the potatoes. By adding the cream last, it distributes the salt and nutmeg throughout.

Bake the potatoes in the oven for one hour, uncovered. The actual magic happens in the last 20 minutes of cooking when all the ingredients are at boiling temperature and the potatoes soften with the cream then develop a golden crust on the top.

Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly, then spend the next hour answering the front door as the neighbours pass by to find out what that divine smell is wafting from your kitchen…

An expat Christmas in Paris: eating and shopping in the city of lights

4 Nov

Recently I was interviewed by Lucy Cousins, Deputy Editor at Australia’s InsideOut Magazine, for their special Christmas issue. InsideOut’s feature showcases five creative Australians living overseas and how they spend their Christmas. Below is the printed magazine extract, and you can find below the full interview which includes my favourite current addresses for shopping, dining and staying warm in this magical Parisian snow globe – otherwise known as the city of lights. Photo for InsideOut Mag by Carla Coulson

Rachel Bajada InsideOut Magazine

Excerpt from InsideOut Magazine Christmas Issue, 2011. Photo by Carla Coulson

What does Christmas mean to you?

Normally for me it’s all about family, but since mine is now on the other side of the world, Christmas is all about ‘coming together’. Making time to spend quality moments with the people we love, showing generosity and being grateful for the things we have. It’s also a time to embrace and honour traditions and customs whether they be religious or cultural – the important things which bring richness and diversity and meaning into our lives.

What do your Christmas celebrations in France usually involve?

I can summarise this one in about 3 words: eating, drinking and freezing!

What is your favourite part of the festive season in your adopted country?

The observation of intricate, rich customs and practices and seeing how the city changes as everything moves around these. For example in December all the patisserie shops are filled with impressive displays of the ‘Buche’ (a gateau in the form a of a log), then in January the window displays are filled with les ‘Galettes des Rois’ to celebrate epiphany. At Christmas dinner, they serve 12 kinds of small sweets such as truffles, biscuits, chocolates etc. at the end of the meal- 12 to represent the 12 apostles. It’s an endless procession of traditional practices, which as an expat unaccustomed to all of this, I find constantly fascinating.

12 sweets - noel

Christmas cake accompanied by 12 sweets to represent Christ and the twelve apostle

What is a custom or tendency that you don’t understand?

There are many customs in France that continue to perplex me. For me France is the ultimate country of paradoxes… the main set of customs that continue to baffle me are all the hidden codes and procedures when it comes to dining.

Once thing that still gets me is how a dinner party will wait till the last guest arrives, no matter how late they are, to open the champagne and start the aperitif.

Last Christmas Eve, many domestic flights were delayed due to snowstorms and some guests didn’t arrive at the house until around 11.45pm. By this point I was ravenous after a long journey myself, and I had been staring at the 10 bottles of champagne and aperitif snacks all lined up in the dining room, which the host refused to open or serve until all the guests had arrived. We ended up finishing our meal at 4am because we started at midnight!

Waiting for champagne

Patience is a virtue… champagne remains unopened until all guests arrive

How does it differ from your Christmas in Australia?

The difference is enormous. Everything is the opposite. The weather, the food, the way of celebrating, the people I share my time with and the language I speak. The cold weather is a real challenge for me being a real sun-lover, but Paris is so beautiful under the snow at that time of year, that it compensates for the weather. And as much as I love Christmas time in Paris, it just doesn’t compare to the familiar feeling of walking through the patio door at my parents house on Christmas Eve and seeing my Dad sweating at the BBQ with a big smile on his face wearing the same apron he has worn for the last 10 years!

What do you miss about Australia in general?

Things that just work! I didn’t realise it or appreciate it until I left Australia- but in Oz, thing just work. Administrative services, systems, etc are in general more efficient and reliable. Here you post a letter to the other side of the country, and it may arrive a week after something which was sent from the US. Banks and government call centres close spontaneously…

The other thing I really miss is SPACE. Large open living spaces, coastlines, vast beaches and national parks in Oz are all so close and accessible. I loved the relaxed attitude in Sydney- I miss being able to walk to my yoga class or walk in a supermarket dressed in my gym pants and sneakers without anybody glaring because you look so out of place… and of course the lifestyle I enjoyed being able to ride my Vespa to the beach after work and running in the sand then meeting friends for BBQ’s at the beach over long summer afternoons.

What is most stressful to you about Christmas and how do you deal with that?

Waiting in lines. The sheer population of Paris means I am always waiting – I queue to queue. I’m a terribly impatient person, (of course I’m working on it) but the frenzied crowds in department stores, the push and shove on the crowded metro and waiting 20 mins in a line at -4 degree temperatures just to buy your favourite bread on a Sunday morning can be unbearable.

Paris bread queue

Typical sunday in Paris: the bread queue

What is one way you ‘cheat’ at Christmas…(do you make your own wrapping paper or gifts, have you got a fool-proof recipe for pudding etc)?
For years now I have had my own little tradition of making Lebkuchen- a spicy iced German gingerbread (recipe here). Each Christmas I make an entire day of it and bake and ice about 200 cookies. It’s a great way to give a small gift to friends, colleagues or people you have been meaning to catch up with. Each year I package them differently depending on what nice boxes or papers I find in the shops. When you personally deliver them it’s a good excuse to have a cup of tea together and make time to catch up.

Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen – Christmas Gifts

Can you tell us three shops in Paris that are good to visit at Xmas (they might make great cakes, or sell amazing flowers etc)?

1. Go to Gontran Cherrier’s boulangerie in Montemarte and buy the special Christmas bread “La couronne de pain”- a bread wreath with 8 buns made of 4 varieties- wholegrain curry (for foie gras), chick pea and lemon (for oysters and seafood), nature/traditional (for meats and charcuterie) and the fourth is made with chestnut flour to serve with the cheese board.

He also makes a great Pistachio and Citron Confit “Galette des Rois”, which is traditionally served to celebrate at Epiphany in early January.

Gontran Cherrier Artisan Boulanger
22, rue Caulaincourt 75018 Paris
Tèl : +33 (0)1 46 06 82 66
http://www.gontrancherrierboulanger.com

Galette des Rois et La couronne de pain

Galette des Rois et La Couronne de Pain chez Gontran Cherrier

2. You must pay a visit to one of my favourite fromageries/affineurs in Paris- La Ferme Saint Hebert in Paris 9th.

When you walk in this cheese shop, the mere odour of over 200 varieties of French cheeses is just sensational ( I think so anyway) and you instantly know you’re in France. Owners Paulette and Henry- complete the typical Paris experience- right down to their white aprons, hanging Corsican charcuterie and the shop walls that are lined with jars of duck confit, foie gras, confiture, fruit pastes and patés.

