Paris restaurant, food and wine experiences
This article about Paris restaurants, wine bars and food shops represents the personal favourites of Foodtourist’s editors Sue Dyson and Roger McShane. These are the places they haunt on their regular visits to Paris.
Paris remains to us one of the most exciting and compelling food cities in the world. It is a city in which you can splurge hundreds or thousands of dollars on a single meal or where you can get a meal cooked by an expert chef for as little as 30 euros as you can at a restaurant such as Au Passage, Rino, Les Papilles or Aux Deux Amis and for a little more at night you can eat in great places such as Saturne or Septime or Bones.
So where do we head for when we arrive in Paris? Currently we spend our first night at Bones, the restaurant of dynamic chef James Henry. Both the restaurant and the bar draw us in. Of course, we may drop in to nearby Septime Cave on our way there to sample a few of their delicious wine offerings.
The other wine siren that tempts us are the venues run by Pierre Jancou. Pierre has been a key advocate of natural wines for many years. He runs Vivant Table which is his more formal restaurant with the very good food and the sincere wines from the amazing cellar.
But next door there is Vivant Cave with its snacks of stunning oysters and charcuterie and other more substantial fare that is so alluring. And then there is the wine selection from the fridges that line the wall to the right of the entrance. The wines on display represent the best of natural France!
In recent years we have noted the emergence of classy wine bars and special places known as cave-à-manger where you can buy a bottle of wine to take home or you can take it to the table and have a simple meal. Examples are l'Entree des Artistes, l'Avant Comptoir, Aux Deux Amis (there is a new chef there now so we need to try the food here again), Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie, Les Papilles, Verre Volé and Coinstot Vino. Alas, one of our favourite wine shops, La Cave de l'Insolite, has recently changed hands seeing the exit from the industry of the gregarious and tireless promoter of natural wines, Michel Moulherat. We have tried a couple of times to eat here but it has been packed each time.
Paris also has some of the best food shops in the world. And some of the best are not the traditional ones that everyone knows about such as Ladurée and Fauchon. Rather they are tiny jewels such as Pierre Hermé (try the ice creams as well) or Jacques Genin or Da Rosa where products of exceptional quality are available. More recently, other places are capturing the limelight such as the Verre Vole Epicerie where we bought some fabulous sandwiches which comforted us during a layover at Orly airport. Another place for sandwiches that has come to our attention is the aptly named Chez Aline in the 11th which serves sandwiches of considerable quality.
Paris is the city of unrivalled food opportunities where you can dine at some of the most expensive restaurants in the world, wander to some of the best food shops to be found anywhere or simply sip a cup of coffee while watching café society in action. If you want to splurge on a 3 star meal then options to consider are L’Astrance (where the food is very controlled and careful), maybe Pierre Gagnaire (where the food can be very uncontrolled), perhaps the quietly elegant Taillevent or the slightly more radical Arpege.
However, more and more these days we are attracted to the less formal bistros and the tiny cave-à-manger that somehow seem more connected with the soul of French food. This style of food probably reaches its purest expression in the funky Le Comptoir run by megastar chef Yves Camdebourde. The food here is deeply rooted in tradition and executed with flawless precision by the chef. A dish of tripe we ate there recently was one of the most soulful dishes we have enjoyed in a long time. Turn up exactly at 12 noon to secure a table if you have not booked an evening meal. The breakfast here is also one of the best in Paris, but preference is given to house guests.
In a similar vein, we have also been attracted on our last few visits to a little place called Aux Deux Amis in Oberkampf where the wines are seriously natural with labels such as Mosse and de Moor and Villemade.
Other places you might like to experience include the laid-back Astier in the 13th, the frenetic La Regalade in the 14th and the Alain Ducasse bistro Aux Lyonnais in the 2nd where the pike quenelles in nantua sauce are wonderful. If you want to go to somewhere on the spur of the moment you could also check out L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon which has a no-bookings policy most of the time. Our last meal saw some bad lapses in service but the food is always interesting and it provides a chance to try the famous mashed potatoes.
