We’ll always have Paris
Published 06 February 2024

Jòia by Hélène Darroze, Paris

Eating well away from home takes a little bit of work - no one knows that more than I do. So, on booking a few days in Paris for the once-in-a lifetime Mark Rothko exhibition at the Foundation Louis Vuitton, my main worry was which restaurants to book – I hadn’t been to Paris for 10 years. But I knew what I wanted, a mix of classic institution and forward-thinking contemporary rather than haute cuisine.

As angry farmers and their tractors blocked motorways around Paris and protesters from the environmental group Riposte Alimentaire threw pumpkin soup at the Mona Lisa, it seemed to me not much had changed in the last decade. But it certainly has. I found an invigorated city, one in the midst of a major transformation as preparations for the Olympics progress. And the dining scene felt exciting. Not resting on its laurels as I had thought a decade ago but inventive.

We’ll always have Paris
Crapaudine beetroot with radishes, grenade and Brillât-Savarin cheese at JÒIA par Hélène Darroze, Paris

There was so much to like about Jòia by Hélène Darroze (2nd arr.), the acclaimed chef’s pretty, informal boutique restaurant. It combined warm service with a concise, three-course lunch menu that tempted with its price of 33 euros (with supplements) and moved from the delicate modernism of crapaudine beetroot with radishes, grenade and Brillât-Savarin cheese, and slow-cooked egg with salsify, bayonne ham and yellow wine emulsion, to the trusted trattoria comforts of osso bucco with roasted carrots, parsley and a creamy, cheesy polenta. A signature Mont Blanc-style pavlova with Madagascar vanilla Chantilly was glorious, well worth the eleven euros supplement.

We’ll always have Paris
Mont Blanc-style pavlova with Madagascar vanilla Chantilly at JÒIA par Hélène Darroze, Paris

For that classic greatest hits experience we chose the popular Bistrot Paul Bert (11th arr). And who can argue with a menu that delivers a faultless vol au vent de ris de veau aux champignons, utterly delicious Saint-Jacques rôties, mousseline de pommes de terre and poutargue (salted, cured grey mullet roe), and a textbook filet de boeuf au poivre Sarawak with moreish frites. And was that Grégory Montel from Call My Agent at the table in the corner? Who could ask more of a restaurant? The downside is the booking system. You can only book by phone within a short daily time window and they don’t always answer. It took me three days.

We’ll always have Paris
Vol au vent at Le Bistrot Paul Bert, Paris

An effortless sense of cool pervaded Restaurant Eels (10th arr.), picked from 50 Best Discovery – an offshoot of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The pared-back space was packed with a young French crowd drawn by a great value 39 euros lunch menu and chef Adrien Ferrand’s ambitious, contemporary cooking. We were impressed. Smoked eels with liquorice, apple, hazelnuts and a roasted butter sauce, and main courses of trout confit with potatoes and Castelfranco salad (plus orange blossom beurre blanc, ponzu and seaweed oil), and milk-fed veal rump with Colonnata lard, salsify and watercress, Tarama condiment and smoked juice, were inventive and delicious. But the highly ambitious cooking didn’t always achieve its aspirations – less wonderful was an intentionally raw duck. Service, however, was charming.

We’ll always have Paris
Confit trout at Restaurant Eels, Paris