At Christmas time we indulge in a winter mountain cheese like Mont d’Or. It’s a seasonal cow’s milk cheese packaged in round wooden boxes. You can eat it at room temperature, or pour white wine into the box, wrap it in foil then bake it for 25 mins. When it comes out of the oven it’s oozes with creaminess on the inside and melts like liquid heaven. The French like to pour the melting cheese over baked potatoes or eat it with fresh baguettes. Mmmm calorific ecstasy.

La ferme Saint Hubert Fromagerie
36 rue Rochechouart 75009 PARIS
Tel : +33 (0)1 45 53 15 77
http://www.la-ferme-saint-hubert-de-paris.com/

La Ferme Saint Hubert Fromagerie

La Ferme Saint Hubert Fromagerie – Image from Bonbon Magazine, Summer 2009 lebonbon.fr

3. Treat yourself to a new fragrance at a French perfume house.

Dyptique on Blvd St Germain is just divine (my favourite is the ‘figue’ scent), Nicolaï Parfumerie on Rue des Archives in the Marias, or the official Geurlain fragrance house on Champs Elysées are three of my favourite boutiques. Fragrances are so sensory, when you buy a new perfume at Christmas time each time you wear it will bring back all those fond memories of those particular moments in your life. It’s also a great way to sharpen your sense of smell – just in time for appreciating all the great wines you’ll be drinking over Christmas.

What are three activities that you must to do in Paris at Christmas time?

1. Walk from place Colette (métro Palais Royale Musée du Louvre) through to the gardens of the Palais Royale and do some window shopping (if you can resist buying a pair of designer leather gloves, foulard or handbag) and walk all the way up Galerie Vivienne. At Christmas time they put out an impressive lighting display complete with draping red velvet curtains at the entrance – the interior is just stunning at this time of year. When you’re there you can have tea and scones at A Priori Teahouse to warm up and talk yourself out of buying those designer heels you fell in love with 10 minutes ago.

Galerie Vivienne Christmas

Galerie Vivienne is transformed by an impressive lighting display at Christmas

2. Visit the Galerie Lafayette and Printemps department stores and gaze dreamily at the window displays. It brings me back memories of my childhood in Melbourne when ever year my grandma would take me to see the Myer window displays. Only in Paris it’s packed with Louis Vuitton, Chanel, YSL… serious eye candy.

3. Go to the Marché des Enfants Rouge (Paris’ oldest open- air market dating from the 1600s) and located in the Marais. It’s filled with stands providing specialties from all over the world. Eat some spicy Moroccan couscous and tagines followed by sweet mint tea then at the flower stand opposite you can choose and buy a REAL Christmas Wreath. The wreaths are real – made of real holly leaves and berries, pinecones, fresh stone fruits – and they’re only about 7 Euros a piece.

Christmas Wreathes at Marche des Enfants Rouge, Paris

Christmas Wreathes at Marche des Enfants Rouge, Paris. Image courtesy of http://cinderellapatch.blogspot.com

What is your favourite Parisian Christmas moment?

My best Parisian Christmas moment was the first time I saw snow in Paris – and it was around Christmas time. I was at my local little Christmas market on a Sunday (organised by the local town hall) and it was absolutely freezing. All of sudden it started snowing and the whole place was transformed. There were children riding on a gorgeous traditional the carousel and little stalls selling spicy warm red wine, fruit cakes and hand-made gifts. One of the stallholders insisted I tried their hot chocolate with a piece of pain d’épice, and then in that moment everything was just magical… I felt like a young girl who had been transported into a snow globe and then whisked off into a page of a children’s fairy-tale.

Paris Christmas Markets

Snapshot moment of a Parisian fantasy snowglobe

What do you like most about living in Paris?

The innate appreciation of beauty.

Paris terrace sunset view

Designed for detail: view from a typical Paris terrace

Where would you recommend visitors go for a special lunch or dinner in Paris on Christmas day?

Le Gallopin Brasserie. A classic and beautiful French bistro where they have been serving bankers, journalists and Parisians quality French brasserie cuisine in a stunning turn-of-the-century setting since 1876. The prices are very reasonable too – book 2 weeks before Christmas to avoid missing out.

40, rue Notre-Dame des Victoires 75002 Paris
Tél : +33 (0)1 42 36 45 38
http://www.brasseriegallopin.com/

What are your current favourite Paris restaurants?

Au Passage (Paris 11e)
Rossi et Co (Paris 2e)
Itinéraires (Paris 5e)
MaSa (Paris 17e)
Le Galopin (Paris 10e)
Avant Comptoir (Paris 6e)
Toyo, Yen (Paris 6e)
Le Pantruche (Paris 9e)

Join the conversation! Have any similar expat or stories to share from visiting Paris? Drop a comment below.

French family recipes – Martine from Brittany and her famous ‘Lotte à l’Armoricaine’

10 Oct

As you may have noticed, I am a quite the incurable food tourist- which is why La belle France, with its rich regional diversity and world-renowned gastronomy, never ceases to amaze me, or my stomach. This recent addition to my French Food Travel series takes us to the stunning coastal region of Bretagne know in English as “Brittany” where the local cuisine and characters serve to reveal the history and culture of this region. I shot a little video this time so here are the highlights – this time more in the form of a photo reportage.
All images are credited to Alexandre Planchot unless noted otherwise.

La Lotte à l'Armoricaine

A Brittany regional classic and the feature dish: La Lotte à l'Armoricaine / Monkfish in Sauce 'Armoricaine'. Image credit: Rachel Bajada

First up, we must meet our local host, and the star of this story- Martine. Martine is from Brest in Brittany where she’s most famous for her tried and tested family recipe for ‘La Lotte à l’Armoricaine’(Recipe at end of this article). When she cooks this dish, her children just happen to be free for dinner that night, and the family cat is never lucky enough to get leftovers for dinner. Martine loves nothing more than the knowledge that her recipe is the best in town.

martine_at_fish_markets

Now it's time to meet Martine

This peninsular region in the North West of France along the English Channel has a turbulent, divided past and fierce sense of self identity. Previously a kingdom and then a duchy, Brittany was united to the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province. Brittany occupies a large peninsula in the north west of France, lying between the English to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. The historical province of Brittany is divided into five departments including the Côtes-d’Armor in the north, from where this traditional dish originates. Today, French is spoken throughout this region, but Breton- a Celtic language that most present in the west, can still be heard all over Brittany, and Gallo, a romantic ‘langue d’oil’ is still spoken in the east.

