Delicious platefuls of Paris 1: Restaurants and bistros that we loved in Montmartre

Atop the Eiffel Tower at night
Couldn't go up the previous afternoon as the French were on strike
They are rather Bengali on this count
The advantage of going late at night: hardly any queue to book tickets
Long read 

I jokingly referred to the blog post I was writing on our recent Paris trip as my 'Paris magnum opus' to K.

I didn't blog much about Paris while I was there. Then I got busy with work after I came back. I wanted to blog about the wonderful food that we ate in Paris but just didn't get the time for it.

I started writing this  post on a rainy morning a few weeks back at the Smoke House Deli. It must have been a Monday. I didn't finish it that day.  I kept typing in this post as and when I got time. Then I realised that i was as 3300 words and counting it was too long. So I decided to split it into the following sections: Restaurants and bistro, cafes, desserts and perhaps immigrant food.

I mulled over how I should go ahead with the post. Should I do restaurant-wise blog posts? Divide it into geographical, where to eat sections? Or posts on meals and on desserts?  Or a 'where we ate in Paris post' like I did for Cannes and throw in a few travel tips to make it a 'useful post'. The thing to keep in mind about cities like Paris, or even Rome, is that they have great restaurants spread all across the city. As a tourist one can't expect to cover them all. Restaurants one goes to here could be a function of where you stayed and where you went. So don't try to match someone else's list and make your list instead. 

This is not an 'ultimate Paris eats list.' Just a list of restaurants where we had some very memorable meals in Paris. In fact all the restaurants in this post are in an area called Montmartre where we stayed. One can't be an expert on French food or Parisian restaurants after a 8 day stay.

I then downloaded the pictures from our Paris trip to upload in the post. I saw the food pictures first. They made me nostalgic. In a trip of more than a week, I probably had only two sub-par dishes. The rest were brilliant. All the pictures were taken on my iPhone as my newly bought camera had conked off within 3 months of buying it and took ages and many Twitter rants from to repair.

I looked at the pictures of K and me. The first thing that struck me were the smiles on our faces. Smiles which came from deep inside and were given company by our twinkling eyes. Which is when I remembered how happy we were in Paris. They say Paris is the city of love and we felt the love through every moment of our stay. We were fortunate to have got to spend a bit more than a week there. We gave ourselves in fully to Paris. We had left  Mumbai for Paris hoping to have one of the most wonderful holidays of our lives and we did  have that for sure.


The Joke Hotel


Our home in the Hotel Joke
A superior room


Having a good room to come back to is so crucial to a holiday and we were lucky to get one in the trip. K had done her research and booked us into a hotel called Hotel Joke in Montmartre in Paris. She booked a superior room as we were going to stay there for a while. By Indian hotel standards the room was expensive but by European standards the room that we got was large, cheerfully done up in light blue colours and had a skylight too. The staff was so warm and helpful. Especially the manager Oliver. and Xavier at the front desk. The bathroom was lovely and you could choose a room with a shower or a tub. Very nice toiletaries. They had a kettle in the room. Juices in the mini bar were included and a juice and snack counter at lobby through the day too. The breakfast selection of meats, cheeses and breads were great too.

The hotel was the only bit for which we had done our research before the trip. We had decided to reach Paris and find out the rest. Well, me actually as I hate doing much research before a holiday.

And sure enough, Paris took us under her wings and gave us a lovely time.

Oliver and Xavier gave us really good recommendations on where to eat around the hotel and beyond and were responsible for leading us to many of our great meals. 


Mr Oliver, the manager at Joke Hotel
He came with a list of hotels and helped us find some really good meals


Mr Xavier at the Joke Hotel who gave us a big smile the day we landed
and ensured that the rest of our stay was lovely too
and gave us some good restaurant tips too



Here's the list of bistros and restaurants that we went to in Montmartre where the Moulin Rouge is locate.

