The Paris restaurant scene has sprung back into life. That may sound like a bizarre observation considering its reputation as the gastronomic capital of the world. However, throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Paris sat haughtily on its laurels, ignoring the food revolution that was taking place from Sydney to LA. The Michelin starred establishments continued to hike up their prices serving predictable food with lots of foams, gels and ‘skid marks’ on the plates, plus liquid pearls, powders, swirls and fronds unaware or un-phased by the change in millennial eating habits and taste.
Then Daniel Rose opened Spring in 2006 and Greg Marchand followed in 2009 with Frenchie on Rue-de-Nel – a breath of fresh air, simple fresh contemporary food made with superb ingredients. The media and customers flocked eager for change and the revolution was born and so it continues.
As criticism grows about the astronomical prices and poor value for money offered by many of the Michelin starred restaurants, a whole plethora of tiny restaurants, bistros, cafés and coffee bars have sprung up all over the city, serving small plates and sharing platters of simple delicious food. I squashed into as many as possible over a busy weekend in Paris recently – most don’t take reservations so you’ll need to be prepared to queue but all of the following are worth the wait.
Here are my top picks:
La Buvette on Rue Saint-Maur, not to be confused with another of my favourites, Buvette in Manhattan. This tiny restaurant chalks up the menus on a mirror on the wall – close to the tiny open kitchen. I loved the huge meltingly tender white haricot beans with cedre zest and extra virgin olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt. This was followed by a tiny burrata rolled in mandarin dust and a super coarse terrine with pickled pears and some sourdough bread. I still had room for the pickled egg with black sesame and bonita flakes. I love this kind of food, edgy and delicious but possible to recreate at home.
Sometimes you only need to be famous for just one thing….In the case of tiny Comme à Libonne on Rue du Roi de Sicile in Le Marais it’s their Portuguese custard tart. There will be a queue all along the sidewalk. They bake just 24 tarts at a time…they are snapped up like the proverbial hotcakes. If you are lucky there may be space along a tiny shelf in the shop to enjoy with a cup of espresso with your little treat.
Fed up and disheartened by ‘no shows’, many of the chicest places no longer take bookings. There was an hour and a half wait for Clamato, a seafood restaurant on Rue de Charonne. So we had a little plate of some saucisson and a couple of glasses of natural wine from their superb list at Septime, a tiny wine bar across the road.
Eventually we gave up on Clamato and had dinner at Semilla, a much talked about and now super busy restaurant serving modern French food.
Veal sweetbreads with salsify confit was the stand out dish rather better than some of the more bizarre combinations e.g. sea urchins with coffee mousse.
Watch Parisians shop, there are numerous markets around Paris, check out the nearest Farmers Markets to where you are staying by searching for Farmers Markets on Google Maps. On Sunday, the organic market on Rue Raspail is worth an amble although, quality didn’t seem as good as hitherto.
There are many coffee bars serving superb brews. Try Télescope on 5 Rue Villedo but it’s closed on Sunday. Farine & O on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoin and Ten Belles on Rue de la Grange aux Belles are also worth a detour. As is Boot Café, a hole in the wall on Rue du Pont aux Choux.
Mokonuts, on Rue Saint-Bernard is a definite favourite, can’t wait to go back for breakfast, brunch or dinner. It’s a tiny café run by Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem. Loved the labneh on toast with olives and the flatbread with sumac and melted scarmosa on top. They also make what is perhaps the best chocolate chip and oatmeal cookie I have ever eaten, plus superb coffee.
E Dehillerin on Rue Coquillière is like Hamleys or Smyths Toys for cook and chefs. Every time I visit, I feel like a kid in a candy shop surrounded by tempting cookware and gadgets in this ‘no frills’ store which has remained pretty much the same since it first opened in 1820, narrow aisles, wooden shelves and metal canisters full of superb quality utensils. Just around the corner on Rue Montmartre, you’ll find M.O.R.A., another iconic cook and bakeware store, that also sells a huge range of cake decorations and baubles for pastry chefs Both shops are geared towards culinary professionals but also welcome keen cooks.
Paris is full of exciting patisserie; swing by Yann Couvreur Pâtisserie, Courou in the Marais and La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet on Rue de Castiglione
L’As du Fallafel on rue des Roses is justly famous for its falafel.
Sunday brunch was at Racines, a bistro in the charming Passage des Panoramas Arcade
A whole series of little plates of real food from the chalk board, the least ‘cheffie’ but elegantly earthy comfort food. Loved his winter tomato salad with extra virgin olive oil or the pan grilled scallops on mashed potato and dill. No swirls, pearls, powder or fronds here, just real food and a suberb natural wine list.