The Fishing Port, Brtagne/Brittany

The Fishing Port, Brtagne / Brittany, France. Image Credit: Flickr user "bpmm"

In terms of local gastronomy, Brittany is most famous for local delights including Clafoutis and ‘Far Breton’

Cherry Clafoutis and Far Breton

Cherry Clafoutis and Far Breton. Image credits: Flickr users jypsygen and kriscar29

Not forgetting of course the now world-famous crêpes and galettes, to be washed down with a good pint of local Breton cider.

Ham and cheese crêpes with apple cider

Crêpes and cider. Image credit: Flickr users jypsygen and Tarnie

And then there is Cancale, on Brittany’s Côte d’Emeraude, where to eat anything but oysters would be absurd– since this region, thanks to its favourable geography sheltered from the strong winds and currents found on north Breton coast, produces France’s finest oysters and shellfish.

Oyster stand, Brittany

Fresh oysters anyone? Image credit: Flickr user Gentse Fieste

Cancale Bertagne

Brittany: Pretty as a picture. Image credit: Flickr user "zenithe"

The sauce à l’Armoricaine is a traditional French recipe from coastal Brittany where it is most commonly prepared with shellfish, or used to flavour firm white-fleshed fish such as La Lotte or Monkfish– otherwise known as poor man’s lobster. It’s creation dates back to1860 when it was first made by French chef Pierre Fraisse- a Breton who had been working in Chicago and recently returned to Paris where he opened his own restaurant serving traditional Britannic cuisine.

Old Brittany (c.1905) Vintage photographic postcard

Old Brittany. The Sea Dogs' Circle (c.1905) Vintage photographic postcard, published by Collection Villard, Quimper, Finistère, France. © Casas-Rodríguez Collection, 2009. Flickr Creative Commons

Legend has it that late one evening some customers arrived at his restaurant hoping to be served dinner just before closing time, and so they had less than an hour to eat. Using the products at hand- a few lobsters and the chef’s staples such as aromatic herbs and fresh tomatoes, he was too pressed for time to slowly cook the lobster in a bouillon (seafood stock) as he would normally do, so instead he flambéed the lobster flesh in cognac and cooked it in a sauce of diced tomato, white wine, garlic and fresh herbs.

The dish was a big success with his late night diners and when they asked what the dish was called, he named it on the spur of the moment- “Sauce Américaine”- in homage of his recent stint in America where he learnt to prepare delicious dishes but make them much faster to suit the pace of his American clientele!

Lobster fishing Brittany Archival photo

Lobster Fishing In Brittany (c.1910). Petit Port de Bestrée. - Préparatifs pour la Pêche de Langoustes. Preparations for Spiny lobster fishing. Vintage photographic postcard, c.1910 Published by Lévy et Neurdein Réunis (originally by Neurdein frères), Paris, France. © Casas-Rodríguez Collection, 2009

Bright and early at 9 am and we’re at Martine’s local market where she comes at least three times per week to buy fresh produce. La Lotte (Monk Fish) is in season, and all the ingredients for the day’s meal are sourced from her favourite market suppliers- and I can see why she loves coming here. Meet Monsieur Marcel- Martine’s poissonier du marche. What a man. Marcel wakes up, rain, hail or shine, at 3am each morning to collect and deliver the freshest seafood; and on this day, he had specially set aside for Martine the best looking Monkfish of the day’s haul.

To add to the fun, I acquired my now expert knowledge on this fish over an entertaining conversation involving a few glasses of champagne and some freshly shucked oysters at the market oyster stand. A few French fishing jokes and generation-specific expressions were lost in translation on my end over our fascinating chat, but here’s what I did understand and do remember:

Marcel_Poissonier_Brittany

Meet Marcel. Martine's charismatic local market Poissonier

The Monkfish is an angler-fish which comes from la mer du nord and is in fact, really really UGLY.

Wondering if the effects of its hit by the ugly stick was the reason that it’s rare to spot an entire fish (with its head and all) at the markets, I asked Marcel the question. It turns out the big ugly head of the monkfish actually takes up more than 50% of it’s body weight and aside from the cheeks, is mostly inedible, thus the fisherman immediately throw the heads overboard so save weight and storage space for the long journey back to the mainland.

Homard Bleu

Homard Bleu. Live Blue Lobster from Brittany

This fish has a very bland but firm flesh and so has been used traditionally and still to this day, as a replacement for Lobster- thus the name “poor mans’ lobster”. Saying that, the economic factor is becoming somewhat obsolete since it’s now not uncommon to pay over €30/kg due increasing costs related to boat fuel and transport.

cutting skin of monkfish

Thicked skinned. La Lotte (Monkfish) has seven layers of skin which also cover the dorsal.

Marcel also showed Martine and myself that the Monkfish has an impressive seven layers of skin which also cover the dorsal. A job best left to the pros I say…

Ingredients_la sauce

Sauce staples: White wine, onions, garlic, tomatoes, fresh herbs

Martine then did her rounds at her favourite fruit and vegetable stalls picking up fresh herbs, onions, garlic, tomatoes, lemons, and lastly cheese (for the cheese course after our meal bien sûr), then before I knew it we were back in the wonderful home kitchen of Martine- the place where all the magic happens.

Martine in her kitchen

Martine et sa cuisine. Are you ready?

Martine’s recipe for la Lotte Armoricaine was handed down to her by her mother, and has been a special Christmas and celebratory dish cooked by the women of her family for more than four generations.

Martine's family photos

Family tradition. The recipe has been in Martine's family for four generations

Due to the given name of this dish, to this day a battle of recipe ownership exists between the Americans and the French, who commonly refer to the sauce respectively as either Americaine or Armoricaine– ‘Armorique’ being an ancient name for the northern region of Brittany where the coast is called les Côtes d’Armor.

