France Culinary Travel Diary – Paris

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France Culinary Travel Diary – Paris

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A relative who’s lived in Paris for 45 years once said that after all those years he still discovers passages which he’s never walked down, such is the nature of the City of Lights – there’s always more to discover.

As such, I find the best way to explore Paris is to get lost, and then wander the streets until you eventually find your way back home. Along the way, you’re guaranteed to stumble upon countless culinary treasures, some well known, others yet to be discovered, which makes for a trip with a true sense of “adventure” in one of the truly beautiful cities of the world.

To finish of my French travel diary series, here is a list of the places I’ve discovered and loved on my wanderings through the cobbled streets. If you have others, I’d love you to share them too!

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My top Paris dinner picks:

  • L’Etage de Pastavino : 18 rue de Buci, 75006 Paris

This teeny tiny place is situated above La Bottega de Pastavino and is accessed by a dark staircase at the back shop. The fare is simple Italian and price is mid-range. The atmosphere, the location in gorgeous St-Germain-des-Près, and the quality of the food make this my must-visit restaurant even though it’s not French! Bookings are essential. Paris1_lefermier_150615

  • L’Entrecôte: 20 rue Saint-Benoît, 75006 Paris

Just like the L’Entrecôte restaurant in Monpellier, there’s only one thing on the main menu here – Entrecôte. There are a few locations around Paris and it’s a great option for a low-fuss feed.

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  • Buddha Bar: 8-12 rue Boissy d’Anglas, 75008 Paris
  • PNY Marais:1 rue Perrée, 75003 Paris

Burgers are very on-trend in Paris and this is the third & newest location from the Paris-New York team. The menu has a great selection that is really well priced for the quality.

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My top Paris dessert picks:

  • Ladurée

Sightseeing can be thirsty work, and you’ll find the finest drop of tea at Ladurée. Their tearooms are very touristy, but sometimes cliché is fun, as long as you don’t mind waiting in the queue for a table. Their macarons and patisseries are famous and the décor is reminiscent of 18th century aristocratic salons.

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  • Pierre Hermès

Widely believed to be the maker of the best macarons in Paris, a visit to one of Pierre’s Paris boutiques is a must. The flavour combinations are exquisite like Olive Oil with Mandarin Orange and Passionfruit, Rhubarb & Strawberries. There is a range of other delights on offer too, including ice cream in the summertime.

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My top Paris lunch picks:

  • Frenchie to Go: 9 rue du Nil, 75002 paris

Unlike the name and the locale suggests, Frenchie to Go isn’t French at all, but American. This tiny but super hispter café serves delicious American-style sandwiches, like your classic Reuben or pulled-pork.Paris2_lefermier_150615  Paris3_lefermier_150615

  • Holly Belly: 19 rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010 Paris

Arrive too late in the day at this mecca for English-speaking brunch lovers in Paris, and expect to be wait before getting a table. Holy Belly has a reputation, and it’s well deserved. Owned by Frenchies, Nico, a gun behind the coffee machine, and his parter Sarah, who’s a whizz in the kitchen, expect to be warmly greeted and then treated to Holy Belly’s delicious fare.

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My top Paris coffee picks:

  • Holy Belly – as above

Knowing Nico’s coffee pedigree (he worked at Market Lane in Melbourne for a time), I expected good coffee here and wasn’t disappointed (neither was the Madame on the latte front). If it’s sunny, grab a takeaway, wander to the end of the street, and sit along Canal St Martin for a coffee with a view.

  • Matamata Coffee Bar: 58 rue d’Argout, 75002 Paris

We found this place around the corner from the apartment we stayed in, and it immediately became our morning go-to place on the way to wherever else we were exploring.

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  • Coutume Instituutti: 60 rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris

Random location within the Finnish Institute but a great spot for a light lunch (they do delicious sandwiches and little desserts) and/or a fantastic coffee. Our favourite cup of Joe on the left bank.

  • Fondation Café:16 rue du Petit-Thouars 75003 Paris

A tiny coffee bar not too far from PNY Marais. On a sunny day this is a lovely spot to sit outside of and read the morning paper with a coffee in hand.

France Culinary Travel Diary – St Emilion & Bordeaux

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France Culinary Travel Diary – St Emilion & Bordeaux

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No culinary sojourn to France would be complete without sampling (read over-indulging in) the wonderful wines of France. For me, the varieties of the Bordeaux region are a particular favourite with their oldest red grape variety being Cabernet-Sauvignon, it gives you very tannic red wines with aromas of ripe black currant, green pepper or even liquorice and their white grape varieties Sémillion, it gives you an elegant wine with aromas of toasted almonds, acacia flowers and cinnamon or their Sauvignon varieties which is rich in sugar and produce amazing liquoreux wines in Sauternes or dry perfumed whites wines with aromas of rosewood, spices and fennel in Entre-deux-Mers.

