Food in London and Paris

Churchill Arms Pub, London

Since the last couple of blogs have been about food, this seems like a good time to talk about food in these fabulous cities. I’m sure there are readers of this blog who have a far more discerning knowledge of the food in London and Paris than I’ll be able to bring to bear after my week in each place. I’m fortunate to be able to travel to the two cities and I certainly didn’t have a budget that allowed eating at the most expensive, famous or highly rated restaurants. Still, eat we did, and we weren’t so budget conscious that we didn’t find good food. The word on Paris is that you’d have to work very hard to find bad food – and then you’d probably fail.

Pub in London, July 2011

I’ll start with the food in London. Fish and chips is the thing, right? It is, and it’s available at every pub on every street. After eating fried fish and french fries a couple of times, though, can you really keep doing it? I switched to broiled fish before the week ended. We had a favorite pub that had far better fish than the other places we ate. I also ate Italian a couple of nights: Pizza (which was great, made by an Italian family I met) and Lasagna (which was awful, made by a different Italian family). Urban Woman had a meat pie (which I tasted: good) and we had great croissants from a couple of different places near our hotel. Our bill usually ran around $45.00 to $55.00 for two for dinner.

Starbucks: Dependable for restrooms

Pret a Manger: Morning coffee and croissants (London)

Caffe Forum: Evening coffee and pastry (London)

Coffee, an essential food group in our family, was hard to find, at first. We spotted a nearby Starbucks and got coffee initially, but I felt a bit guilty about that. After a couple of days we began to recognize the shops that had great coffee, and from that point we had our favorite morning and evening coffee/croissant places. Each were run by eastern Europeans who were very accommodating when confronted with my ignorance regarding pounds, their language and the way things worked in general.

Grocery Store in Kensington, London

They had conventional, American-style grocery stores, called Waitrose, which weren’t quite as large as a Kroger, but they weren’t that much smaller. They looked and operated pretty much like our grocery stores. One even had a Starbucks inside. The best thing about seeing a Starbucks or a McDonald’s in either country was the fact that they likely had a restroom inside – and that was sometimes the Holy Grail on the streets of London and particularly Paris.

Fresh Fruit Store, Paris

Bakery, Ninth Arrondissement, Paris

Eating in Paris was an entirely different experience. There was one very new grocery store near our hotel (which was in a residential area). It was still smaller than the London version, but it was a good size. Our hotel manager was proud of it, perhaps because she felt it would be what American’s expect. For us, it was the small places to buy food that brought the most pleasure. Each focusing primarily or exclusively on one food group, there was a fruit store, many bakers, some selling breads others selling confections. There was a butcher, a rotisserie chicken shop (for take-away), a cheese shop and many wine stores. I absolutely loved buying one item in one store, a couple in another. I guess it might get tedious if one was in a hurry, but very few people seem to hurry in Paris, which contrasted with London where everyone seemed to run.

Two semi-urbanites in the big city: Cafe Select, Paris

Typical restaurant with outdoor seating to the street, Paris

Restaurants were a delight, with the emphasis always on outside seating. Dinner was generally taken around 8:00, 9:00 or 10:00 at night. The sun didn’t fully set until 10:30 and if people were concerned about work the next morning, they gave no indication of such. Meals were leisurely and delicious. We ate Italian a couple of times, but our favorite restaurant was Cafe Select and they had a wide range of chicken, fish and lamb dishes. Of interest, a coke comes in a bottle with no refill implied and costs around $7.00. A cup of coffee or a glass of wine costs the same. Our bill in Paris usually ran from $60.00 to $85.00 for two for dinner.

Terra Corsa: Cheese and wine, wine and cheese, Paris

So, what’s the takeaway for our tiny city? First, Just Ripe is similar to food stores in Paris. It does sell a wider variety of products, but its size is comparable and the individual products are similarly organic and fresh. The seating and foods to eat in are similar to the cheese shop pictured here. Second, I think we are ready to support, perhaps a store or two like the coffee/croissant shops pictured from London (Pret a Manger is London based, but has expanded to New York, Chicago and D.C.), but I’m virtually certain that we are ready for a bakery. There is nothing quite like buying a hot, fresh baguette ($1.50), stepping onto the street and ripping the end off to eat as you walk down the sidewalk. Rick, are you listening? I also wonder if a cheese shop or bagel/croissant shop might not do well. Rick, you could do all that, couldn’t you?
Finally, I think of Knoxville as having a healthy dose of outdoor seating, which I and many downtowners love. But, look at that picture with all the tables outside. It was everywhere, and often most of a restaurant’s seating would be outside. Their weather seems to be better than ours for longer stretches, but I’m betting we could support much more than we currently have, particularly as the population grows and the people watching gets commensurately better.

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