Darina Allen: A Food Lovers Weekend in Paris

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 1970s, ’80s and ’90s 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 a revolution was born and 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 and they are snapped up like the proverbial hotcakes.

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 eg, 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; closed on Sunday.

Farine & O on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoin and Ten Belles on Rue de la Grange aux Belles are 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.

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.

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.

Scallops with Dill Mash and Beurre Blanc

Serves 4

A delectable combination, scallops are really good at the moment.

10 scallops

Clarified butter

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 tbsp freshly chopped dill

Garnish

Sprigs of fresh dill and dill flowers

Beurre Blanc Sauce (Makes about 250ml/8fl oz)

3 tbsp dry white wine

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp finely chopped shallots

pinch of ground white pepper

1 tbsp cream

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, diced

Salt, freshly ground pepper

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

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) 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.

To serve

Heat a nonstick pan. Sprinkle the scallops with a little flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook the scallops for one minute on each side, until they are barely coloured.

Spoon a dollop of hot dill mash on each plate. Scatter five to six pieces of scallop and two 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

Beurre blanc is super rich, however a little served with freshly poached fish is exquisite.

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.

Useful Tip

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

Serves 2

This is my interpretation of the delicious Labneh Toast at Mokonuts in Paris.

2 slices of sourdough bread

1 large clove of garlic

4 tbsp of Labneh

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp za’atar

4 black Kalamata olives, halved and stoned

Pinch of Aleppo pepper

1 generous tsp chopped pistachio nuts

Labneh

1kg (2¼lb) natural yoghurt (Makes 500g/18oz labneh approx)

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.

To make the 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.

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 eight hours.

Jersey milk yogurt is thicker and needs only two to three 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.

Hot Tips

Itmar Srulovich & Sarit Packer of Honey & Co

We are delighted to be welcoming back Itmar and Sarit to the Cookery School for an all-day course on Saturday, June 8.

Since opening in 2012, this tiny Fitzrovia restaurant Honey & Co has quickly become one of London’s most talked about, most favoured dining destinations, wowing customers and critics alike.

Husband and wife team Itmar and Sarit (the ‘Honey’ in Honey & Co) have a wealth of experience between them and cook homely, fragrant, delicious Middle Eastern food packed with vibrant flavour and sparkling with jewel-like colours. Details: www.cookingisfun.ie

Nut Shed

Nut Shed run by Evie and Eliza specialise in wholefoods and nourishing treats.

These new and exciting food entrepreneurs started selling their healthy wholefood treats and nut butters in Limerick’s Milk Market and have grown into a successful wholesale business.

Check out their delicious squares, rawbs (raw energy balls) and peanut butters. www.nutshed.ie

Irish Food Holiday

Set up by Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni, Kelly Fitzgerald.

This is an exciting new food tourist business based in Kinsale which showcases the amazing food on offer in the West Cork area.

Spend a week touring, tasting, visiting farmers and producers while taking in the beautiful sights of West Cork. Details: www.irishfoodholiday.com

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