Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Paris

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Paris

Article excerpt

THIS is the time to be dining in Paris. When I wrote about Parisian restaurants early last year there were just eight and a half francs to the pound, and even then there were bargains to be had. How much more so now that a pound buys ten francs, making most Parisian restaurants seem distinctly cheap, and even the more expensive ones reasonable when compared with the inflated prices of fashion-conscious London establishments. That, of course, is the nub of it: Parisian restaurants can certainly be chic, but they do not set out to impress either by fashion or the fame of their clientele. They are about eating and drinking in agreeable surroundings and agreeable company, not, as here in London, about `theatre'. Long may it last.

My recent week in Paris produced one delicious meal after another in establishments that were neither expensive nor 'smart', save the last, Le Carre des Feuillants, liked by President Chirac and, on the night I ate there, patronised by a young Parisian 'BCBG' brigade, yet having in its proprietor Alain Dutournier, from near Bayonne, a brilliant chef at the helm. Even there the six-course `Idees de la saison' menu (plus amuse-bouche, canapes and petits fours) costs just 68 a head, with their own skilful selection of four accompanying wines priced at 19 a head, so that the entire meal, service included, costs just 87 per person: not cheap, but certainly far less than a London equivalent.

Before this final treat chez Dutournier there had been much to enjoy at more modest but no less meticulous establishments. In rue St Andre-des-Arts in the Latin Quarter, the intimate `restaurant du quartier' Chez Allard has been giving pleasure for decades. Thirty years ago, when M. Allard was still in command, Michelin gave it the remarkable rating of one knife and fork and two cooking stars, something one would not find today when the priorities set by the Guide have radically changed. Thus now, its premises cleaned but not changed, and owned and run by the Layrac brothers, formerly of the nearby Petit Zinc and Muniche, Allard retains its single Michelin knife and fork, and has lost its stars, but not the capacity to provide delicious, modestly priced food and wines, and enormous joie de vivre.

When I dined at Allard with three Parisian friends on a chilly mid-April evening, we were amused to note how many English customers had taken refuge from the cold, and how happy they seemed. At Allard the three-course set dinner comes at Fr200 (20), and most dishes are also to be found on the a la carte, which is scarcely more expensive. We all settled for the set dinner and were delighted to have done so. Annie and her husband PierreHenri much approved their terrine de foie de volaille truffe, with the hint of bitterness that bespeaks a satisfactorily high percentage of chicken livers, Stephanie was delighted with her salade des haricots et magret de canard fume - a winning combination - and I was entirely happy with my impeccably made, utterly traditional plate of jambon persille. Next, Pierre-Henri and I shared a gloriously cooked whole duck, buried beneath a positive grove of olives (an Allard speciality back in the Sixties), Annie much enjoyed her braised calf's kidneys au madere, and Stephanie strongly approved the plat du jour of tasty navarin of lamb. Pierre-Henri and I shared a tarte a la rhubarbe, admirably astringent, for dessert, Annie indulged in a gorgeous symphonie aux trois chocolats - a cake in three movements - and Stephanie settled for the day's lime sorbet. With coffee and a fine magnum of Chateau Ramage la Batisse (Medoc) 1993 - a bargain at 40 - our entire meal came to just over 130 for four. …

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