Eating in the 7th arrondissement
Is this the best eating in Paris? Quite possibly. Here’s my case for L’Auberge Bressane, and the neighbourhood food shops, in the “toney” 7th arrondissement. It’s all a demonstration of the homage affluence pays to authenticity.
For our Paris gourmandising treat we had thought of the Fontaine le Mars, graced by the Obamas to the quiet delight of the affluent denizens of the 7th, the arrondissement which you can’t get too lost in since you can always orientate yourself on the Eiffel Tower, which bestrides it. That would have been very Something’s Gotta Give.
Hopelessly late for the attempt, we got a reservation at the Lyonais home-from-home, L’Auberge Bressane instead. It’s unpretentious to a degree, but that’s a pose. The place is used to demanding customers and delivers an unobtrusive attentiveness. Don’t be fooled by the slightly battered panelling. It is untended as an evocation of wood work that has faded because no-one could afford or be bothered to do it up. Here, they’d bother if they wanted to look bothered.
Fact is, though, it’s as near to one sort of dream French restaurant as you’ll find. I mean that it is the sort of place that Maigret might have taken his wife to all those years ago. Then, one fantasies, there were mom and pop joints which were devotedly regional. But I imagine that there were upmarket, larger, equally rooted places as well. L’Auberge Bressane strikes me as being classic in that way, but all delivered with a modern professionalism.
Lyonais food is robust. My cheese souffle starter would have done for two or three. Its hat was jauntily lofty and crusty, its interior a maze of bubbles with a hint of runniness only in the deep inside. My companions had mushrooms, which were pretty good too. They adored their quenelles (two per person when one would have done), in a delicious sauce. (The English menus said these were “dumplings” which doesn’t capture their textured mousse-ness.)
But the big deal were my sweatbreads. A hundred years ago, I used to have them at Chez Solange in London. But I don’t remember sweatbreads treated as a lump and (I’m guessing) roasted, or maybe fried, like these. The sauce was a good rich creamy affair. The mash likewise after mash’s best fashion. I could have done with some spinach, but it wasn’t on offer.
We’d been persuaded to order the baked Alaska and it arrived as a massive affair (with three plates). Not my scene normally, but delicious and faintly reminiscent of Queen of Puddings, a concoction long out of fashion.
We arrived at 8pm and by 9 the place was pretty busy with groups of what looked like young money people, a few couples, and various others. So a varied, appreciative crowd and a decent hum. No obviously “smart” people, and no tourists (except us, who were one local for cover and a pair of gawping out-of-towners).
One bottle of wine and few Cokes and fizzy water, and a bill (with tip) of £200.
Next day, seeking the grandest snack in the world, we shopped in the foodies’ paradise of rue Cler. It is an eye-popping, salivating business to wander into Davoli, the deli which knows that it is at least as grand as its customers, and whose grandest customers like it so, and is a tiny, intense piece of theatre. You can always come down from the experience by buying creamy goat’s cheese at Marie-Anne Cantin, the fromagerie (12, rue du Champ deMars) where young men minister to the goods and the customers as though both were visitors from elysian fields.
The Italians at Il Giramondo, traiteur Italiano, 175 rue de Grenelle, run an altogether more informal place, but it has plenty of mettle. There is a genial shop-keeper who operates as the host for the cellar restaurant down below. Seeing the type of customer who were welcomed and descended, I wanted to eat there. I only got as far as poking my nose in: the scene was lively, top-end arty, and very inviting.
This is shopping of a type and class that I think were unimaginable anywhere in the world twenty years ago. It is neighbourhood shopping reincarnated as a sacerdotal ritual. I’ve seen it done in London, but I suspect only the Californians or New Yorkers could quite match – and then only with luck – what is achieved by Parisians. It’s shopping as styled by Tyler Brûlé but approved by Harry Eyres. (That’s a Financial Times joke, of sorts.)