‘Americaine’ as labelled by chef Pierre, suggests ownership to the Americans, and ‘Armoricaine’ implies that it originates from the French Armorique coast. Most Bretons today claim that the simply must recipe must come from Brittany, since all ingredients are typical of the region and because Lobsters have been fished for generations by their local fishermen.

Regardless of the friendly food tug of war between them, this dish combines the best of both worlds- the rapid preparation techniques of the Americans, and the rich flavours and regional produce that the French are famous for.

Rachel and Martine dicing onions and herbs

Martine telling Rachel the story of how the Americans and Bretons still argue to this day over who 'owns' the sauce recipe

Rachel Bajada_Martine_cooking

Martine puts the flour-coated fish into a hot pan with olive oil and butter

A relatively simple dish, the sauce is quick to prepare and the fish is cooked twice- first coated in flour, pan fried in butter and then flambéed in cognac.
When Martine poured out a shot glass of cognac in front of me I was wondering why she was offering me a digestif before the meal…then before I had time to ask, it was poured into the pan and then well…. the photos say it all!

Rachel Bajada and Martine flambée scene

"Oh we're just goingto add a tad of Cognac to the pan now...." says Martine

Flambée surpise!

Ohhhh now just a little cognac flambée.... I mean... 2 foot fire in the kitchen!!!

Martine laughs after her successful surprise flambée stunt

The satisfied grin. Just an average day in the la cuisine de Martine!

Rachel terrified after flambee surprise

"O.M.G. Do I still have my eyebrows???!!!"

spics

Secret's in the spices. Real saffron and piment d'espelette make all the difference.

Once the sauce has significantly reduced, the fish is then returned to the pan and cooked for a further 5 minutes only- cooking the fish longer than this can quickly render the flesh tough and dry.

The sauce must always be cooked slowly and gently, and no additional salt or condiments are required as an enormous amount of flavour is gained through the caramelisation of the sugars in the wine and cognac and the existing saltiness in the salted butter of Brittany. Martine swears by using Britannic butter, insisting that the salt from the Britannic ocean, when combined with products of sea and terroir, creates a truly special result that cannot be reproduced in absence of these specific products of the region.

Mijoter. Sauce a l'Armoricaine simmering

Mijoter. The sauce and la lotte left to simmer

And well, there you have it. We couldn’t wait any longer to tasted it so we decided to taste it right out of the pan!

Now... let's eat!

Chin Chin! We couldn't wait any longer so we tasted it straight out of the pan and washed it down with a good chablis. Santé!

Super bon! This dish turned out to be surprisingly simple and was honestly one of the most satisfying, delicious, homely comfort food meals I have ever eaten. Martine has been kind enough to share the recipe (please find below) but in all honesty, I’m sure that no one can reproduce it to be the same as her homemade, 4th generation family recipe goodness.

Dish of La lotte a l'Armoricaine

La lotte a l'Armoricaine. The finished dish. Of course in the end we plated it up, set the table à la Française and served with rice.

martine_laughing

Bravo Bravo et merci encore Martine!

Recipe: Martine’s ‘Lotte à l’Armoricaine’
Serves 4

• 1.2 kg fresh Monkfish fillets (or substitute for other firm white fish)
• 50 grams salted butter (obviously Martine’s is butter from Bretagne with salt de Guérande) but if you don’t live in France you will have to make do with good quality salted butter
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 standard tin of peeled tomato puree
• 1 tbsp tomato puree (concentrate)
• 1 white onion
• 2 shallots
• Dried herbs de Provence (parsley, thyme, bay leaves)
• 2 cloves garlic
• 2 tablespoons of plain white flour
• Half a bottle dry white wine
• 250 ml fish stock
• 50 ml cognac
• 1 handful fresh coriander
• Small pinch piment d’espelette (a special Basque-country, dried spice).
The closest substitute is cayenne pepper
• 3-4 threads saffron
• Sea salt and pepper to taste
• Juice of half a lemon

The monkfish is a tricky fish to prepare by yourself so it’s much easier to have the monkfish prepared and cut into medallions by your fishmonger.

Coat the fish fillets lightly in flour. In a heavy-based or good quality cast-iron pan, melt the butter and add the olive oil so that the butter does not burn.
Place the monkfish fillets in the pan then add the cognac. Light the cognac with a flame and flambé. Take the pan off the heat, place the fish aside in a separate dish and put it aside to rest.

Finely dice the garlic, onion and shallots. Gently cook the garlic and onions in the flambéed saucepan then the tomatoes, fish stock, white wine, piment d’espelette and herbs de Provence. Allow to simmer gently until the sauce has reduced and concentrated in flavour, for at least 20 minutes.

Finally, add the pieces of fish to the sauce in the pan and cook for only a further 5 or so minutes. Just before serving, add fresh coriander and saffron, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with rice. Now close your eyes, pour a glass of wine and imagine yourself on the coast of Brittany…

Delicious Discoveries from the Gourmet Jury at Haute Cuisine Paris

7 Sep
Le Jury Gourmand gathers around Ibéric Jambon at Haute Cuisine Paris

Day 1 on the ‘Jury Gourmand’ This photo somehow resembles the last supper… slight difference though: we’re sharing ham, not bread… From left: Laura Annaert, Emmanuel Giraud, Mathilde Dewilde, Rachel Bajada, Laurent Cagna. Photo credit: Barbara Siegel

Recently I had the honour of being invited as guest on the “Gourmet Jury” at the First Haute Cuisine Paris gastronomy event in the gorgeous Palais Royale Gardens. Over two days I sat on a gourmet-jury style ‘tasting panel’ organised by Madeline Market, where I had the pleasure of discovering some of the finest, freshest and most innovative products on French gastronomy scene. (What a dreadful way to spend a weekend… ) These two days opened out a whole new world of flavours, products, cooking techniques, trends and personalities that I figured are best shared with other food lovers, rather than left as memories in the form of photos on my iPhone and jotted notes in my little black notebook.

In this post I summarise and feature the highlights and most noteworthy of my delicious discoveries, from the finest Ibéric Jambon with a nutritional lipid profile comparable to olive oil, through to an exotic Japanese Turnip, exceptional Italian Carnaroli Rice and incredible micro-herbs that literally explode on your tastebuds. Here I aim to be your ‘French Food Correspondent’ in sharing these delicious discoveries.

