I have just been staying near Apt in the hills of Provence, looking out towards the Luberon mountains. The steep landscape is covered by oak and chestnut trees and wild herbs grow out of the rocky, dry earth. Cliffs of ochre, once quarried for the colour used to paint the local houses, cut through parts of the forest. These same hills are where the Maquis once hid and where wild boar are hunted.
The places and ingredients Elizabeth David talks about in her seminal book, French Provincial cooking, came alive as I discovered them first hand. Things that speak of the region and its history of food: artichokes Barigoule; apricots grown near Apt; soft goat’s cheeses from Banon and sweet Beaumes de Venise wines; Calissons – the small almond cakes from Aix and the intense melons of Cavaillon. As you wander through the markets, the air smells sweet with ripe fruit and in other parts, savoury with the meaty fragrance of salamis, olives and cheeses.
A recent trip to Paris was full of discoveries. It’s amazing how many new (and ancient) places I find, even after years of visiting. We flew around the city on bicycles, trying restaurants, finding galleries and shopping (food related of course!). A whirl around Paris that was exhausting but exhilarating, and here is my pick of the best:
This time I stayed with a friend in the 11th Arrondisement, which offered a view of the city I hadn’t seen before. Among the other great attributes of this trendy district, it is the location of some of the best ‘nouveau bistro’ restaurants, including Septime and Chateaubriand (see my previous post) and the most stylish ‘gluten free’ bakery, Chambelland, which sold loaves of bread that were so good, I had to haul some back to London.
Chambelland, 14 Rue Ternaux, 75011 Paris
5 seed loaf at Chambelland
Where would you go and eat in Paris? If you’d asked me that 20 years ago, I would have had lots of ideas, but none of them new or exciting. “Voltaire, Lipp, Bofinger or Chez L’ami Louis – or if you want spend a fortune you could try Reblochon” I might have said.
But over the past 10 years, there’s been a new scene emerging, so seeking the advice of young and plugged in restaurateurs in London, I headed off with a list of names to see if Paris had found a new groove.
I remember a time when Parisian restaurants were known as the best in the world. Not just the ones strewn with Michelin stars, but the easy bistros, the little places serving steak with Boulangere potatoes, or a plate of garlicky escargot and a good glass of wine. But for the past 15 years or so, finding a reasonably priced, exceptional dinner in Paris had become something of a challenge.
Then came the new wave of bistronomique and the Neo-Bistro. Some say it started with a 29-year-old chef from Chicago, Daniel Rose, when he opened a tiny, instantly popular restaurant called Spring. A little place in the 9th Arrondissement with an open plan kitchen and a multi course set menu drawn from the best market produce. It was booked out for months in advance and has since moved to a larger premises in the 1st to accommodate the ever expanding demand.