Lepic Assiette, Montmartre


Buckwheat crepe with fried onions, potato and bacon

Refined flour crepe with dark chocolate


The charming Lepic Assiette

Crepes that makes you smile

With chef Ludovic from Britanny
who dishes out lovely crepes at Lepic Assiette

Digging into my crepe at Lepic Assiette
K with the very friendly and competent waitress at Lepic Assiette
This young lady's service was
typical of the warm service that we came across almost everywhere in Paris



After I told Oliver about the disappointing crepes I had at the jetty outside the Eiffel Tower, he pointed us to Lepic Assiette, down the Moulin Rouge to change my opinion about Parisienne crepes. 

It is a cheerful cafe run by Chef Ludovic from Brittany. Brittany apparently is to crepes what Amritsar is to kulchas, the home of crepes. Ludovic set up his cafe a couple of decades back. He makes crepes from scratch here once orders are placed. The crepes we had at the stall at the jetty near the Eiffel Tower were made in advance and heated when orders were placed. The cost of crepes at his Asiette is more than that of the myriad crepe stalls on the street. As is the quality way better than the street-side crepe. Plus it is a sit down restaurant and a very nice one at that. 

The buckwheat crepe with bacon, potato and caramelised onions that he made for us won us back to the world of crepes. The beautiful multi-dimensional texture of the buckwheat crepe held me in its spell. It was slightly crispy outside a bit dense with a pleasant mildly chewy bite on the inside. Apparently using buckwheat requires a lot of patience in the kitchen as it is gluten free and is difficult to roll out. Chef Ludovic said that this is why you will rarely get buckwheat crepes in the street side stalls. The potato and onion part of the filling tasted so familiar and made us feel like we were at home. 'Very Parsi', was K's verdict. The bacon quality was superb.

After the savoury crepe, we decided to try a sweet one. Chef Ludovic suggested that we  go for an all purpose flour crepe as we already had had a buckwheat one.  I am glad he did so because the texture and taste of the crepe was very different and rather pleasantly sinful. If the buckwheat crepe was airy and crunchy, the flour cake was soft and cuddly. We chose a basic dark chocolate crepe though the menu had fancier ones too. We were happy with our choice as the quality of the chocolate really brought the crepe alive and the butter doused maida crepe was the perfect foil for it.

Chef Ludovic's pride and passion in what he did showed in the great quality of the crepes. The young French waitress with a British accent was quite friendly too. Her mother lives in Kerala on an Ayurvedic spa as we later found out.

Meal of 2 crepes cost 16 euros. Here's a video I did there





Rouge Bis, Montmartre

The delicious French Burger at Rouge Bis

Rouge bis by day
When a burger makes for a happy meal

Seeing places that advertised “French burgers, I asked Oliver of the Joke Hotel, if he could recommend a burger place and he replied ‘of course’, with a ‘is that even a question’ look.

We went to Rouge Bis, located opposite the Moulin Rouge, as directed by Oliver. My order for a burger was taken by a charming an enthusiastic young waitress who seemed to be proud of working at Rouge Bis. She said that new owners had taken over the place recently and that the food served here was different from that in tourist traps.” The menu changes after a while here and a new menu had just been introduced.

They took a while to get me the burger after I placed the order but once I took my first bite, I knew that I had been served work of art and that it was worth the wait. The patty, made with French beef, was juicy and well seasoned and grilled medium rare as per my specifications. It was cooked with a lot of visible love and pride. There was a mustard specked mayo inside the burger which made the accompanying sauces redundant. The bun was not made in house, the waitress told me when I asked her, but was pretty magnificent.  As Oliver once said, when I complimented him on the breakfast breads at the Joke buffet, they take their bread seriously in France. Trust the French to make a culinary masterpiece out of what is often dismissed off as junk food across the world!