Good wine bars include Le Verre Vole in the 10th just next to the Canal Saint Martin where the newly renovated kitchen turns out some very good food to accompany the extensive range of natural wines that are available.
Another place we feel comfortable in is the haunt of locals at the back of the 5th called Les Pipos where they stock interesting wines such as the Morgon Cotes du Py of Foillard and Catherine le Goeuil's elegant Cotes du Rhone from Cairanne to accompany soulful dishes such as steak tartar or the incredibly vibrant oysters from Brittany that are always available.
Our favourite Paris restaurants
We have chosen the restaurants that provide a wide range of interesting and exciting dining experiences from three star dining to out-of-the-way places that are little more than a bar with a couple of tables.
The space is interesting - almost rustic in a NOMA sort of way. The food is fantastic with flavours bursting from every dish. The wine list is a careful compilation of the most interesting natural wines from France and Italy (and beyond) with even rare and obscure wines such as the Belluard Le Feu being available. And finally, the waiting staff are efficient, friendly and knowledgeable.
Bertrand Grebaut is gaining a great reputation for his cooking. Certainly enough to entice us back on a recent trip. We thought the food had gained coherence and the evening was very enjoyable. We like the fact that they are very serious about the food and wine served here but they do it all in a relaxed and friendly way.
Read our review here: Septime
Bones is a hot new restaurant in the 11th arrondissement of Paris run by chef James Henry and his talented crew. The transformation of the former The Green House site is amazing. There is nothing left apart from the large lamps to recognise the former location. The food is based on the freshest possible ingredients, the wine is a showcase of France's best artisanal, natural selections and the service is friendly and efficient.
Read our review here: Bones
For lovers of natural wine (wine produced organically or biodynamically with minimal intervention and fermented with natural yeasts) this is a place that should be on your 'must-visit' list. The food is delicious and the seriously natural wines are memorable. The amazing vibe here was established by the owner Pierre Jancou who is of both French and Italian extraction and who cares passionately about both the food and wine (only ever natural and often hyper-natural) he serves.
Read our review here: Vivant
This lovely, tiny restaurant is turning out beautiful food based on great produce. The wine list is carefully chosen and provides choices from throughout France - many of which are natural. The service is charming.
Read our review here: Rino
We have come to love this restaurant due to the excellent food and the amazing array of natural wines on the list. The food is cooked with imagination and flair and the produce is always of the highest quality.
Read our review here: Saturne
The little cousin of the amazingly popular Chateaubriand next door. Every time we have dropped in here we have been delighted with the quality of the food and with the natural wine selection. The food is small plates but the servings are cleverly put together and represent amazing value for money.
Read our review here: Le Dauphin
This restaurant and wine bar in our current favourite part of Paris, the 11th, is receiving a lot of attention. It is also unbelievably good value. The produce is of the highest quality from excellent suppliers such as Joël Thiébault and Thierry Breton from Chez Michel who supplies the bread. And the wines are suitably natural with offerings from luminaries such as Emile Heredia.
Currently, a three course lunch is a mere 16.5 Euros!! We had the four course offering and it set us back 19.5 Euros. This is a must-visit venue!
Read our review here: Au Passage
Another very special place that we love is Les Papilles. Here you dine in a wine shop with many interesting wines lining the walls. The menu is fixed. Four courses with no choice. But what food! We enjoy the conversations we get into here as people stroll along the shelves trying to choose the best wines to go with their meal. You can choose any wine from the shelves and they will open it for you for a small surcharge. A dish of long cooked pork belly and vegetables we had there recently was superb as was a dessert of pannacotta served in a chunky glass.
Read our review here: Les Papilles
No visit to Paris would be complete without a visit to Ribouldingue Restaurant in the 5th. The area around this restaurant is infested by tourists and there are many really bad eating places in the vicinity. However this one is different! Some of the best offal dishes in France are available here. We order dishes such as lamb tongues or marrow bones or a main course of a stunning and sparsely presented whole veal kidney or a dish of tripes au vin blanc and potatoes. And there is the wine list. It is packed with organic and biodynamic wines from throughout France.