Some of the most outstanding wine Chateaus in the country are situated on the rolling hills of Bordeaux and most have cellar doors which offer wine tastings and retail sales.

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Also sitting pretty among the vineyards is the quaint medieval town of St. Emilion. This place ticks the boxes for all kinds of tourists, from history buffs (there are the ruins of a Church destroyed in the 100 years war), to foodies (the stunning Hostellerie de Plaisance restaurant is perched at the top of the town with a fabulous view) and naturally, wine lovers!

With so many options, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with choice so I recommend visiting one of the great cellar doors in St. Emilion which carry an exemplary edit of everything the region’s châteaus have to offer. A good friend from St Emilion Cellar Door took me through his picks for my palette and thankfully they can also ship your wine home for you, so I could buy as much as I wanted without having to lug around bottles for the rest the trip!

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The Madame and I only had one short day in Bordeaux and it turned out to be such a stunning one that the friend with whom we were staying insisted we head to the pacific coast for some beach time. Lunchtime on a beach day in Australia normally means some fish and chips, or maybe a picnic lunch, but this is France and “le midi” is a sacred time. On the way to the coast, and situated about an hours drive from Bordeaux, is Cap-Ferret, a hub for holidaymakers, and trendy mover and shakers in the summer months. For those who live in Victoria, this place has a similar vibe to Lorne, on the Great Ocean Road, so Cap-Ferret instantly made us feel at home. We sat down to our host’s favourite lunch spot L’Escale, which sits right on the beach overlooking the Oyster Fields out in the bay. Even though it was only Spring, the sunshine had brought us Frenchies out of the woodworks so there was a 30 minute wait to get a table. Finally, with an icy glass of Rosé in hand, and some of the freshest, most delicious seafood I’ve tasted on my plate, I couldn’t help wondering how I’ll ever be able to go back to a packed-lunch on Aussie beach days ever again.

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For dinner in the city of Bordeaux itself, there was only one place on my list, and, knowing my love for the great chef, Rick Stein, you can probably guess where that was – La Tupina. Yes, it’s touristy, and yes, it probably isn’t what it was back in the Rick Stein’s French Food Odyssey days, but I’m glad that I ticked it off my list. Naturally, the non-negotiable menu item was the potatoes cooked in duck fat, which they cook over a fire in the giant fireplace that fills the restaurant entry. I am slightly disappointed to report that while they were tasty enough, they certainly weren’t the best potatoes cooked in duck fat I’d ever eaten and I enjoyed other items from the menu much more.

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What it does say is that while the old institutions still have their place, don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path when finding somewhere to eat on holidays – seek out local recommendations for places where the locals eat!

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My St Emilion & Bordeaux picks:

  • St Emilion Cellar Door 4 place de L’ Eglise Monolithe, 33330 Saint Emilion
  • L”Escale Restaurant: Jetée, 2 Avenue de l’ocean Cap Ferret, 33970 Lège-Cap-Ferret
  • La Tupina : 6 Rue Porte de la Monnaie, 33800 Bordeaux

France Culinary Travel Diary – La Dordogne (Part 2)

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France Culinary Travel Diary – La Dordogne (Part 2)

There’s so much so say about this department of France that I simply couldn’t squeeze it all into one installment. If you’re not the market faring kind but want to sample the Dordogne’s bounty of famous produce, then visiting one of its countless restaurants is a must.

By no means do you need to dine in the most fancy establishments to eat well either, as when the produce is local and seasonal even the more humble restaurants can serve a quality meal without breaking your budget.

That being said, if you are in the Trémolat area and can justify treating yourself to a Michelin star meal (you only live once!), then I highly, highly recommend you making a booking at Le Vieux Logis. A boutique hotel and gourmet restaurant belonging to the acclaimed Relais-Châteaux group, you can enjoy a degustation dinner with matching wine for €115 or there’s an à la carte menu to choose from. The food is beautifully presented and tastes exquisite, and the service is faultless but personable.