Breizh Café on Rue Vieille du Temple, is another good spot for breakfast or lunch….
A long weekend is nowhere long enough and I haven’t even mentioned chocolatiers, cheese shops or cocktail bars. Daily flights to Paris from Cork, Dublin, Shannon….
Yemeni Style Falafel
Sarit and Itamar shared this recipe with us at a recent visit to Ballymaloe Cookery School. They are returning this summer, see hot tips below for details…
Itamar is a quarter Yemeni on his grandfather’s side. This falafel is a tribute to that heritage, and it is great – the traditional Yemeni combo of coriander, cardamom and garlic makes it super-vibrant in colour and flavour.
Makes 20 approximately (25g/1oz weight)
1/2 onion (approx. 60g/2 1/4oz)
1 clove of garlic (peeled)
250g (9oz) soaked chickpeas (125g (4 1/2oz) dried)
1 green chilli, seeds and all
3 springs of parsley, picked
1 small bunch of coriander (about 15-20g/1/2 – 3/4oz), leaves and top part of stems only
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons garam flour (use plain if needs be)
1 teaspoon baking powder
To make the falafel
If using a meat grinder.
Use the coarse grinder blade if you have one we find it gives the best texture. Cut the onion and garlic into dice so that you can easily feed them through the grinder. Mince the chickpeas, onions, garlic, chilli and herbs into a bowl.
Add all the spices, salt, flour and baking powder and mix well to a very thick mass.
If using a food processor.
Start with the onion, garlic, chilli and herbs and pulse them to chop roughly, then add the chickpeas and blitz until everything becomes a thick paste with small, even-sized bits. You may need to scrape the sides down and blitz for another pulse or two to make sure that everything is evenly chopped, but do not overwork. The best way to check whether it is done enough is to scoop up a small amount and squeeze it together in your palm – it should hold its shape. If it falls apart, return it to the processor for another spin. Tip the mixture into a large bowl, add the spices, salt, flour and baking powder and mix until all is combined well.
Preheat the deep fry 170C/325F.
Test the oil temperature by placing a small piece of bread or falafel mix in the hot oil – as soon as it starts to bubble up and float, you are ready to go.
You can shape the falafel mix in a few different ways:
Use damp hands and make little balls or torpedo shapes or you can simply drop in spoonfuls of the mixture for free-form falafel. You want to be making them about the size of a walnut, no bigger, so that they cook through and crisp up at the same time.
Carefully place the falafel in the oil – don’t overcrowd the pan and fry until the exterior is browned and crisped (about 2-3 minutes). Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil and repeat the process until you have fried them all.
Serve immediately with tahini (see recipe).
The quality of your tahini depends hugely on the type of tahini paste you use.
We use Al-Yaman from Lebanon which is delicious, but if you are lucky enough to find any of the Palestinian varieties, especially the Prince and Dove brands, you are in for a treat. As a rule, you are looking for something from Lebanon, Palestine or Turkey.
We make our tahini in a food processor, as it gives a smooth, airy, mousse-like texture, but you can achieve good results with a bowl, a spoon and some wrist action.
Makes about 240g (8 3/4oz)
125g (4 1/2oz) tahini paste
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
a pinch of salt, plus more to taste
juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste
about 120ml (4 1/3fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) water
Place the tahini, minced garlic, salt and lemon juice in a bowl or food processor, add half the water and mix. It will go thick and pasty but don’t fear – just continue adding water while mixing until it loosens up to a creamy texture. Don’t be tempted to add too much water as the mixture will go runny, but if this happens, you can always bring it back with a little extra tahini paste. Taste and adjust salt and lemon to suit your taste buds.
You can keep tahini in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days, but it will thicken and the flavour may need adjusting with a little more salt and/or lemon. As a result we think it’s best to make it and eat it the same day – fresh is best.
Recipe courtesy of ‘Honey & Co – Food from the Middle-East’.
Scallops with Dill Mash and Beurre Blanc
A delectable combination, scallops are really good at the moment.
900g (2 lbs) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk approx.
25-50g (1-2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil
4 – 6 tablespoons freshly chopped dill
Beurre Blanc see recipe below.
Sprigs of fresh dill and dill flowers.
Slice the scallops in half and keep the corals aside, cover and chill.
First make the dill mash. Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for ‘old’ potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are fully cooked. Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, mash while hot (see below). (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).
While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about 300ml (10fl oz/1 1/4 cups) of milk to the boil. Add enough boiling creamy milk into the hot mashed potato to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, add the freshly chopped dill and then beat in the butter or olive oil, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Keep hot. Next make the beurre blanc.
Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the potato will be lumpy and gluey.