Read our review here: Ribouldingue Restaurant
Here you can enjoy great Basque-influenced cooking while enjoying one of the best-selected wine lists in Paris.
Read our review here: L'Ami Jean
Aux Deux Amis
Aux Deux Amis is a newcomer to the Paris dining scene. It is informal, lively and serves some of the best biodynamic and natural wines from throughout France. And the food and wine are very reasonably priced.
Read our review here: Aux Deux Amis
Le Chateaubriand is a wonderful, old-fashioned bistro serving 'new' food in the 11th. The food cooked by Basque chef Inaki Aizpitarte is excellent and sometimes exciting and the natural wine list is new and clever. Go here for the buzz as much as the food. Sometimes a dish can fail. On one occasion the dessert failed and on another the dessert was superb but the overall experience was still interesting.
Read our review here: Le Chateaubriand
Some very good food here although we have had reports of indifferent service. The day we went it was very good.
Read our review here: Restaurant Itineraires
A regular spot for us. This is a great bistro with fair prices for the quality of the food. The wine list has some of France's natural wine treasures. Have a drink at l'Avant Comptoir (see Bars section) while waiting for a table.
Read our review here: Le Comptoir
Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie
This cafe in the 5th serves good, honest, traditional French food in a lively atmosphere along with a long list of organic and biodynamic wines from throughout France.
Read our review here: Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie
Le Repaire de Cartouche
Repaire de Cartouche is a gem of a restaurant in the 11th. The engaging owner directs proceedings to ensure that guests have a great time. The food is wonderful while being relatively reasonably priced. The wine list has a great deal of depth with some very interesting older vintages.
Read our review here: Le Repaire de Cartouche
Le Jeu de Quilles
Le Jeu de Quilles is a delightful, tiny restaurant that we discovered on our most recent trip to Paris. There are only a handful of tables seating 19 people. The kitchen is open and the regular customers chat constantly with the laid-back chef. The prices are very reasonable and the wines carefully chosen.
Read our review here: Le Jeu de Quilles
We also have a great deal of affection for Spring. This is a restaurant run by an American chef (Daniel Rose) who is receiving a lot of praise from Parisians for his cooking. We have eaten here on a number of occasions in both the previous venue and the new swish premises and it has been excellent on all occasions. The wine list highlights many of France's natural wine producers such as Antoine Arena from Corsica.
Read our review here: Spring
Le Baratin was one of the first bistros in Paris to move to an all-natural wine list. The food is simply presented and very good and the wine selection is amazing. Just leave the selection to the sommelier and you won't be disappointed. On our most recent visit we thoroughly enjoyed a wine from rising star of Haut-Cotes de Nuits, Yann Durieux.
Read our review here: Le Baratin
A great place for natural wine and some very good food. Some of the produce is sourced from the Arpege garden.
Read our review here: Racines
Another good value venue in the same 'passage' as Racines is the new Coinstot Vino. It specialises in tasty food from good producers and the best of natural wines.
Read our review here: Coinstot Vino
Astier is a very good place to experience a typical Parisian bistro. The food is very good and the wine list features wine from throughout France including Corsica.
Read our review here: Astier
The Alain Ducasse empire has taken over many restaurants in Paris. This is one of them. However, it has the feel of a 19th century bistro. The service is slick and the food an excellent representation of Lyonnais cuisine.
Read our review here: Aux Lyonnais
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
If you want a three star experience without the three star price tag then the small plate format here is a good place to dip your toes into fine dining.
Read our review here: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
If you want an informal meal at a reasonable price or if you are dining alone then Les Cocottes is a favourite venue.
Read our review here: Les Cocottes
Le Bistrot Paul Bert
This venue has the feel of a traditional bistro while having a very modern wine list packed with the stars of the natural wine movement.
