Lift the lid on the past, present and future of the capital’s food scene
Bearing the weight of its eulogized culinary history, Paris’s once-thriving food scene was overshadowed by cities such as London, Tokyo, New York, and Copenhagen in the early 2000s. That’s until a new generation of chefs shook things up, embracing a new-found ‘bistronomy’ that infused French traditional cuisine with creativity, foreign flavors, and a forward-thinking ethos. A renewed appetite for well-executed, tasty bistro classics such as steak tartare combined with a fresh perspective have placed the City of Lights back on the world food map.
A taste of tradition
The spirit of early 19th-century Paris lives on through the capital’s bistros and brasseries with their often heritage-listed decor, nostalgic menus, and witty waiters.
Hearty classics such as escargots and beef bourguignon star on the menu of Parisian bistros, known for their neighborhood atmosphere and affordable price point. Head to Fouquet's on the crossroads of Champs-Elysées and Avenue Georges V for excellent Parisian staples like beef tartare, croque monsieur and foie gras terrine, or Le CasseNoix (56 rue de la Fédération, 75015), which plates up decadent dishes including pâté en croûte.
Storied brasseries such as Le Grand Colbert (2 rue Vivienne, 75002) and La Rotonde (105 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006) offer a livelier ambience, paired with grand interiors. In keeping up with the tradition, they serve a wide selection of fresh seafood highlighting the bounty of French coastal produce. Fresh seafood platters and a fish-centric menu have also made Le Dôme (108 Boulevard du Montparnasse) a favorite among Parisians and tourists, since 1897.
As the birthplace of Michelin stars in the 1920s, Paris boasts a century-old reputation for gastronomy excellence. Michelin-starred establishments in the city continue to pay homage to the classic, and forgotten, French dishes that forged this reputation. La Tour d’Argent (15 quai de la Tournelle, 75005) serves a legendary pressed duck alongside extraordinary wines and sweeping views of the Seine, while three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Guy Savoy’s (11 quai de Conti, 75006) artichoke soup with black truffle repeatedly makes international headlines. And at one-Michelin-starred brasserie 114 Faubourg (114 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008), you can indulge in pigeon and foie gras in a cereal crust.
Five must-try dishes
Whether you’re slurping French onion soup or joining a line for steak frites, there are some food experiences that can be found only in Paris.
This Gascon dish of duck legs slow-cooked in their own fat is the epitome of indulgence with its melt-in-the-mouth flavorful meat. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place if it’s served with potatoes roasted in duck fat.
Petite morsels of indulgence, plucked from their shells, escargots aren’t—contrary to common belief—an everyday dish but rather a decadent treat. The tender snails bask in garlic herb butter, which you must mop up with your bread.
This rustic masterpiece, fit for royalty (the legend says it was invented for King Louis XV), is comfort in a bowl of caramelized onions swimming in a rich broth, topped with a crust of toasted bread and melted Gruyère.
A juicy bistro staple, simple yet timeless. Cooked to perfection (rare or medium rare, as the French prefer), it unleashes crave-worthy flavors and is best served with golden, crispy fries and a side of pepper or Béarnaise sauce.
Embodying the art of balance, this classic French dish features fresh sole, gently pan-fried and drizzled with a luscious lemon sauce. It’s often served for two, to share, a reminder that the essence of French cuisine lies in conviviality.
A taste of the future
While classics never get old, French culinary tradition favors the heavier side thanks to its indulgent use of butter and cream and its weighty legacy. Thankfully, a raft of creative chefs took it upon themselves to lighten things up for the modern taste.
At their award-winning restaurants, La Dame de Pic (20 rue du Louvre, 75001) and Epicure at Le Bristol Paris (112 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008), chef Anne-Sophie Pic and Eric Frechon, respectively, bring their lighter interpretation of French haute cuisine. Dishes such as Frechon’s grilled leek with seaweed butter and oyster tartare, and Pic’s plant-based signature berlingots cater to modern dining aspirations.
The internationally renowned Septime (80 rue de Charonne, 75011) embodies the trend towards lighter, informal gastronomy. Chef Bertrand Grébaut, a former graphic designer, delights diners with unpretentious, seasonal, and sustainable French cuisine in a relaxed setting. Similarly, Pierre Sang Boyer at Pierre Sang (55 rue Oberkampf, 75011) reinvents French cuisine with flair, bringing his Korean origins to the mix.
This new iteration of French gastronomy also comes with a dedication to displaying the diversity, and exceptionality, of the country’s terroir. In modern bistros such as Anicia Bistrot Nature (97 rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006), ingredients from limited-production farms, boutique growers, and small artisans are no longer the exception on the menu.
Its cherished culinary traditions, hearty classics, and storied brasseries have forged Paris’s reputation as the capital of gastronomy. Your trip wouldn’t be complete without enjoying your share of classic French cuisine, before relishing in its modern reinterpretations. Bon appétit!
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