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20150502_201833Green asparagus topped with Crab and Fennel

20150502_211922Quercy lamb with broad beans, “ail des ours”  and Pistou

20150502_204921Grilled Turbo, oyster “Meunière” and Foie Gras

20150502_222644“Gariguettes” strawberries, meringue and violette chantilly

20150502_225029Amuse Bouche with our coffees

As delicious as the dining is at Le Vieux Logis, my favourite place to eat in the Dordogne doesn’t have a Michelin star, nor is it fine dining. It’s a rustic, family run restaurant in the charming town of Cadouin, called Le Restaurant de L’Abbaye, and I know the food is great because this happens to be where I completed my cooking apprenticeship! Every meal starts with their house specialty Tourin à l’ail (garlic soup), their menu is full of country classics like magret de canard, foie gras, and salade perigourdine and their mousse au chocolat is a guilty pleasure I treat myself to every time I visit. If you’re travelling in the summer months, a booking is essential.

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As a special treat, the head chef of the Restaurant de L’Abbaye has kindly agreed to share the recipes for both his garlic soup and chocolate mousse. Look out for them on the blog in the coming days!

My top Dordogne picks:

  • Le Vieux Logis -Le Bourg 24510 Trémolat 1 Michelin star
  • Restaurant de L’Abbaye – Place de L’Abbaye 24480 Cadouin
  • Chez Julien 24510 Paunat
  • Chez le Gaulois 9 rue Tourny 24200 Sarlat-la-Canéda

France Culinary Travel Diary – La Dordogne (Part 1)

Le Fermier

France Culinary Travel Diary – La Dordogne (Part 1)

The Dordogne will always have a special place in my heart. It’s where I grew up, where my family still lives and where I completed my cooking apprenticeship. It’s also a stunning area of France, with green undulating fields, fairytale woods, and more chateaus than you can poke a baguette at. It’s not a centre by any means for big Industry but it is the gastronomique centre of black Périgord truffles, Foie Gras, and other duck-related goodness in France.

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The ethics surrounding Foie Gras are much debated in the wider world, as the process to create it is the force feeding of corn to ducks or Geese to give them a super fatty liver which is then harvested, sliced and eaten (best raw) for the enjoyment of humans. It’s necessary in these situations to be informed about the realities of production and then make up your own mind about how you feel about it. What I will say is that I would prefer to only buy foie gras from the smaller producers, as these are the ones more likely to use traditional, and more gentle practices and take better care of their animals.

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Speaking from a purely culinary perspective, I love eating foie gras. The texture is almost like a dense mousse and though it’s very rich, the flavour is subtle. You don’t need to eat a lot to be satisfied and so it’s often enjoyed at aperitif on a thin slice of baguette accompanied by a glass of pastis or sweet white wine.

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The Black or Périgord truffle is the second most highly prized truffle after the white truffle. They are found growing among the roots of oak or hazelnut trees and are harvested with the use of sows or specially trained dogs to detect them beneath the soil. They’re an acquired taste and, as they are quite strong and very expensive, are often simply grated into things like omelets or crispy potatoes, or added to Foie Gras for an extra touch of luxury. They are a kind of fungi and have been eaten by man since pre-Roman times.

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The other culinary delight found throughout the region is confit de canard or Duck confit, which makes sense, as there are a lot of duck around thanks to the foie gras. Confit duck is made by salting a duck leg overnight to preserve it, before its rinsed and then slowly poaching it in its own fat. This is then left to cool before it’s put into a glass jar or tin, fat and all, which can last for weeks to months. Duck confit can then be heated and eaten as a main meal of it’s own or used in the famous Cassoulet dish.

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All these amazing products can be found in specialty stores or at the amazing farmers markets, and the best part is that often, the person selling the products is also the person who’s made it.

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My top Dordogne Region picks:

  • Sarlat-la-Caneda – every Wednesday and Saturday: regional specialties, cheese, saucisson and artists wares
  • A La Truffe du Périgord 6 route de Périgueux 24420 Sarliac sur L’Isle (also available at the market)
  • Vidal Foie Gras Pech Mercier 24250 Cénac (also available at the market)
  • Maison Arvouet Avenue des Sycomores 24480 le Buisson de Cadouin

France Culinary Travel Diary – Carcassonne and Toulouse

Le Fermier

France Culinary Travel Diary – Carcassonne and Toulouse

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Though it’s commonplace for French kids to grow up being surrounded by chateau-a-plenty countryside, and villages filled with wooden shutters and terracotta tiled roofs, even I was in awe when I laid eyes on the medieval fortress city of Carcassonne. With a history dating back to Roman times, full of sieges, ruin and renovation, the city walls still hold many secrets.

