They're a stunning couple, tall, slim and often stand in front of me for Body Sculpt at Gymnase Club, blocking out the view in the mirror, which suits me fine. In true Parisian style we never even make eye-contact but, I'm sure they're having a torrid affair. There's electricity, frisson and they're both so lithe! Imagine my surprise, I'm tucking into my starter at Garnier (carpaccio de bar au gingembre, legumes croquants à l'huile d'olive citronée 12€), and in they walk! I've never seen them dressed! They look great, her blonde hair sleek enough to make Deneuve angry, he looks like a testosterone dream. They disappear up the magnificent staircase to suck oysters in privacy; they're definitely having an affair.
Are you? If you are, nobody will ever find you at Garnier, it's suitably cavernous, some of the tables set into little booths. Located opposite the Gare Saint Lazare, that's not very romantic, you're thinking. OK. You can't have everything and I hear Saint Lazare is an “up and coming area”. If you feel like being very French and pretending that he who must be obeyed is your lover, try Garnier.
Dating from the 1930's, not named for the architect of the nearby Opera House, but for a very rich client, Madame Garnier. I see her now, entertaining her friends in this “charming little brasserie I found”. She's dressed by Chanel, the chauffeur waits outside with the Bentley. To-day the owner, Bertrand Menut (La Grande Cascade, Le Ballon des Ternes) has given the old girl (the restaurant not Madame, she's brown bread years ago) an expensive lifting. Some of the tschokes comes from the cruise ship Normandie, some are Lalique, the table settings are a lesson in the art du table. The vivier's heaving with lobsters, crabs and langoustine.
In the kitchen Ludovic Schwartz says he's not trying for anything fancy, but a cuisine de saison. “I like playing with different ways of cooking. Roasting, grilling, dry-frying, poaching, steaming”, he explains. Order a tuna and it will be brought to your table and de-boned before your very eyes as is the sea-bass and any other poisson worth a fillet . Saint-Jacques come direct from Trouville, to be grilled, steamed or à la plancha (29€) Salmon from Norway (14.50€), and old Madame Garnier's favourite, sole meunière au citron confit, purée de pommes de terres ratte 32€). There's cochon de lait glace au jus, mitonnéz de legumes au romarin, beef, duck, carré d'agneau. Cheeses are from Quatrehomme and desserts are classics, revised and corrected. Try Baba au rhum amber, crème de vanilla Bourbon (8€). The Menu Express (38€) includes entrée, main, dessert, 2 glasses of wine and coffee. The wine list is worth getting out the specs for: a delightful tour de France. Besserat de Bellefon Rosé (79.50€) for the lovers. A full bodied Chateau Clarke Listrac-Medoc 1997 (63€) for the likes of us.
Well you should always check out the loos in any restaurant. If they're clean, it means the kitchen's clean (sod's law). So I climb the magnificent staircase, and there they are, framed in the window, our lovers, sucking. As for the loos, dear reader, you could eat there; impeccable. But I still don't know how to turn on the taps!
111 rue Saint-Lazare. 8th
T: 01 43 87 50 40.
Valet parking – Open every day.
“Take me where the red wine flows”, sings Sting in his beautiful “After the Rain Has Fallen”. And life looks like imitating art now that he's bought himself a vineyard in the Chianti region of Tuscany. The Gallo Nero vineyard is part of a farmland bordering the 100-acre Pelagio estate which the ex-teacher and his wife, Trudie Styler, bought as a little holiday home-away-from-home/recording studio five years ago. Ten farmhouses, grazing land, olive groves, a forest and permission to build 19 secluded holiday homes for close personals (Madonna and Guy etc). What will he call the red wine, cuvée Gordon Sumner? (His real name).
Look out for Gordon's tipple at Planet Bio, the organic supermarket that stocks fresh vegetables, has a wine cellar, juices, meats, chickens. Having trouble sleeping? Ask about the fragrant Abel-Franklin cereal filled pillow made by old ladies in Provence at the foot of Mont Ventoux!
47 rue Guersant. 17th
(Métro: Porte de Champéret)
T: 01 44 09 74 64.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Treaty de l'Elysée, guess where President Chirac and Bernadette had dinner? Wrong. Together with the Schroders they went to La Cigale where, as luck would have it, the chef/proprietor has just renovated his petit neighbourhood bistro. House specialities are soufflés, sweet and savoury. And there's a soufflé du jour, which for the President and his guests was Soufflé aux Oursins.
11 bis rue Chomel. 7th
T: 01 45 48 87 87
I love my soufflés—à la truffes. And, according to the experts, it's a good season for la tuber melanosporum. Chef Michel Rostang buys his twice a month (during the season, until March, bien sûr) at Richerenches in the Vaucluse, going price this year is about 180€ a kilo. I recently discovered a white wine based aperitif à la truffe noir. Drink it very cold, drizzle on truffle omelettes, risottos, pastas, Saint Jacques or use it to marinate raw fish.
L'Espace Tuillère, 26230. Grignan.
18€ for 75cl.
T: 04 75 46 94 58.
Chef Marc Marchand loves the black diamonds so much he's featuring them on a special Truffle Menu (through 16th March). As Marchand says, “alors, truffes, truffon, truffez”.
228 rue de Rivoli. 1st
T: 01 44 58 10 55.
Copyright © Margaret Kemp