Natasha Edwards, The Daily Telegraph, March 10, 2014
Paris is home to many exceptional restaurants, but finding one that can also be relied upon for professional, courteous service and an inviting ambiance can occasionally prove tricky. Among the French capital's vast array of eateries, the below can be relied upon to deliver wonderful cuisine and a dining experience to remember.
Pierre Gagnaire, Champs-Elysées
A discovery trail of French cuisine from one of the most inventive chefs around today, who often finds inspiration in painting and jazz. The pared-back dining room provides the stage for a panoply of dishes, from minuscule appetisers – a tuna meringue, a clam with diced veg – to a whirlwind of desserts, all propelled by a fleet of lithe waiters. Although Pierre Gagnaire is often associated with molecular cuisine in his collaborations with scientist Hervé This, this is real food, not froths and foams, with perfect seasoning and an extraordinary variety of flavours and textures. The lunch menu is a relatively accessible way to sample this extraordinary cuisine.
Le Jules Verne, Eiffel Tower
The extraordinary setting 400ft (122 metres) up the Eiffel Tower (reached by the restaurant’s own lift, south pillar) takes the stuffiness out of grand-occasion dining with a suave decor by Patrick Jouin and nonchalant waiters who don’t bat an eyelid when you get up to take photos. Since being taken into the Ducasse empire, Le Jules Verne has improved its food to match the views, with a modern take on grand classics by Pascal Féraud, right down to a chocolate bolt dessert in homage to the 2.5 million bolts that hold the tower together. Note dress is smart— not the shorts and T-shirts of usual Eiffel Tower visitors.
Agapé Substance, St-Germain-des-Prés
This tiny, white minimalist restaurant in a former art gallery quickly got Parisians talking when it opened at the end of 2011. It serves a stream of tiny, surprise dishes to an urbane St-Germain set, who exchange foodie opinions along the long communal table. New young chef Gaëtan Gentil puts the focus on fine produce such as sole and duck, and inventive pairings, perhaps beef with spring onions and brown ale sauce, chervil with sea urchins and chestnuts, peach with shiso, all accompanied by well-chosen natural and organic wines. It also proposes a menu with a selection of wines to go with the dishes.
Smart Parisians, international exhibition-goers and business lunchers eye each other in this chic, cosmopolitan update of the Parisian brasserie set inside the belle époque Grand Palais . "Mini" is perhaps a misnomer for the spectacular dining room that is inspired by an artist's studio, or the tables outdoors, stretching away under the colonnade. The menu devised by Eric Frechon, Michelin three-star chef at Le Bristol, mixes classic and contemporary — squid pil pil, curried prawns, steak tartare, and a giant rum baba for two. As well as lunch and dinner, you can come here for gourmet snacks, afternoon tea and evening cocktails, and there's an ice-cream bar in summer.
Mon Vieil Ami, Ile St-Louis
This sleek, chic, gourmet bistro on the main thoroughfare of the Ile St-Louis is masterminded by Strasbourg chef Antoine Westermann, who puts the emphasis on revisited French regional cooking. Vegetables get pride of place in dishes like Tarbais beans and lamb, or guinea fowl with chanterelle mushrooms and spinach, and there's even a vegetarian menu that changes with the season. The high-ceilinged, 17th-century dining room has been stylishly updated and the tightly packed tables and one high communal table ensure a lively atmosphere, perfect for eavesdropping. A favourite option for Sunday lunch, when many bistros are closed.
Lazare, Grands Boulevards
Lazare was the culinary arrival of autumn 2013, as Hotel Bristol chef Eric Frechon reinvented the all-day, train station brasserie. The setting is wonderful: a vast room, its walls stacked with plates and glasses, and two blackboards like arrival and departure panels announcing the stages through the day. The restaurants is located at the station serving Normandy, and Normandy-born Frechon has revised some hearty regional specialities – soused mackerel, mussels, sole Dieppoise — as well as house creation Paris-Deauville, his version of the famous Paris-Brest dessert. A hit with local businessmen as well as travellers, it's also a good place for dining alone, with seats around the large island bar.
Since this classic, upmarket St-Germain bistro was taken over by Alain Ducasse in 2013, he has done what he is so good at. He has kept it exactly the same - the sequence of little rooms, the age-old French dishes that have become surprisingly hard to find - but made it much better. Try starters like tender green bean salad or snails, then garlicky frogs' legs, buttery sole meunière or Allard's classic duck with olives served for two, and a rum savarin with whipped cream to finish. Service blends friendliness and professionalism, and Ducasse protegée Laëtitia Rouabah continues the Allard tradition of female chefs (begun by Marthe Allard back in 1932). A place where nostalgia tastes delicious.