This is the part where I add my little disclaimer to confirm that none of the references in this post, (or on my blog for that matter) are of a commercial nature. I like to promote people and products simply becasue I think they’re great, not because I’m paid to do so. Voila!

Plate of Jamon by Origine Gourmet

‘Jamon’ variety Ibéric Jambon from Origine Gourmet (Patte arriere du cochon).
Photo credit: Barbara Siegel

Day one was all about Jambon. I must say, when I was first asked to sit on a panel purely involving the degustation and discussion of Ibéric Jambon, I was admittedly a little intimidated. For someone who had spent a large portion of her adult life as a vegetarian, the invitation was both exciting and slightly daunting at the same time. My former choice to lead a vegetarian lifestyle was what I believe originally contributed to my passion and curiosity for food from an early age; but the main drivers were the ethical, animal rights and environmental sustainability issues linked to the meat industry.

Little did I know, man did not make all Jambon equal. Many of my generalised preconceptions of this product were dispelled through the discovery of this premium, artisanal Ibéric Jambon. Meeting Pierre-André, founder of Origine Gourmet was a big eye opener. This man is on a mission to source and distribute the finest range of gourmet delicacies produced with the greatest respect for terroir, tradition, quality, and artisanal farming techniques and methodologies.

We sampled four kinds of Ibéric Jambon on the jury, each was a unique discovery in itself- exhibiting its own distinct personality and flavour profile. Tasting a fine jambon of this quality is a sensory experience on so many levels. On the palate, it not only apports an incredible array of subtle flavours ranging from red fruits, vanilla and cinnamon to hazelnut, wood and truffle, but it brings one of the strongest sensations connected to ‘terroir’. At the moment of tasting this jambon- you really get this feeling of being magically transported to the place of its origin. An unexplainable connection between the product and the land, was produced from becomes evident through the aroma of earth, truffle, soil, wood, and fruit. I’m also convinced that the strict production methods employed in producing these special products is at the heart of this. The ‘Jamon’ variety for example, (pictured) requires up to four years of careful treatment, processing and ageing following strict traditional and artisanal methods, before the product is finally ready for the market.

A Labour of Love:

Salted for up to 15 days at a constant 5 degrees, then temperature controlled for a further 60 days at 80-90% humidity, the Jamon is then matured during a careful drying process which ensures the gradual and uniform diffusion of fats into the fibrous tissues. The maturation process lasts up to 9 months at 30-35 degrees at 70% humidity with the entire process controlled daily by a “Maesto Jamonero”. Finally the maturation is completed in special ageing caves which allow a natural constant temperature of 10-20 degrees at lower humidty, where the Jamon matures for 20 to 30 months when finally, at the end of the long process, the moment arrives when the Jambon becomes “Jamon”.

Aside from the slow, strict artisanal maturation and treatment process, almost more importantly is the story behind the original product- the actual animal that was raised under the most ideal of living conditions and with great respect for the health, well-being, happiness and physical state of the creature during its lifetime. The ‘Ibérico’ Cochon is a specific breed perfectly adapted to allow for cohabitation with other species- usually impossible with other varieties.

Honestly, these animals have a pretty awesome lifestyle. For the first year and a half, they are raised in vast open enclosures that permit the farmers to have a greater degree of control over their diet. Come October, they are released completely into the wild where they graze at full liberty in oak forests and dramatically increase their body weight until 60% of their body fat percentage is composed of fat tissue. Roaming and grazing with reckless abandon in bountiful open spaces sounds pretty good to me.

The ‘sacrifice’ of the animal is obviously an important part of the process and is carried out in a manner observing the utmost respect for the creature, and in the most humane way possible. Finally, each portion of the cochon is used to produce one of four uniquely different types of Jambon: Paletta, Jamon, Lomito and Lomo.

Furthermore, all of these utopic conditions bring specific health benefits to the product: Nutritional profiling studies on this Ibéric Jambon reveal large antioxidant properties and very high levels of Vitamis B1, B6, B12 and Oleic acid (Omega 9)- the cholesterol-lowering substance normally found in olive oil. Pas mal.

And the price, you may ask? Naturally, due to the highly idyllic conditions involved in all of the above, the Ibéric Jambon is sold for between 180 € and 450 € per kilo. It recently became available for order online with international shipping on Madeline Market where you can buy it in 100 gram packs staring from 18 €.

Rachel Bajada- Degustation de Jambon Iberic, Jury Gourmand Paris

Passion for quality- Pierre André Rouard and Jean Bernard Magescas. Trying to explain the subtleties of terroir and Ibéric Jambon... in French.. not easy!
Photo credit: Barbara Siegel

Extra-ordinary Vegetables:

During day 2 on the Gourmet Jury I discovered the fine, exotic Japanese vegetables of Asafumi Yamashita. I never imagined myself getting so excited by a pretty plate of diced raw vegetables, but the result was what I imagine would occur if Monet, Marimekko and Louis Vuitton threw a party in a veggie garden. Yamashita could honesty transform a hairy celeriac root into a plate of art with a few simple flicks of his Samurai grade vegetable knife and the elegant gestures of a skilled calligraphist.

Assiette des Legumes cru par Yamashita

Beauty in simplicity. Seasonal vegetable tasting plate by Yamashita and Sylvian Sendra, Chef chez Itineraires

Yamashita – a Japanese expat who moved to Paris more than 36 years ago to study French at La Sorbonne; through a turn of fate, fortune and pure talent has become somewhat of a French celebrity gardener. His story is both fascinating and inspiring.

Originally Yamashita was a practicing Bonsai artist when he first set himself up in Paris, until one fateful day when nearly all but two or three of his Bonsai trees were stolen. Unsure of what to do next, he turned to his other passion and natural talent- growing vegetables. Notably, there is one thing these two beautiful artisanal crafts have in common – the artful gesture (which really does sound much nicer when the French say it as “le beau geste”).

Asafumi Yamashita and Sylvian Sendra Cutting Vegetabes

Asafumi Yamashita and Sylvian Sendra

Before long, Paris’s top Michelin-starred restaurants were practically fighting over access to his limited supply of rare and exotic vegetables; all carefully cultivated personally by Yamashita on his own farm and hand delivered in person twice a week to a very select number of top restaurants and hotels. Today Yamashita’s impressive clientele list includes le George V, l’Astrance, Ze Kitchen Galerie and Restaurant Itinéraries (one of my favourite tables in Paris).