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What’s not a secret though, is that some of the best Cassoulet in the world can be found here, and because it’s a regional specialty it won’t cost you an arm and a leg either. It’s hard to find somewhere to eat within the fortress walls that isn’t “touristy” but I couldn’t have been happier with my choices, which were a little more tucked away. The first was L’Adelaïde and the second was Le Chaudron. The cassoulet at both ticked all the key boxes: crispy top layer, stewed Lingot beans, confit de canard & saucisse de Toulouse, while Le Chaudron’s version also featured pork to their dish, which was the point of difference for me to declare theirs my favourite. A word to the wise, Cassoulet is incredibly rich and filling so it’s best enjoyed at lunch and in the cooler months.

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After Carcasonne, The Madame and I stayed in Toulouse so we took the opportunity to try another variation of the Cassoulet. I could taste the difference immediately between each towns’ version. My Toulouse Cassoulet from Cave au Cassoulet, was saucier (with a hint of tomato), richer (thanks more duck fat being included in the recipe) and, in my opinion, used more delicious sausages (as I’d expect considering the city of Toulouse is the sausage’s namesake). Though I heartily enjoyed every Cassoulet, my overall favourite remains Le Chaudron’s in Carcasonne. It’s all a matter of personal taste though, so if you’ve found somewhere you think serves better, let me know in the comments below! And, if you can’t head to France anytime soon, but are craving something hearty for a cold winter’s day, check out my recipe and try your hand at it.

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For lunch on the go in Toulouse that’s a little lighter on the stomach and the pocket, you can’t go past Pikanik, a super trendy but equally delicious sandwich and salad bar that was packed by lunch time with students, office workers and tourists alike. For under 10€ you get your choice of salad or baguette, drink and dessert, and it’s even less if you don’t want all 3.

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The true gem of Toulouse though, as a coffee lover, is La Fiancée, a Salon de Café that served coffee to rival the best Melbourne cafés, including perfectly poured lattés! The staff were friendly, the decor justifiably hipster and the location perfect for people watching. A must visit!

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My Carcassonne & Toulouse Picks:

  • L’Adelaïde – 5 Rue Adélaïde de Toulouse 11000 Carcassonne
  • La Chaudron – 6 Rue Saint-Jean 11000 La Cité Carcassonne
  • La Cave au Cassoulet – 54 Rue Peyrolières 31000 Toulouse
  • Pik nik – 6 Bis Rue Roumiguières 31000 Toulouse
  • La Fiancée – 54 Rue Peyrolières 31000 Toulouse

France Culinary Travel Diary – Montpellier and Sète

Le Fermier

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It was pouring with rain when the Madame and I rolled into Montpellier. Surfacing from the underground carpark in the stunning Place de la Comédie, it was lunchtime and we were hungry so we headed for the closest restaurant and stumbled, very happily, upon L’Entrecôte. Decked out floor to ceiling in bumblebee coloured plaid, the L’Entrecôte here has the same formula as the restaurant chain of the same name in Paris. It’s simple: entrée is oak leaf lettuce, goats cheese and walnut salad, and main is Entrecôte, sliced super fine, with a sauce à la maison and as many shoestring fries as you can handle. There’s something calming about sitting down to a meal and knowing you only have to make one choice: “how do I want my steak cooked?”      

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of an entrecôte, it’s basically a rib eye without the bone, but it tastes different because of the different breed of cows between Australia and France.

Being a rainy Monday night in Montpellier when not a lot was open, and still full to the brim with frites and steak, we opted for a casual dinner of take-away burgers as this seemed to be a real trend sweeping the town. We found a great little place, which I suppose was the equivalent of Australia’s Grill’d, called 321 Burger where the meat was cooked to your liking, as were the toppings.

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Moving onto the seaside town of Sète, the skies were kind and provided a perfect backdrop of bright blue to the fishing boats and the café-lined main street. Being a town with a fishing heritage, you’d be correct in thinking the seafood here is great, it is. Along the main street stands restaurant after restaurant, proprietors out the front beckoning tourists to dine with them. The one that took our fancy, Porto Pollo, had a large blackboard, separate to the usual tourist menu, with “Moules Frites 13€” written in huge letters. We were sold and not disappointed. I overheard the owner telling another customer that they’d recently reduced the size of their menu which meant was that everything that remained was fresh, nothing frozen, and I could taste said freshness with every little garlic butter drizzled mussel I ate. Add some crispy shoestring fries, a cold glass of Rosé and the warmth of the Midday sun, and there’s not much more you can ask of a day in the South of France!

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My Montpellier &  picks:

  • L’Entrecôte : 3 Rue de Verdun 34000 Montpellier
  • 321 Burger : 4 Rue St Come 34000 Montpellier
  • Porto Pollo: 17 Quai Général Durand 34200 Sète