Overlooking the garden at the Shangri-La Hotel, L'Abeille (The Bee - after the Napoleonic symbol) is one of the more discreeet, recent haute cuisine arrivals. But it is a notable addition to the Parisian restaurant scene, for the beautifully prepared, almost intellectual cuisine of Philippe Labbé, who arrived here from Le Chèvre d'Or at Eze. In a menu full of luxury products, he makes interesting associations and clever use of textures – why not foie gras baked with cocoa and quinces, or veal with tiny clams? – and I love the unusual, not-too-sweet desserts. The hotel also contains the Shang Palace Cantonese restaurant, and the all-day Franco-Asian restaurant La Bauhinia.
Bertrand Grébaut is one of the rising young stars of French cuisine, with a restaurant that's always full, a phone that's never answered, a Michelin star, and a wine bar offshoot around the corner. In a revolt against the stuffiness of grand restaurants, the look here is distressed bistro casual and industrial lighting, but the cuisine is polished, complex and painstakingly mastered. He changes his menu every day, with a focus on vegetables – no doubt learned from his stint at Alain Passard's Arpège – and offers a no-choice, six-stage menu at dinner. Reserve on the web well ahead for dinner, though there's more chance of a table for lunch.
Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse, Louvre
After months of speculation as to who would take over the grand kitchens and blowsy rococo dining room at Le Meurice following the departure of Yannick Alleno, the solution has slotted into place with the temporary closure of the Plaza Athénée and the transfer of Alain Ducasse's gastronomic restaurant. It's still in the hands of young chef Christophe Saintagne but here Ducasse has unveiled his new orientation, in a return to fundamentals centred on the excellence of the produce and the seasons – equally pared back on the menu, listed simply "scallops, Alba truffles", "turbot, olives" or "spiced lamb, artichokes". Jacket and tie recommended.
Les Cocottes, Invalides
Christian Constant, once three-Michelin-starred chef at the Crillon, inspired a whole generation of chefs to go it alone before doing so himself. This is his variant on the modern diner, where you sit on stools along the counter (ideal if you're alone or a couple), or at small, high tables for three or four in the company of chic ladies and a set from nearby embassies and ministries. There are a few starters and comfort desserts, but it is the cocottes, dishes simmered slowly in a black, cast-iron cocotte or casserole, that count. Combinations go from rustic pig's trotters and potatoes to grander monkfish and vegetables or pigeon. Constant has two other restaurants next door: dressy Violin d'Ingres and casual all-day Cafe Constant.
Thanks to its spectacular location at the top of the Centre Pompidou and futuristic architecture, you don't really come to Georges for the food, but for the fashionable crowd and fabulous panoramic view. By day, it's popular largely with museum-goers, by night it's less an art crowd than a fashion one, with DJs at the decks and a volume that pumps up. As for the food, it's modish cosmopolitan brasserie fare with fusion touches (try the famed Tigre qui Pleur - sliced steak with Thai spices). Staff with attitude are all part of the experience. After 8.50pm, access is by the rue Rambuteau end of the escalator.
Haunt of politicians and powerbrokers for its proximity to the Elysée Palace and perfect, discreet service – as well as the occasional rock star. This is one of the nicest places to eat outdoors in Paris, with its well-spaced tables set in gardens on the lower reaches of the Champs-Elysées. In winter, you dine inside the circular dining room hung with portraits. Chef Alain Pégouret modernises haute cuisine. He treats his dishes a bit like an artist's palette, perhaps the spider crab jelly served in a cocktail glass, hake marbled with green seaweed and samphire, or the palette of vegetables that might be different coloured tomatoes in summer, root vegetables in winter. There's an incredible wine list to match.
Ze Kitchen Galerie, St-Germain-des-Prés
William Ledeuil is one of those rare chefs who has got fusion just right at his convivial, gourmet restaurant . Or, rather, he has created his own distinctive Franco-Asian style, marrying Lozère lamb and French fish with Asian herbs and condiments, like wasabi and Thai basil. Dinner comes with mystery amuse-gueules, and many dishes use raw or plancha-grilled preparations, perhaps veal confit with tamarind, scallops with bergamot. Desserts are original, too. And it's called Kitchen Galerie because you see can see Ledeuil and his team at work in the open kitchen, and the dining area is a loft-like space with modern art on the walls.
Le Chateaubriand, Belleville
Self-taught chef Inaki Aizpitarte is a phenomenon and you can see why. I love the contrast between the 1930s bistro setting, casual mood and famously handsome stubbly waiters and the finesse that arrives from the kitchen in a surprise menu handed out on A4 photocopied paper. I'm often wary of no-choice menus, but Aizpitarte's instinctive, creative cooking is as good as ever, with its mastery of different textures and sometimes ingenious simplicity – including on my last visit asparagus with elderflower, and delicate sweetbreads. What is ostensibly five courses is actually much more, with amuse-gueules to pick up, drink or suck through a straw. Reserve for early dinner, or take a chance and queue for later. Reservations are essential 7.30pm-8.30pm, but not possible after 9.30pm.
These recommendations, and many more, are found in the free Telegraph Travel Guides app . The app features a complete expert guide to the best of Paris by our resident expert Natasha Edwards, and also includes expert guides to destinations including Rome, New York, Malta and Amsterdam.
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