Yamashita and Sylvain Sendra- head chef of restaurant Itinéraires, united produce and passion to prepare a selection of vegetable assiettes for the Gourmet Jury. The simple manner of preparation, cutting techniques and insanely fresh, quality nature of the produce itself created sheer delight. I have never tasted fresh corn so sweet, crisp and starch-less in my life… special varieties of fresh Broccoli, cut separately to distinguish the flavour and texture of the stem, leaves and florets… rare Caviar Tomatoes, Red Carrots, Kabodjian Pumpkin, Japanese Herbs and one star vegetable that stole the show: “Le Kabu”.

Brioche with Kabu (Japanese Turnip) et confiture

A surprisingly delightful combination. Brioche au 'Kabu' (Yamashita's special Japanese Turnip variety) and confiture

The Nobel Prize of Root Vegetables goes to this incredible variety of white Japanese turnip (pictured on brioche and jam above). We tasted this impressive variety both simply sliced raw (visible on the base of the vegetable assiette on right) and also whipped up by chef Sendra in a surprisingly delicious combo with Brioche and confiture (fruit jam).

Let’s face it… turnips are normally such an unsexy vegetable. But the Kabu is no ordinary turnip. Unlike the turnips I am accustomed to (and generally not a fan of), the Kabu does not exhibit bitterness, starchy character or a dense fibrous texture. Its exterior is soft and slightly spongy, the interior flesh is delicate and refined with a slight apple-ish sweetness and the density is somewhere between the crunchiness of carrot and soft sponginess of a raw zucchini. When in season, Yamahita produces up to just 300 per month. Unfortunately, supply of Yamashita’s exotic delights is not available to the general public, so if would like to sample Yamashita’s produce, you have one of two options: either dine at one of the restaurants he supplies, or reserve well in advance for the real deal- a long lunch in his very own on-site garden restaurant where you can visit the farm and sample his produce over a delightful ‘discovery degustation menu’.

La table d’hôte de Naomi et Asafumi Yamashita, 35 € per person for lunch and 50 € for dinner. Reservations a must. +33(0)1 30 91 98 75

Incredible Cress:

Have you ever wondered how many of today’s top chefs manage to pack so much flavour and subtlety in their creations whilst keeping them perfectly well garnished and stunningly presented? Slowly I am discovering some of their tricks, and one of the secrets lies in their access to and clever usage of a commercial range of micro-herbs and specialty ‘Cresses’ – fast becoming big business in this industry.

Paris Restaurnant dishes from Kei and MaSa using Specialty Cress

Decorative Dishes: Kei Restuarant Paris using flowers and microherbs,
MaSa Restaurant Paris using Scarlett Cress

On the Gourmet Jury we tasted a wide range of these tiny, delicate ‘mini cresses’, flowers and micro-herbs supplied by Koppert Cress. The range across these special products is just overwhelming. I had never been exposed to such a diverse array of products like this in Australian restaurants to my memory, so for me it was a real eye-opener.

Here are some of the most interesting products I tried:

Dushi Buttons – (pictured) These tiny white flower buds burst with sweetness and minty, chlorophyll-like flavours; it’s most often seen used by chefs in desserts, with marshmallow, or to compliment goats cheese

Scarlet Cress – A deep red, decorative cress with earthy spinach and beetroot flavours. Often served with fish, meat and game. (Pictured in photo from dish at MaSa)

Limon Cress – (Pictured) From the basil family, this powerful leaf has strong aniseed and lemon character. I have seen it used in restaurants to flavour sorbets and garnish fish.

Honny Cress – An amazing leaf with neutral sweetening properties. Similar to Stevia, this product will no doubt soon be widely used as a natural sugar alternative

Elephant Garlic flower (buds) – Tiny purple flower buds from the Elephant Garlic plant. Packed with aroma and sweet garlic flavour

Salty Fingers– A plant grown along the coasts of tropical America and Asia. It’s crispy, salty, slightly bitter with a cactus-like texture.

Sechuan Buttons
– These inconspicuous little yellow flowers are seriously feisty and create more of a ‘sensation’ rather than flavour experience. Thank goodness that was the last one we tried- my tastebuds were on fire and completely out of action for a good 20 minutes after that little piece of dynamite landed on my tongue!

Plate of Scarlet Cress

Scarlet Cress - exhibits the delicate, earthy flavour of beetroot

Limon Cress and Dushi Buttons

Incredible Cress: Limon Cress (left) is packed with aniseed and lemon flavour.
Dushi buttons explode with sweet mint-cholorphyll flavour

The Italians:

Now, what food event is complete without something fine and Italian? No, I’m not talking pasta, or cheese, or Italian dolci- this time it’s Italian rice.

I have the lovely Sophie from Gourmetise to thank for this little discovery. Sophie is the ultimate specialty food hunter. When she told me “You simply must try this Italian rice” my response was something along the lines of “It’s rice, Sophie. Rice is rice, what’s honestly so special about it?”

In the end, I did try this rice, and really, I was blown away. I love it when something so simple is just so darn good. This special variety of Italian-grown and produced rice grain called “Carnaroli” by Acquerello was cooked using the absorption method, with a little olive oil and sea salt for good measure- and that was it. I would have been happy to eat that as my lunch for a week straight- honestly.

This special rice is grown, aged and processed on the 16th Century Colombara farm by the Rondolino family in northern Italy. They use a patented whitening process whereby the unhusked whole rice grain is aged for at least one year then slowly and gently whitened using a helix then restored with it’s original rice germ. The end result is this superior product that retains the nutritional profile of brown rice but cooks similarly to Arborio – staying perfectly intact without losing starch or vitamins.

I made a risotto with it recently (guided by the expert instruction of an Italian friend of course) just to test it out myself, and the results were superb. (Check out the risotto we made here).

Photo of Acquerello Rice

Acquerello Rice. Not just ordinary rice.


The Art of Eating:

Now finally, you have probably noticed by now how much I love CHEESE so I just couldn’t go past this gorgeous creation by designer Sebastian Bergne who exhibited his “Eat & Drink” table-wear range at Haute Cuisine Paris. No kitchen is complete without a good cheese board, and besides, you need to order one to go with the cheeses you can smuggle through the French border, next time you’re in town.

