Interview by Nick McGrath, The Daily Telegraph, September 05, 2013
I grew up in a small village in the Franche-Comté region so I didn’t really discover Paris until I was in my twenties. I was blown away by the sheer scale of everything. Paris is about grandeur and beauty but it also has a magnitude of cultural, artistic and literary diversions.
Anything special I should pack?
Make sure you pack something for indigestion relief because you will almost certainly eat well.
What do you miss most when you’re away?
I miss less about Paris now that London’s food scene is as strong as that of Paris. But I do love the anticipation of knowing that each time I visit Paris I will uncover something new.
What’s the first thing you do?
If it’s after midday I’ll enjoy a glass of champagne. If it’s earlier than that I’ll have a croissant on the terrace of a café. For me, Paris is about celebrating food.
Les Deux Magots, an old favourite of Raymond Blanc
Where’s the best place to stay?
If you’re on a budget, Le Hotel Daniel (0033 1 4256 1700; hoteldanielparis.com ) is a very romantic place to stay. It’s tiny and I like the cosiness of it. I also love Le Royal Monceau (4299 8800; leroyalmonceau.com ), which is very expensive but has just been redesigned by Philippe Starck and now houses the biggest collection of modern art of any hotel in Paris. It’s vibrant and quirky but still manages to feel intimate. A word of warning about the loos though: they warm up, vibrate and even shoot jets of water at you, so make sure you press the right button (there are seven) for the right function.
Where would you meet friends for a drink?
The Laurent (4225 0039; le-laurent.com ), which is close to the Champs-Élysées, has a lovely terrace bar, a great atmosphere and was once a favourite of Louis XIV.
And the best place for lunch?
Pierre Gagnaire (5836 1250; pierre-gagnaire.com ). Pierre is an artist – one of the best chefs in Europe. His food is modern, clean, well-defined and the menu changes daily.
And for dinner?
Alain Passard’s L’Arpège (4705 0906; alain-passard.com ). His vegetable dishes are a work of art. Everyone thought he was crazy, a sorcerer and he was often derided. For me Alain Passard is one of the greatest French chefs and what he does with vegetables is magical. The last dish I ate there completely shook me: egg marinated in truffle into which he had injected some very old vinegar. Divine.
Where would you send a first-time visitor?
The markets in Paris are among the best in the world and there are two that every English person should visit. The first is the Marché des Enfants Rouges (39 Rue de Bretagne; closed Monday), which was created way back in the 1600s. It’s wonderful. The other is Marché Ave du Président Wilson (between rue Debrousse and Place d’Iéna), which is even better. It’s a whole street of the most extraordinary food. The last time I was there I spent three wonderful hours. I’d also recommend a trip down the Seine on the Bateau Mouche (4225 9610; bateaux-mouches.fr ), which might sound touristy but there is no better way to discover the city.
A trip down the Seine on a Bateau Mouche is a great way to discover Paris
What should I avoid?
The tourist cafés around Montmartre.
Public transport or taxi?
The Metro system is pretty good. Like London and other major cities in the world it can be overcrowded but it’s also much more affordable than London. Taxis? London taxis should be praised and appreciated as a national treasure. I’ve never seen so much professionalism, deep knowledge of every single back street, and courtesy. In comparison, there are never enough French taxis – if you arrive at Gare du Nord from the Eurostar it is total chaos and you will have to wait two hours for a taxi, which creates a terrible first impression.
Manbag or moneybelt?
Paris is as safe as any large city but be careful in Montmartre – if you don’t keep your hands in your pockets your wallet may not be there at the end of the day.
What I should bring home?
A bit of lingerie for your girl or a lovely Camembert.
Anywhere that isn’t your kind of town?
I have some very bad memories of Metz in France. I spent some time there in the army and it was always cold and the experience was tough for me. It wasn’t a positive time in my life.
- Raymond Blanc’s autumn cookery courses run on four consecutive Wednesdays from September 11. For more information, visit manoir.com .