Read our review here: Le Bistrot Paul Bert
Good coffee is rare in Paris. The coffee served in most of the famous coffee houses is weak and insipid and not worthy of this great food city. Coffee appears to be an essential part of the day for most Parisians but they don't seem to care about the quality.
In fact, the coffee is Paris, in fact most of France, is universally bad and controlled by large corporations such as Cafés Richard who create mediocre coffee blends and market them to the millions.
Luckily the situation is changing slowly with a few serious coffee shops opening. We can only highly recommend one!
La Cafeotheque de Paris
La Cafeotheque de Paris is a vibrant coffee lounge quite close to the River Seine which breaks the stereotype of bad coffee in Paris coffee houses. The coffee here is seriously good and can compete with great coffee places such as Blue Bottle in San Francisco and Single Origin in Sydney.
It is such a relief to find a small, intimate place such as this in a quiet location near the Seine (52 rue de l'Hotel de Ville) which serves such exquisite coffee that is neither bitter nor bland but rather robustly flavoured and fresh from recent roasting.
Read our review here: La Cafeotheque de Paris
We managed to get to Bal Cafe on out most recent trip to Paris - but on the last day we were there so we didn't get an opportunity to re-visit. They did have a good wine list - we had a wine from one of the Loire Valley's most exciting winemakers Lebled. The coffee was very good!
This is a relatively new venue that we will be heading towards on our imminent trip to Paris. It is close to the Palais-Royal which is on the rue Villedo. The owner has a good provenance having worked at Le Bal and Cafeotheque.
L'Arbre a cafe
L'Arbre a Cafe is a brand of coffee not a place to go. But it is one for you to keep an eye out for because it is now served by some of the best restaurants in Paris. It is the brand of coffee obsessive Hippolyte Courty who we first met in Hong Kong where is is involved in a delightful wine store called La Cabane a Vin in Hollywood Road.
Formerly an historian, Hippolyte began researching coffee after failing to find good coffee in Paris and he started travelling the world searching for new and interesting varieties and then brining them back to Paris to roast.
One of his plantations is that of biodynamic producer Henrique Sloper de Araújo in Brazil (it is no coincidence as Hippolyte is also an ardent fan of biodynamic wines) where he sources the cult, complexly-flavoured "Jacu Bird" coffee beans.
We have found his coffee at Philou (a very nice bistro) and Le Verre Vole in the 10th, Saturne in the 2nd, Le Dauphin, Le Bistrot Paul Bert, Aux Deux Amis and Le Chateaubriand in the 11th, the laid-back Café de la Nouvelle Mairie in the 5th, Da Rosa in the 6th.
Outside Paris we had a very nice espresso made with this coffee at Un Ile in Angers, again at l'Herbe Rouge in Valaire and at La Cave Voltaire after a pleasant lunch in Chinon.
Paris food shops
Paris is unequalled in the quality of its food shops. Other cities might have more, other cities may have bigger, other cities may have newer, but rarely do they match the consistent excellence of places such as Pierre Herme and Jacques Genin.
Many of the wine bars in Paris provide an excellent selection of wines from small producers throughout the country. Some, such as La Cremerie and Le Verre Vole specialise in 'natural wines' - those wines made without the use of chemicals in the vineyard or additives in the wine making process. Our latest discoveries are l'Avant Comptoir and the amazing l'Entree des Artistes.
One note here. Many guides mention Willis Wine Bar and Juveniles as places to drink, however our visits to these venues over the last two years have been desultory. There has been no spark from the staff, no excitement, no enthusiasm for taking you on a journey of discovery.
There are many good wine shops in the Paris. We tend to go to those specialising in natural wines or at least who stock some natural wines.
Note that one of our favourite 'go to' places in Paris La Cave de l'Insolite is now closed.
One of the great attractions of the Paris is the range of markets you can visit. We particularly like the President Wilson market which is one of the best fruit and vegetable markets you will find anywhere.
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