Cheese Board by Sebastian Bergne

Coup de Coeur - Beechwood 'Jerry' cheeseboard.
The understated elegance of Sebastian Bergne design.

Palais Royale Gardens, Paris

One of my favorite city havens. The gorgeous gardens at Palais Royale, Paris.
Photo credit: Barbara Siegel

The Annual Paris Summer Shutdown: Ten Great Paris Restaurants Open This August

14 Jul

Outside Pamela Popo Paris. Photo by Pascal Montary

Pamela Popo, Paris. Photo by Pascal Montary



Before you read further, please note this article was published for summer 2011.
For 2012, Paris by Mouth has done the hard work for me and published a list of restaurants open by date over this summer here.

Summer in Paris 2011 is now setting into full swing. As I write this I look over my normally buzzing Parisian neighbourhood and remark at what a ghost town it has become already. Welcome to the mass Parisian exodus otherwise know as summer holidays.

From here until the end of August the Parisian population will be largely replaced with bright-eyed, heat-stroked, sandal-blistered, HUNGRY gourmet tourists from all over the world.

Unfortunately over the summer holidays most of the best addresses are closed for at least 3-4 weeks over August, so for gourmet travellers looking for great food in a good restaurant, it can often present quite a challenge. But don’t be discouraged; I have done all the hard work for you. After receiving numerous emails this week from people planning a visit in August and asking for recommendations on good places to eat that are actually open, I figured I should share the fruits of my research with you all.

After going through my own list of favourite Paris restaurants and foodie spots, I have personally phoned every single one of them to check their closure dates and times over the holidays, and here is my top 10. With this golden list you will never be caught in the tourist trap of succumbing to some crappy Paris bistro eating stale baguettes, bad steak tartare, drinking burnt black coffee or being served reheated ham and cheese crêpes.

Remember, it’s always a good idea to call ahead and book or check opening hours with restaurants. As much as I’ve aimed for accuracy with the given times and dates, it’s still possible that these places could spontaneously close- that’s the French way.

————————————————————————————————————
RESTAURANTS IN PARIS OPEN FOR ALL OF SUMMER 2011:

Ordered by least expensive to most expensive

Comptoir de l’Arc

73 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris (Champs Elysees/George 5) +33 1 47 20 72 04

Monday – Friday, lunch and dinner. Closed weekends

I almost selfishly considered leaving this place off my list as it’s one of my favourite summer hangouts and I like to know that I can arrive and actually get a table! This place has the typical ‘summer in Paris’ vibe and friendly buzzing ambience right next to the Champs Elysees and l’Arc de Triomphe. The food is of consistently good quality and inexpensive especially given the location. You will find dishes like Poached Trout Salad, Chicken Brochettes and Creamy Risotto, Grilled Market-fresh Fish and classics such as Steaks and comforting Buttery Potato Puree. The cheese plates and desserts are fairly fail-proof too.

Pamela Popo

15 rue Francois Miron, 75004 Paris (Marias) +33 1 42 74 14 65

Every day, lunch and dinner

(Pictured in feature image) Fresh on the Marais scene, Pamela Popo is the new kid on the block and coolest place to be seen. Situated right next to one of the oldest original condition buildings in Paris and in the heart of the one quartier in Paris that never sleeps, owners Thomas and Mickael have all your needs covered. With an inviting outdoor terrace to take a drink, do some people spotting or get your cigarette fix, a cosy and intimate first floor for private parties and couples, everyone enjoys this spot for a different reason. The menu changes weekly depending on seasonal produce and is alternated with some crowd pleasing favourites such as Mushroom and Asparagus Ravioli with Savoury Pain Perdu, Crab and Avocado Millefeuille with Wakame Emulsion and if you’re still up for it- Rich Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Mousse.

Derrière

69, rue des Gravilliers. 75003 Paris (Marias) + 33 1 44 61 91 95

Every day, lunch and dinner

Another gem in the Marais, you can literally walk up rue Tiquetonne and find 3-4 great addresses open year-round. If you didn’t know about this place you could easily walk past it but once inside you won’t want to leave. Great for an awesome meal or cocktail over sunset sitting in the buzzing courtyard or on the comfy, sexy lounges- the trendy and super friendly staff will show you true Parisian hospitality. Try the Grapefruit and Sweet Pea Salad, BBQ Chilli Oil Squid with Grilled Aubergine, Farm Chicken Poached in Red Wine Sauce and Prawns in Seafood Bisque served as Oeuf Cocotte.

Le Tir Bouchon

22 rue Tiquetonne 75002 Paris (Montorgueil/Etienne Marcel) +33 1 42 21 95 51

Open every day lunch and dinner, except Sunday lunch

This is one of my fail-proof favourites. Located in a romantic little laneway in the heart of Paris just off rue Montorgueil, you’re guaranteed to have of those “God I Love Paris” moments when you dine here. The food is mostly traditional French but you can also find slightly modernised takes on the classics. They make an awesome Tarte Tatin, Goats Cheese Salad with Sweet Balsamic, and a range of great pastas and ravioli- just don’t order the Pasta with Foie Gras Sauce if you want to be able to walk yourself out of the restaurant.

Mini Palais

3 Avenue Winston Churchill 75008 Paris (Champs Elysees in Grand Palais) +33 1 42 56 42 42

Open every day, lunch and dinner

If you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, gastronomic or romantic, you will love the Mini Palais. Boasting attentive ‘French style’ service and a location right off the Champs-Élysées next to the Grand Palais, and stroll from la Seine, Mini Palais also has a breathtaking view of the Eiffel tower. Signature dishes include Baked Escargot in Cherry Tomatoes with Almond Butter, Penne ‘Risotto’ with Chorizo and Basil, Pan-seared Scallops with Celeriac Purée and Coconut Emulsion, and their famous Baba Géant au Rhum. You can read a nice little anecdotal by Hilary Davis here

Cafe de la Paix

12, bd des Capucines (75009 Paris (Opera / 9eme)
+33 1 40 07 36 36

Open every day lunch and dinner, Sunday brunch

Open since 1862, originally to serve the Grand-Hôtel de la Paix , this famous café was designed by Charles Garnier, the architect of the Paris Opéra (located across the plaza). If you can get past the hefty price tag and manage to relax into the whole vibe of ‘Parisian arrogance’ that so we love to hate, then you will really enjoy a little piece of La Belle Epoque at this address over the course of a luxurious Sunday brunch or designer patisserie.

