The best way to uncover the food gems of Paris, Janne Apelgren discovers, is with the help of an expert.
Ute Biefang makes it her business to know the places Paris' food-loving visitors want to find, but can't quite uncover on their own.
The no-sign-outside Chocolatier Jacques Genin, whose caramel eclairs inspire envy in other chefs, and whose mille feuille are assembled to order so - quelle horreur! - their wafer-thin layers have no chance to grow soggy. The bar down the stairs behind the plain, glossy black door that is the city's current hot spot (Le Ballroom du Beef Club). The wine cave where you'll eat exceedingly well for very little (Coinstot Vino). The two Michelin-star venue that is "under the radar" where you can lunch for €60 ($75, "the best-value two Michelin-star in Paris," Ute says of Passage 53). And she'll show you them all in a four-hour walking tour that feels like the perfect Parisian acclimatisation.
German-born, French/German and Portuguese-speaking Biefang worked with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival before moving to Paris in 2008. Since 2009, she's been the savvy friend in Paris you can hire for a day, or a half-day, to show you around and handle those tricky reservations with restaurateurs, to negotiate the markets, even point out the good wine shops where, she notes, you'll find fine champagnes you never see in Australia, at reasonable prices.
Ute regularly works with visiting Australian chefs. She's taken tea with Shannon Bennett at Chocolatier Jacques Genin, introduced Matt Moran to the caramel eclair at the same spot, and shown Greg Malouf and Ben Shewry around the beautifully unrenovated cookware treasure trove of E. Dehillerin. (Leave room in the suitcase for the copper pots and pans, and perhaps for some salted caramel from drygoods store G. Detou.)
Down the Rue Montorgueil, you'll find discerning Parisians shopping for provisions. Ute points out which stores are the insider's choice; where the butcher's window is filled with skinned rabbits with their eyeballs intact, pheasant with their feathered heads still attached.
I just wish we'd scheduled this tour for our first day, not our third; there were a dozen places we'd have returned to. There's the local market, Marche des Enfants Rouges, hidden down an unassuming alley where, inside, half of Haut Marais is perched on rickety chairs eating tagines and couscous, or picking up a crepe from the philosopher/chef, to eat standing. There's a small bar to eat modern food with a glass of wine, among the seafood, greengrocers and delis.
Ute lets us take a stroll past Le Grand Colbert (made famous by the film Something's Gotta Give) but says it has become a tourist restaurant. Still, it's a beautiful room. Around the corner, and equally stunning, is Le Grand Vefour, where Woody Allen's American family dined during Midnight in Paris. It's up the gastronomic food chain a fair way but still not among Ute's most recommended restaurants.
By 1.30pm we're hungry, so we duck into Ute's local, Le Progres. It pours with rain, so we settle in for a croque monsieur made with bread from Poilane, the famous Parisian bakery whose loaves you can buy by the kilo, or the slice.
Ute makes a quick call to confirm our dinner reservation for Le Dauphin, the hip wine bar/restaurant of chef Inaki Aizpitarte, whose adjacent restaurant, Le Chateaubriand, inspired the bistronomy movement in Paris, which has spread around the world.
Ah, thinking about dinner while eating lunch. Just the kind of thing Ute's clients would do. After all, what self-respecting traveller doesn't book their restaurants before their air fares? Non?
Walking tours with Ute Biefang start from €250 for two, for four hours. See uteinparis.com.
PARIS IN THE MEALTIME: UTE'S GUIDE
Best splurge Le Meurice (228 Rue de Rivoli, lemeurice.com) for a three Michelin-star experience with their set-lunch menu for €105 ($131).
Cheap and cheerful Chartier (7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, restaurant-chartier.com) for a fun meal with friends in a historical Parisian setting.
Cutting-edge cuisine Septime (80 Rue de Charonne, septime-charonne.fr), but it's very difficult to get in. A sublime mystery meal that won't break the bank at €55 — no dietary requirements accommodated!
Classic cuisine Brasserie Thoumieux (79 Rue Saint-Dominique, thoumieux.fr), with French brasserie-style food by Jean-Francois Piege, voted chef of the year 2011 by his peers.
Insider's tip Only tourists expect to be able to sit down somewhere for a coffee and pastry. Parisians buy their pastries a emporter (takeaway) — they don't expect a place to do two things (coffee and pastry) well.
If you're leaving town "You can do Champagne by yourself, by train; you don't need a guide. Taittinger is my favourite."
If you're staying in an apartment The duck tournedos, with a dollop of foie gras at their centre, from Comptoir de la Gastronomie (34 Rue Montmartre) are Ute's favorite cook-at-home treat, "easily done in a fry pan in a rental apartment".
Off-the-radar department store "Everyone knows Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, the Parisians shop at BHV [Bazar de l'Hotel de Ville]."
Favourite fromagerie Laurent Dubois (fromageslaurentdubois.fr) — they have two locations: one in the 5th arrondissement, and one in the 15th.