We returned to Rouge bis for dinner one busy evening. The service was still as courteous and cheerful despite the crowd that evening. The waitress was different from the one in the morning. K had foie gras which she liked but my seafood pasta didn't match up the excellence of the burger. We were in a hurry as had to catch the cabaret at the Moulin Rouge which was expensive but good fun.

The burger cost 15 euros

We had a really lovely time at the Moulin Rouge

A few days later
The 'Moulin Rouge'in Kolkata




And what of classic French Food? We had two great experiences near Montmartre and both recommended to us by the Joke Hotel heroes.


A La Pomponnette, Montmartre


Marrow and escargot at La pomponnette

Entrecote with sauce Bearnaise at Pomponnette

Enjoying my first taste of escargot

The genial and elderly owner 

The sweet French couple who helped me navigate my meal

The resident cat joins in
The sister


I had blogged about A La Pomponnette earlier at the blog.  Here is the link 

Oliver had sent us there when I wanted classic French food. It is run by an elderly brother and sister duo. It was founded by their forefathers, five generations back in 1909. The owner called for his sister, when we tried to place our order saying, my sister speaks English.” Her English was limited to words such as 'cow' and 'pig' but that did not limit her hospitality. When I said I wanted me steak medium rare, she kindly tried to warn me and said pink’ and then blood. Later, K dropped a fork and the lady saw it from a distance and came and replaced it. And her brother come with the food later with a warm grandpa-like smile.  

A kind French gentleman, who was sitting with his wife at the next table, showed me me how to eat escargots (snails grilled in parsley, garlic and butter). Turned out that the couples daughter had spent some time in India. 

I so loved my first taste of the of the French classic that its memories translated into an escargot inspired pasta dish that I made when back in Mumbai. I recently read expat chef kelvin Cheung's interview where he  said that dishes like butter garlic squids etc in Mumbai restaurants are more about the taste of the butter than seafood. Well, in this case too the butter, garlic and parsley flavours dominated the taste of the snails though I must admit that the snails were not over cooked or too chewy which is sometimes the case here.

We oohed and aah’ed at the enormous grilled marrow bone which was our other starter at Pomponnetee. It is cracked open and served so that you can scoop out the marrow easily. 

I also had a classic entrecote, or steak, with sauce Bearnaise. I am a Bombay boy (beef is banned here) and need to stock up on steaks when I travel and Paris gave me some of the very best. The entrecote or steak at a La Pomponnette was bursting with flavour and juice and was seasoned just right and the meat was so so good. The stuff dreams are made of. 

The fish dish that K ordered was a bit underwhelming for our tastes. This is where it would have helped if we had someone who could explain the menu a bit better to us. I felt a a bit bad for K but still I guess the warmth and affection of the owners made up for it.

La Veche et le Cuisiniere, Montmartre


Best Foie gras of the trip at La Veche

Eggs poached in morrel and cream and entrecote and fried potatoes


Our last meal in Paris was memorable
As was the first and every meal in betweem


The smiling Sri Lankan chefs who turned out a splendid French dinner


I wanted to go back to a La Pomponnette for the steak once again for our last dinner before we left Paris. However, Xavier at the front desk of the Joke Hotel would have none of it. “Why go back to the same place,” he said, and sent us to La Veche et le Cuisiniere which is also located at Montmartre.

Unlike the century old A La Pomponnette which we had gone to a few days earlier, La Veche et le Cuisiniere is just about a decade old. The owners own a couple of other bistros / bars which are located adjacent to La Veche and are older to it. La Veche is their attempt to offer classic French food in a slightly fresher manner. The café was smaller than Pomponnette  and the vibe a lot more casual than it. The lady who was front of staff spoke good English. I am not sure if she is one of the owners but she made sure that we had a lovely meal.  The smiling chefs in the partly open kitchen were Sri Lankan and they were bloody good at their work.