Heat a non stick pan. Sprinkle the scallops with a little flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook the scallops for 1 minute on each side, until they are barely coloured.
Spoon a dollop of hot dill mash on each plate. Scatter 5 – 6 pieces of scallop and 2 pieces of coral on top of the mash.
Drizzle some Beurre Blanc over the top and around the edge, add a few sprigs of dill and dill flowers if you have them and serve.
Beurre Blanc Sauce
Makes about 250ml (8fl oz)
Beurre blanc is super rich, however a little served with freshly poached fish is exquisite.
3 tablespoons dry white wine
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
pinch of ground white pepper
1 tablespoon cream
175g (6oz) unsalted butter, diced
salt, freshly ground pepper
freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put the first four ingredients into a heavy stainless steel saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and reduce down to about a tablespoon. Add 1 generous tablespoon of cream and reduce again until the cream begins to thicken. Whisk in the chilled butter a couple of piece at a time, keeping the sauce just warm enough to absorb the butter. Season with salt, taste and add a little lemon juice if necessary. Strain through a fine sieve. Transfer to a pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot but not boiling water. Keep warm until needed.
Keep warm in a flask until needed. Beurre Blanc can curdle if the pan gets too hot. If this should happen put 1-2 tablespoons of cream into a clean saucepan, reduce to about half, then vigorously whisk in the curdled mixture, little by little. Serve as quickly as possible. The flavour will be a little ‘softer’ so a little more lemon juice may be needed to sharpen it up and cut the richness.
Labneh on Sourdough Toast with Za’atar and Olives
This is my interpretation of the delicious Labneh Toast at Mokonuts in Paris.
2 slices of sourdough bread
1 large clove of garlic
4 tablespoons of Labneh (dripped natural yoghurt) (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons za’atar
4 black Kalamata olives, halved and stoned
Pinch of Aleppo pepper
1 generous teaspoon chopped pistachio nuts
First mix the za’atar, with the oil, chopped pistachio nuts, a pinch of Aleppo pepper and a little flaky sea salt.
Toast or pan grill the sourdough bread, rub with a cut clove of garlic. Spread with a generous layer of labneh, drizzle with the za’atar oil, add 4 black olive halves. Serve immediately.
Labneh (dripped natural yoghurt)
Use whole-milk yogurt for a creamier cheese – this can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can also use commercial yogurt.
Makes 500g (18oz) labneh approx.
1kg (2 1/4lb) natural yoghurt
To make the labneh, line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend the bag of yogurt over a bowl.
Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Jersey milk yogurt is thicker and needs only 2–3 hours to drip. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey that has drained off can be fed to pigs or hens or used for fermented dishes and in whey lemonade.
Portuguese Custard Tarts
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
115g golden caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
400ml whole milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
900g (2lb) puff pastry
Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Put the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth.
Cook on a medium heat and stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract.
Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool. Cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.
Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs. Press into the muffin tins.
Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case. Bake in the preheated oven for 16-20 minutes or golden on top. Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack. Eat warm or at room temperature.
Dorie Greenspan managed to discover the secret of these cookies and shared it in the New York Times so here you go.
Makes approx. 20 cookies
Once the dough is made and formed into balls, it should be refrigerated overnight before baking. Fresh from the oven, the cookies are fragile; they firm as they cool. They’ll keep for about three days at room temperature or they can be frozen for up to two months; in either case, they should be wrapped well.
130g medium rye flour
85 all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon sea salt (grind in a pestle)
½ teaspoon baking soda
100g light brown sugar
1 large egg
50g poppy seeds
80g moist, plump dried cranberries (plump in hot water)
110g bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks (62%)
flaky sea salt
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
Mix the rye flour, plain white flour, baking powder, fine sea salt and baking soda in a bowl.
Cream the soft butter and both sugars together in a food mixer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, and beat well for a minute or two. Reduce the speed, add the dry ingredients, then mix until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Then add the poppy seeds, cranberries and chocolate.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 15 – 20 pieces, roll each piece into a ball (40g approx.) and arrange on the baking sheet leaving space for expansion, about 5cm (2 inch).
Note: Cover, and refrigerate the dough for an hour or better still overnight or for up to 3 days. (If you’d like, you can wrap the balls airtight and freeze them for up to 1 month. Defrost them overnight in the fridge before baking.)
Sprinkle each cookie with a little flaky salt.
Bake for 10 minutes, pull the baking sheet from the oven and, using a metal spatula, a pancake turner or the bottom of a glass, tap each cookie lightly. Let the cookies rest on the sheet for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, always using cold dough and a cool baking sheet.
Serve after the cookies have cooled for about 10 minutes, or wait until they reach room temperature.