L’Arpège- Alain Passard

84 Rue de Varenne 75007 Paris
+33 1 45 51 47 33

Lunch and dinner degustation menus every day Monday – Friday.
Closed weekends.

Fortunately for us mere mortals, Alain Passard actually keeps the doors of his 3 Michelin star restaurant open for the entire summer. Moreover, unlike the restaurants of Ducasse or Robuchon where seeing ‘The Chef’ in the kitchen is like a rare celebrity sighting, Alain prides himself in maintaining a steady in-house presence at L’Arpège, where he can be seen gracefully fleeting between tables, personally welcoming and charming his already swooning, pleasure-state patrons.

Now, I’m no professional food writer so it’s somewhat intimidating to write about such a special place, but I can honestly tell you this: Alain is an alchemist, a magician, and a true artist. So if you’re planning a ‘special’ trip to Paris, then it’s quite simple really: forget about that Prada purchase… treat yourself to Passard! Purchases will one day be forgotten but dining experiences like this will last you a lifetime.

Colunching and Codining in Paris

If you’re travelling alone, like meeting locals or other expats when you visit new cities, would like to practice your French, or just love dining in a group environment, then co-lunching or co-dining is always a great option for visitors to Paris. This new concept is the hottest new thing in the city of lights and is fast becoming a huge hit in the US and soon in Oz. You just jump on the website and choose from one of the pre-organised dinner or lunch events happening that day/week then RSVP. You can see whom you will be dining with, which languages they speak, and you each pay only for what you ate, at the end of your meal. That way you are guaranteed a good table, good company and hopefully a good time making new friends. Check out the site here

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RESTAURANTS IN PARIS OPEN FIRST HALF OF AUGUST:

Spring Restaurant

(Closed 14th – 31st Aug)

6 rue Bailleul +33 1 45 96 05 72
Open Tuesday – Saturday for dinner, lunch on Friday only

Spring barely needs an introduction, given all the hype that this spot and Chef Daniel Rose have received since recently reopening. It’s ‘all on’ and nothing’s done by halves in this place, from their in-house baked bread through to the 64 Euro tasting menu which changes daily and features impressive dishes such as Duckling Stuffed with Apricots, Crispy Shredded Veal Breast with Orange Confit, Sparkling Sea Urchin, and Rich Chocolate Ganache with Salted Caramel and Chestnut. The moment plates land on the tables at Spring commands a dramatic moment of sacred silence, stalling the most animated of conversations. The atmosphere is kept chaud chaud chaud with a featured open kitchen and an expressive chef who isn’t exactly known for mincing words with his staff. Fortunately you can still enjoy one of the tops tables in Paris during the first half of August. If you can’t initially get a reservation, try calling again early afternoon on the day to see if there have been cancellations for that evening.

Retro Botegga

(Closed 13th – 22nd Aug)

12, rue Saint-Bernard, Paris 75011 +33 1 74 64 17 39

Open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am to 11 pm
Sundays 10 am – 2pm
Mondays 10am – 8.30pm

God I love this place. I hope I don’t regret promoting it on my blog, as there are only four tables in this special ‘Little Slice of Italy in Paris’- two inside and two outside.

Opened only five or so months ago by talented ex Rino Sommelier Pietro and charismatic business partner Salvatore, this Italian duo has recreated the heart of rustic Italy in the hip Oberkampf district of Paris. With an impressive selection of imported Italian wines, each personally matched to your tastes- you simply cannot have a non-eventful, unforgettable night in this place. Pietro is modest about his cooking abilities, but what he does in that tiny kitchen of his with simple ingredients, top quality fresh produce and a retro charcuterie slicer is really something else.

Claude Colliot

(Closed 13th – 31st August)
40 rue des Blancs-Manteaux 75004 Paris +33 1 42 71 55 45

Open Monday to Saturday

This is one of my favourite styles of cuisine. Light, refined, inventive, delicate and produced with strict respect for fresh produce of the season. Signature dishes include Oyster Sorbet, White Asparagus and Rhubarb, Girolle Mushrooms with Apricots Pochés, Capucines-Jaune d’oeuf entire, fresh almonds (dairy free), and Smoked Volaille à la Reglisse. A three-course lunch menu is only $29 Euros.

A gorgeous meal that’s light on both the calorie and travel budget allowance- gotta love that.

Le Chardenoux des Près

(Closed 14th – 22nd August)

27 rue du Dragon, 75006 Paris + 33 1 45 48 29 68

Open every day lunch and dinner

The latest concept by Cyril Lignac, this chic French bistro in Saint Germain is a great spot for visitors seeking well-executed French bistro classics cooked with love and French flair. Dishes include pâté de canard en croûte, émietté de tourteau et salade de pommes de terre, carpaccio de dorade au gingembre, curry de lotte, tartare (au couteau) frites, côte de cochon noir de Bigorre au saté, riz au lait, and profiteroles.

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RESTAURANTS IN PARIS OPEN SECOND HALF OF AUGUST:

Ze Kitchen Galerie

(Closed 31st July- 15th August)

4 rue des Grands Augustins 75006 Paris +33 1 44 32 00 32
Open Monday – Saturday lunch and dinner, closed Saturday lunch

A great address for lovers of inventive, modern, risk-taking fusion French food. Especially if you prefer flavour to portion size, a great wine list, and appreciate open gallery style kitchen and well-designed loft spaces, this is your address for the second half of August. Menu includes Miso Wagyu Beef, Shrimp and Crab Ravioli with Thai Basil Pesto, and White Chocolate Wasabi Ice-cream with Lychee Jasmine Emulsion. Hungry yet?

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Here is an interactive map of this guide on Journly with each address pinned to its location.

Map of paris restaurants open in august on journly.com

Click through for an interactive map of these addresses on Journly.com

If you liked this guide, check out more like this on TravelSort

And just finish painting the Paris picture, here’s one of my favourite photographs by Robert Doisneau: “Les Coiffeusses au soleil”/ “The Hairdresses in the Sun” PARIS 1966.

Les Coiffeusses au soleil, Paris, 1966 by Robert Doisneau

Les Coiffeusses au soleil, Paris, 1966 by Robert Doisneau

Enjoy your trip to Paris and if you have any of your own favourites or personal dining stories from a past summer visit to the city of lights, feel free to drop in a comment below.

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