Le Gastrotour de France: the Paris weekend stage

With its prolific culinary heritage, the French capital has long had a reputation as one of the top cities in the world for gastronomy. However, I’ve found that eating well in Paris doesn’t necessarily come easy. For starters, getting a table at the city’s best restaurants often requires a fair bit of effort and advance planning. The inherent language barrier coupled with a lack of online bookings often makes reservations from abroad a bit of a pain. On top of that, if you are only visiting for the weekend, lookout for some erratic opening times. Ironically, many places are only open from Monday to Fridays. This makes weekend dining options (especially on Sundays) particularly sparse. And of course, there’s attractions aplenty in Paris, resulting in the inevitable tourist trap meal when good food intentions are overcome by convenience and hunger.

However, get past the tourist distractions and invest a bit of time plotting your meals and you will be rewarded with some truly delightful and memorable eats. Whether it’s haute cuisine, phenomenal Pho or just a good old-fashioned bistro meal, Paris has it all. Here are 3 of my favourite picks from our recent Parisian weekend away.

1. Vivant Table | www.vivantparis.com | 43 Rue des Petites Écuries, 75010 Paris (10th Arr.)

Stepping out of the metro in the 10th arrondissement feels more like Brooklyn, New York than your typical Parisian neighbourhood. There’s an edgy, vibrant energy about this up and coming district that’s attracted urbanites, artists and hipsters in their droves here. And with that energy gathering in momentum, this once anonymous neighbourhood has fast become home to bustling bars, innovative restaurants and a thriving cafe culture.

Look around lesser known districts like the 10th arrondisement and you will notice a new breed of restaurant that has emerged on the Paris food scene of late. Gone are the lengthy, a la carte menus of old. In their place, trimmed-down set menus led by seasonal, market-driven produce. Gone are the bulky, encyclopaedic wine lists with pages and pages to sift through. Instead, the trend has moved to shorter, well-curated wine lists featuring biodynamic and organic varieties. Few places in Paris have championed this movement more than the wonderful Vivant Table.

Vivant Table @ 43 Rue des Petites Écuries (10th Arr.)

Set in a charmingly restored Aviary with the quaintest of hand-painted tiles throughout, the quality of the food coming out of Vivant Table’s minuscule, shoe box kitchen is quite extraordinary. Japanese-born, Robuchon-alumni Atsumi Sota is the masterchef at the helm here. And with the help of just one other kitchen assistant, 20 diners are treated to an impeccably crafted, French-influenced degustation menu (€65 / person for 6 courses) each night. Highlights form our meal included a stunning St Jacque scallop dish with the smokiest of smoked turnips and a gorgeous Chocolate Terrine with Black olives.

To go with the food, Vivant have curated a unique collection of natural, biodynamic wines – free of sulphites and any other unnecessary additives. The one of a kind Loire valley wine we had that night tasted like a cross between a semi-sparkling white and dry cider. ‘Living wines’, they call them here and the saying comes as no surprise. These wines really do take on a life of their own on the palate.

Long live this little gem in Paris’ 10th district is all I can say.

2. Song Heng | 3 Rue Volta, 75003 Paris (3rd Arr.) 

This teeny, tiny hole in the wall in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement only has two things on it’s menu: Bun Bo and Pho. Judging by how busy it was even at 3pm in the middle of the afternoon, that’s all they are ever going to need on the menu.

As far as Bun Bos go, Song Heng’s version was pretty respectable. The lemongrass-infused beef was succulent and nicely char-grilled. Their spicy fish sauce dressing to accompany the vermicelli was well-balanced and flavoursome. But all this pales in comparison to their phenomenal Pho. The broth was incredibly full-bodied, bursting with beefy goodness and aromatic spices. The noodles were fresh and silky smooth to bite. And all the vegetable garnishes had that crunchy, just-picked freshness. The other half and I have had our fair share of Pho over the years in everywhere from Saigon to some of London’s top Vietnamese restaurants. This beats them all.

Song Heng @ Rue Volta (3rd. Arr.)

Seating is very, VERY tight and be expected to share tables with Parisians from all walks of life. But at €7.50 for a regular bowl and €9 for large, it’s easily one of the best budget lunches in Paris if not all of Europe. Our only regret? Not paying that couple euros extra for the large portion.

Is this the best bowl of Pho in the world? Well, it’s certainly a contender in my eyes.

3. Le Bistrot Paul Bert | 18 Rue Paul Bert, 75011 Paris (11th Arr.)

If it’s the quintessential bistro meal you are after, it doesn’t get more quintessential than everybody’s favourite bistro: Le Bistrot Paul Bert. Regarded as one of Paris’ best bistros, its off the beaten track location in the 11th Arrondissement and large premises spread over 3 rooms doesn’t make it any less busy, so book ahead (or try your luck with a late lunch walk-in at 230pm as we did).

Take the lead of the old guard Parisians dining round you and opt for signature classics like their Steak Frites, Sole Meuniere or ginormous, hazelnut cream-filled Paris Brest. The menu changes frequently, but these age-old favourites tend to be regulars on their old-school, chalk board menu (€38 for 3 prix fixe courses), which gets plonked on a chair in front of you while you decide your order.

Le Bistrot Paul Bert @ Rue Paul Bert (11th Arr.) 

Still feeling rather stuffed from last night’s dinner, we opted instead for some of their lighter, Med-inspired dishes. Fried squid with lemon confit was delicious – the salty and acidic lemon working wonders with the still-tender, flash-fried squid. Iberico Pork loin, though simply roasted was a case of ‘less is more’: the meat – succulent and juicy… the sauce – clear with the perfect consistency and seasoning. And with an airy, wonderfully-risen Grand Marnier soufflé to top things off, it’s no wonder everybody loves Le Bistrot Paul Bert.

It’s old school Paris at its absolute best.