There you are with your little guide book for Paris – you’re hungry and you’re tired and you could eat a horse. And so you join the crowd of weary tourists from all over the world and circle the streets and boulevards of the Quartier Latin in search of a restaurant. There are many of them and they have everything from traditional French cooking to Lebanese snacks or sushi. Your legs hurt. Your stomach rumbles. Your throat is dry. The mood is getting a bit prickly. Let’s just sit down here and have whatever it is they’re serving, shall we?
I feel we have eaten everywhere, from the Relais de l’Entrecôte where they serve only one dish – entrecôte with fries and their ‘special’, even ‘famous’ sauce which looks like the cook had a runny nose and doesn’t taste at all special – to the restaurant on the grounds of the Versailles castle, where I had a Pizza Margherita from the freezer, with ham (there is no ham on a Margherita). It did cost nine euros, anyway (by comparison: a fresh Margherita here in Italy, made-while-you-wait in a wood-fired stone oven with fresh ingredients, costs about three and a half euros. And they’ll ad ham for you if you really must). In between, as noted yesterday, I was served a variety of slabs of meat with sauce and potatoes, be it a reasonable Boeuf Bourguignon with steamed ‘taters in a brasserie near the Eiffel Tower or a piece of undefinable meat with spongy bits of lard covered in a sauce from the restaurant wholesaler with unsalted fries, somewhere in the bowels of the city.
Anyone telling you they had such fantastic food in Paris is either lying, very experienced in the city or not used to any quality cooking at all. You will eat dead animals in slop (or even without slop), served with usually a rather tacky sort of politeness, if it’s not too busy. But we did find three places which served a very good meal, and two of them in the same small street near metro station Odéon, for your convenience. Don’t worry where exactly – just follow the herd of travellers with the munchies and you’ll get there.
First of all there’s restaurant Old Kashmir (yes, it has an English name) in the rue Grégoire de Tours, which promises Indo-Pakistani specialties. Okay, so the guy at the door tries to talk you in and that’s not something everyone likes (I certainly do not), but once inside it started good when a family of obvious Indian descent compliments the waiter with the food. We ordered a heavy but very tasty meal served by a funny and friendly Pakistani. Rice, sauces, meats, salads, the whole nine yards, and for normal Parisian prices. And spicy here is spicy – not the usual toned-down European version. Definitely worth a visit if you’re as tired of the brasserie style dinners as I was.
In the same street, some nights later, we dropped in at La Citrouille, expecting yet another less-than-mediocre tourist meal. And it was dead-cow-with-a-sauce, definitely, and yes there were potatoes, too, but that was actually a well-prepared piece of meat. The wine they served was above average for what we’d come to expect and I think it was here that I had a crêpe (pancake) with honey and vanilla ice for dessert which was absolutely to die for. For once we had the feeling of not being ripped off.
On the last day we did the unthinkable and entered an Italian restaurant near our hotel – unthinkable because usually restaurant owners will adapt the recipes to local taste which may not at all be to the taste of people used to real Italian cooking like us. But the pizzas were not from the freezer – they were delicious and fresh, made in the style of Rome (which is thicker than the Neapolitan style). The spaghetti (which we did not have) was not served with the sauce neatly on top, which causes the pasta to stick together in a big clump really fast, as is the custom in many countries, but it was properly mixed in. The wine was good Italian wine, the staff was Italian and friendly and the ambiance was modern, without any of the tacky green-white-and-redness you expect from what is after all basically a pizzeria. Not a single plastic grape in sight! And so, we also recommend Villa Borgese on rue Bréa, which you’ll find where Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard du Montparnasse cross – the metro to Vavin will get you there.
Bon appétit, and try not to fall into any tourist traps!