We started our dinner with what was the best foie gras of a trip of many foie gras. What I liked about this foie gras was the texture. The foie was served slightly moist and not as a frozen block as it was in other places. And it was packed with flavours. Marinated in sauternes wine according to the menu which possibly gave it more punch. Foie gras is normally served with a chutney made with figs or apricot and some bread in paris. We preferred to have the foie without the chutney. Since we had an English speaking lady managing our table, I asked her what is the proper way to eat to eat foie gras.

It is your wish,” she replied. “You can have the chutney with it or have the foie by itself.”

Turns out French are not as hidebound as they are made they are made out to be food.

There were other instances on the trip which made me reach this conclusion. For example, when I asked chef Olivier of Le Cordon Bleu about how one should judge a macaron, “he said it is up to the individuals tastes’. And there was the cheerful waitress who got honey with our baked camembert at the Lux Café and said “you are meant to have honey with it but I got it on the side as I don’t like to add honey myself.” And she was right. And, for all the ketchup haters out there, the excellent burger at Rouge Bis was served with ketchup on the side. Not that I needed it. The point I am making is that tastes in food are personal and the people of modern Paris seemed to get that. So think twice the next time you mock someone for their tastes. At least I will.

The other myth that got debunked in Paris was that of the legendary grouchy French service. Far from coming across people who were stuck up and unhelpful, we kept coming across people in restaurants and cafes who were warm, friendly, patient, helpful, spoke various degrees of English and were passionate about food and wanted you to eat well. 

The other good thing is they got all the food together. Not that one of us would have to wait while the other's food came unlike what often happens in mid to upper range European restaurants in Mumbai.

Coming back to La Veche. K had eggs poached in cream with morrel mushrooms  for her mains. This was the most indulgent and hedonistic send off one could have had from Paris. Parsis have a dish called mava ni eendu (eggs baked in a cream reduction). The version I have had of mava per eendu (called heart attack on a plate by Kurush Dalal) seems rather Gandhian and austere in comparison to this brilliantly over the top French celebration of life that we were served.

I had to have an entrecote once again before leaving france. The steak was presented in a tidier manner (more symmetrically cut) at La Veche than the the Pomponnette steak. The sauce Bearnaise on the side was more intense here. The steak, made with Italian beef, and done medium rare, had a nice bite to it though steak to steak, the Pomponette one was, er more raunchy (juicy and meaty) and better seasoned. This was good in absolute terms though.

Xavier spoke highly of the potato fries at La Veche. "They slice it fresh and don't use frozen potatoes at La Veche," said Xavier and they were truly heady. Crisp outside, soft inside, with the alluring starchy sweetness of potato to embrace you.

The bistro was empty that evening as France was playing Iceland that night and we could hear the cheers from the neighbouring pubs as the French scored goal after goal.

We didn’t get to have the coq au vin as we were told that it is a winter dish. We did have another French classic in the trip, the duck confit. This was in a rather posh café so wait for my next Paris instalment which will be on the cafes of Paris to read about that.

To be continued


Note: 

1. Restaurant tips (based on 9 days and at least 18 restaurant and cafe meals and possibly more)
- Bread is usually on the house
- Tap water is not charged for
- Most popular places in Paris will have an English menu and wifi and fairly clean toilets
- You can ask your hotel to book you a table for sit down places
- I am not very sure on the tipping etiquette though we would usually leave a couple of euros as the service was very nice
- Most staff at the restaurants that we came across seemed quite knowledgeable about food and don't mind answering questions
- Some of the staff spoke very good English. Some passable. Sort of like Mumbai
- There is no such thing as French Fries in classic restaurants though most dishes come with delectable potato fries in different shapes and sizes
- If you want to share a dish you can say so and they will usually get you a spare plate

2.Our stay was not sponsored by the Joke Hotel though it might seem so. It’s just that we had a very nice experience there. We booked our room on the hotel site and here is the link

3. Restaurant links:
Lepic Assiette
Rouge Bis
A La Pomponnette
La Veche et le Cuisiniere

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