Tracey Spicer: best places to eat and drink in Paris

Chocolate sprinkled with gold dust, at Auberge Nicolas Flamel, a restaurant in the oldest house in Paris.
Chocolate sprinkled with gold dust, at Auberge Nicolas Flamel, a restaurant in the oldest house in Paris. Photo: Supplied

Forget foie gras: The funky food in Paris is Australian.

The rain is falling lazily, at 10am on a Monday;  locals smoke languidly, wishing the day away. A few huddle under umbrellas near a nondescript door in a back street near the Bataclan. 

Such is the hype over Holybelly, foodies shiver outside for a sniff of bacon and hash browns. Everything is house-made;  the menu changes monthly; and the coffee is the best in the city. Sarah Mouchot and Nico Alary opened this 49-seat alcove in 2013, inspired by the international cuisine at Melbourne's cafes.

It's important to befriend your local providores. This is L'epicerie et Associes, across the road from Tracey's apartment.
It's important to befriend your local providores. This is L'epicerie et Associes, across the road from Tracey's apartment. Photo: Supplied

Says Nico: "One month we can have a very classic French dish on the menu, like Aligot et saucisse de Morteau  and the next a southern comfort food like corn bread and beans."

19 rue Lucien Sampaix, Paris holybel.ly

The 10th arrondissement is  a bit like Brooklyn, with beardies on bikes and a strip of American diners.

A Paris highlight.
A Paris highlight. Photo: Supplied

There's a similar vibe at Hardware Societe, in the emerging 18th opposite the Sacre Coeur. Di and Will Keser, who run Melbourne's Hardware Societe and Bowery to Williamsburg, say Parisians are getting on board the brunch express: their coffee comes from a Brunswick-based roaster.

10, rue Lamarck, Paris

Outside the Aussie invasion, the pick of the bunch is Septime: a modern rustic restaurant, which has been winning awards for five years.

"It is almost impossible to get a table," my Airbnb host, Dan, says. "But here is the number. Give it a try." Like Zoolander's Hansel, Septime is still, "so hot right now". 

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I peer in the window, after phone calls, emails and Facebook posts go unanswered. The industrial-meets-farmhouse decor and exquisitely inventive food – milk fed veal with salty trout eggs – are out of my reach. So I sneak across to Septime Cave for a glass of non-sulfite wine (neither milky nor salty; dry and delicious).    

Fortunately, Dan has a second suggestion. Auberge Nicolas Flamel is in the oldest house in Paris, built in 1407. Down a narrow laneway, near the boutiques of Le Marais, is a small sandstone restaurant, with dark wooden beams and a warm ambience. The waiter brings a tricolour amuse-bouche: champignon mousse with coffee Chantilly; buffalo mozzarella and basil cream; smoked salmon croquette on pea mash. Each bite-sized piece explodes with flavour.

The entree is salmon quenelle with squid ink biscuit. (My salt cravings from Septime are certainly quelled.) Duckling with raspberries and sweet potato is a rich and satisfying main, but the piece de resistance is dessert: Chocolate souffle decorated with gold dust. And all for €35 ($53). OK, make that €50 ($76) due to a decadent glass of Margaux. The food is pure alchemy, which is appropriate: In the 14th century, Flamel is said to have discovered a philosopher's stone, which gave him immortality. (He has, in fact, been immortalised in the Harry Potter books and films.)

51 Rue de Montmorency, Paris, auberge-nicolas-flamel.fr

Philosophy is a theme trickling through the top restaurants.

Les Philosophes, also in Le Marais, is a bustling bistro known for its collection of books inside a glass atrium. Here you'll find the wise words of syphilitic poet, Charles Baudelaire: "One should always be drunk. That's all that matters; that's our one imperative need."

Over dinner, my friend Tanya and I follow his advice, devouring house-made foie gras, followed by the plat du jour – the tenderest beef I've eaten – washed down with a bottle of merlot from St Emilion.  It's busy so be prepared for slow service. And bring your dictionary: the waiters speak only French.

28 Rue Vieille du Temple, Paris, cafeine.com/philosophes

At the ultra-cool Monsieur Bleu, the philosophy is strictly prohibition. Open the hidden door on a mirrored wall beneath the Palais  de Tokyo to reveal a scene straight from 1920s. This restaurant and speakeasy features art deco design based upon a fictional character: "Elegant and cultivated, mysterious and suave, Monsieur Bleu is a true bourgeois gentleman, artist, gastronome and dandy," according to the architect, Joseph Dirand.

This middle-aged mum loved it too: sophisticated food, respectful service, and a view of Le Tour Eiffel.

20 avenue de New-York, Paris, monsieurbleu.com

The other hot spot is Aux Pres on the Left Bank. (Seriously, even the celebs have to queue.) The ricotta ravioli is so soft it dissolves in my mouth. For dessert, the waiter brings an oven tray  of madeleines. The food is fresh and funky, but the service is rushed: "They like to keep turning the tables over," my dinner companion, a local TV presenter, shrugs.

27 Rue du Dragon, Paris, restaurantauxpres.com

In my Airbnb apartment the following night, I dine on delicacies procured from my new friends across the road. L'epicerie et  Associes sells cheese, charcuterie, truffles, wine, and a famous foot-long sandwich. The jovial boys behind the counter slice truffle salami for me to taste. (Who says half a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a block of roquefort isn't a meal?)

8 Rue de Castellane, Paris

The waiter at Bistrot  du Sommelier, in the 8th arrondissement, agrees. On the wall of this cosy restaurant is live footage from the cellar, where customers check out collectable wine: I manage to nab a glass of pauillac for €9 ($13).

97 Boulevard Haussmann, bistrotdusommelier.4yourmobile.com

The Aussies might well be  flavour of the month. But French gastronomy wins by a nose.

Top tip: Make sure you're on time, if you book at a Michelin-starred restaurant. I was  less than 20 minutes late for my reservation at Le Gabriel – because of street blockades due to a terror threat – and lost the table.

Tracey Spicer was a guest of Airbnb.