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Paris has a reputation for being quite a difficult city to find good value places to eat. Most restaurants are overpriced and combined with the colossal amount of people who visit the City of Love this means that it is not uncommon to experience lacklustre levels of service on top of the high prices. However with some research and a healthy sense of adventure gems can be unearthed. I have picked four eateries. Two budget eateries (under 10 euros per head), one mid range restaurant (10-20 euros per head) and one splurge (20-35 euros per head).
If you are really watching the centimes my advice to you would be to stick to baguette sandwiches for 3-4 euros from the ubiquitous boulangeries found all across the city. If you have kitchen facilities in your accommodation, the main supermarkets like Carrefour and Monoprix (or even better one of the big markets in the city) are good places to buy fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, wines etc
The rue Xavier Privas in the 5th Arrondissement close to the river Seine and Notre Dame cathedral is chock a block full of cheap eats whether you are looking for cheap kebabs or Moroccan staples like couscous and tagines and many mediocre tourist trap restaurants. But by far the best of the cheapies is the falafel eatery chain called Maoz Vegetarian. This budget eatery is probably the healthiest of the four places I am recommending (that’s if you just count the falafels and salads and not the chips and soft drinks). Five euros gets you a pitta with falafel balls and you can choose your salads from the small but excellent salad bar. You can add humus for a euro more. For €8.50 you can include a soft drink and fries. Personally I am happy with just the pitta, fallafal balls, humus and generous salad helping. For six euros this is a super deal.
Another budget choice. You have more chance of bumping into a back from the dead Jim Morrison here than another tourist here. This is far from haute cuisine. But if you want an authentic ethnic establishment serving cheap hearty portions of food full of locals with roots from the Maghreb then this Moroccan place located in La Goutte d’Or district in the 18th Arrondissement can’t be beat.
The Couscous Maison is what it’s all about here. You receive a mountain of couscous in a bowl served with a stew of chickpeas and vegetables. In another bowl you either get a chicken or meat stew. I went for the chicken. It also comes with a small baguette for breaking and dumping into the food. And it’s all yours for only six euros.
Couscous Maison at Agad’Or
It is no-frills food but it is good and filling especially if you are hungry. What’s more the experience and ambiance of the place could easily mislead one to believe they are in a typical Moroccan diner in the ville nouvelle de Tanger.
This places serves run of the mill traditional French food and perhaps I am making a big mistake including this but a pilgrimage here is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to experience a taste of the old Paris. This restaurant has been in existence for over 100 years and the architecture and interior decor remains unchanged. Some of the waiters have a reputation for being brusque but instead of being annoyed by this I say bring it on!! This is all part and parcel of the experience of dining here. There is no shortage of tourists that come to dine here at this legendary establishment so the waiters can afford to be jaded and downright indifferent. There is one burly old timer waiter here who looks like he’s been working here all his life. What’s more he has a face straight out of a Van Gogh or Manet painting. This restaurant is 1901 Montmartre Paris mixed with Faulty Towers. A rare thing in these aggressively globalised times. I love it!!
Inside Buillon Chartier
Now for the food. For my starter I had six Escargots (snails) lathed in massive amounts of garlic and butter.
There were standard snails and I suppose I only picked them to say that I had tried French snails. They were good but certainly not Michelin Star quality.
For my main course I ordered the infamous French dish Steak Tartare or raw meat. I thought this was going to be rank but it was surprisingly quite tasty (yet I will definitely not be having this regularly for lunch or dinner). The side of frites and Dijon mustard were a good accompaniment.
When the waiter came to calculate our bill he sketched it all down on the paper table cover. The experience of eating at Chartier will always trump the quality of the food, but it is definitely worth it.
A La Biche Au Bois
If there is one place which I would consider worthy of that elusive splurge, this restaurant close to Gare de Lyon would be it. I went here one Saturday evening for dinner with my two sisters and a friend. We all went for the fixed dinner menu priced at €32.80 a head. This includes a starter, a main, a selection of different cheeses from the legendary cheese board (a work of art in itself) and a desert.
For my starter I went for the Terrine de Canard (two fat slabs of homemade duck pâté). It was just how pâté should taste and be made.
Terrine de Canard
However more impressive was my main course of Coq au Vin which came served in a heavy old school saucepan with a side of mashed potato in a gold coloured scallop shaped dish. The Coq au Vin was rich and delicious and I could barely make my way through all of it.
Coq Au Vin
By the time the waiter came with the enormous cheeseboard I was almost game over but I persisted. I went for a wedge of Roquefort, a lump of peppered goats cheese and a slice of tangy Comté cheese. The strength of the Roquefort alone could have shut down my heart but it was a veritable delight as were the other two cheeses.
Finally for dessert I was going to go for the Creme Brûlée but instead I went for another French dessert called Ile Flottante which literally translates as ‘Floating Island’. It is like a sweet foam square shaped cloud floating on a sugary egg yolk lake. It was a refreshing and pleasurable end to a hearty marathon of authentic and traditional French food.
I’ve got very little patience for stylish, jazzed up food and especially nouvelle cuisine which makes me mad. I just want hearty portions of delicious and authentic food from any part of the world that I visit. In the case of French Cuisine, A La Biche Au Bois does a sterling job.
By Nicholas Peart
25th September 2016
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