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Share your experiences about restaurants, shopping and Leisure & attraction in France. Special outlets and shopping places, or best hangout joints are welcome.

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Postby France Information » Thu Nov 09, 2006 6:40 am



French cuisine has taken a bit of a knocking in recent years. The wonderful ingredients are still there, as every town and village market testifies. But those little family restaurants serving classic peasant dishes that celebrate the region's produce in each exquisite mouthful are few and far between nowadays. The processed, boil-in-the-bag and ready-to-microwave productions of the global food industry, all so inimical to the basic culinary arts of France, are making serious inroads. That's not to say you can't eat well in France - far from it - but be prepared for disappointments at run-of-the-mill establishments.

In the rarefied world of haute cuisine, where the top chefs are national celebrities, a battle is currently raging between traditionalists, determined to preserve the purity of French cuisine, and those who experiment with different flavours from around the world to create novel combinations, for example seafood and cinnamon. At this level, French food is still brilliant - in both camps - and the good news is that prices are continuing to come down. Many gourmet palaces offer weekday lunchtime menus where you can sample culinary genius.

France is also a great place for foreign cuisine, in particular North African, Caribbean (known as Antillais) and Asiatic. Moroccan, Thai or Vietnamese restaurants are not necessarily cheap options but they are usually good value for money.

On the whole, vegetarians can expect a somewhat lean time in France. A few cities have specifically vegetarian restaurants, but elsewhere you'll have to hope you find a sympathetic restaurant (crêperies and pizzerias can be good standbys). Sometimes they're willing to replace a meat dish on the menu fixe with an omelette; other times you'll have to pick your way through the carte. Remember the phrase "Je suis végétarien(ne); il y a quelques plats sans viande?" (I'm a vegetarian; are there any non-meat dishes?). Vegans, however, should probably forget all about eating in French restaurants and stick to self-catering.


The geography of France explains much of the pride of place the country holds in European cuisines. The French can fish and breed seafood in the Channel waters, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean as well as catch freshwater fish in a thousand lakes and rivers. Mountains, forests, deltas and plains with climates ranging from the aridly sun-soaked to northern cold and wetness allow an extraordinary variety of produce. Added to this is the historical and social factor of a class of paysans - smallholders - who have passed down traditional methods from generation to generation. Though it is true that in recent years industrialization has standardized and sanitized production methods, food imports have greatly increased and pollution has taken its toll, there remains a strong connection between the countryside and the table, reflected in the different regional cuisines. The gastronomic map of France features certain regions - Alsace, Provence, Brittany and the Pays Basque - in which the preservation of a distinctive cuisine owes much to historical separation. Burgundy, the Auvergne, Normandy and the Dordogne have absorbed classic French cooking from different corners of the country.

Dishes from Alsace and Lorraine are based on game, pork, beef and lamb, pickled cabbage, and flans with pizza-like pastries. Mussels and chips, accompanied by beer, are a staple of northern France. Butter and cream are the rich basis of many Normandy specialities, which include famous cheeses, apple and pear dishes and seafood. Brittany has oysters, lobsters and other produce from the sea; crêpes and galettes with sweet and savoury fillings; and buttery cakes and flans. Seafood again features prominently on menus all along the Atlantic Coast. The famous Charolais beef of Burgundy, combined with the local wines and mustard, produces mouthwatering variations; snails too are a speciality. Duck and goose in their myriad forms belong to the Dordogne , marinated and served with prunes, preserves and truffles. In the Auvergne, cabbage, pork and bean stew is a favourite, along with cheeses, sausages and garlic soups. Languedoc has the celebrated Rocquefort cheese as a basis for many dishes, and serves snails in appetizing ways, along with the rum-flambéed crêpes languedociennes. Lyon has a special position as the meeting place of north and south, combining sausages and smoked meats with the famous Bresse chicken, dumplings, southern salads and the tasty tarte Lyonnaise. The Pays Basque specializes in wild pigeon and Bayonne ham, white tuna and the delicious ewe's milk cheese, brébis , as well as the rich cherry and chocolate gâteau Basque. Provence, with its Mediterranean climate, yields olives, garlic, lavender honey and delicious fruit and vegetables, all used to perfection in pasta dishes, fish soups, stews and grills, mixed salads and flans. In Corsica wild herbs give the cuisine its unique flavour, with specialities like smoked pork, game, shellfish, eel and trout, and a range of dishes made from the local chestnuts.


For serious cheese- lovers, France is the ultimate paradise. Other countries may produce individual cheeses which are as good as, or even better than, the best of the French, but no country offers a range that comes anywhere near them in terms of sheer inventiveness. In fact, there are officially over 400 types of French cheese (with new ones being created every year), whose recipes are jealously guarded secrets. Many cheese-makers have successfully protected their products by AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée), laws similar to those for wines, which limit the amount of cheese that a particular area can produce, meaning that the subtle differences between French local cheeses have not been overwhelmed by the industrialized uniformity that has plagued other countries.

Most restaurants keep a well-stocked plateau de fromages (cheeseboard), kept at room temperature and served with bread, but not butter. Apart from the ubiquitous Brie, Camembert and numerous varieties of goat's cheese (chèvre), there will usually be one or two local cheeses on offer - these are the ones to go for. Your best bet for local produce is a fromagerie, which often has 200 varieties or more to choose from.


There's no difference between restaurants (or auberges or relais as they sometimes call themselves) and brasseries in terms of quality or price range. The distinction is that brasseries, which resemble cafés, serve quicker meals at most hours of the day, while restaurants tend to stick to the traditional meal times of noon to 2pm, and 7pm to 9.30pm or 10.30pm. After 9pm or so, restaurants often serve only à la carte meals (single dishes chosen from the menu) - invariably more expensive than eating the set menu fixe . In touristy areas in high season, and for all the more upmarket places, it's wise to make reservations - easily done on the same day. In small towns it may be impossible to get anything other than a bar sandwich after 10pm or even earlier; in major cities, town-centre brasseries will serve until 11pm or midnight and one or two may stay open all night.

When hunting for places to eat, avoid places that are half empty at peak time, use your nose and regard long menus with suspicion. Don't forget that hotel restaurants are open to non-residents, and are often very good value. In many small towns and villages, you'll find the only restaurants are in hotels. Since restaurants change hands frequently and have their ups and downs, it's also worth asking people you meet (locals, not fellow tourists) for recommendations. This is the conversational equivalent of commenting on the weather in Britain and will usually elicit strong views and sound advice.

Prices, and what you get for them, are posted outside. Normally there's a choice between one or more menus fixes, where the number of courses has already been determined and the choice is limited, and choosing individually from the carte (menu). Menus fixes are normally the cheapest option. At the bottom end of the price range, they revolve around standard dishes such as steak and chips (steak frites), chicken and chips (poulet frites) and various concoctions involving innards. But further up the scale they can be much the best-value way of sampling regional specialities, sometimes running to five or more courses. If you're simply not that hungry, just go for the plat du jour .

Going à la carte offers greater choice and, in the better restaurants, unlimited access to the chef's specialities - though you'll pay for the privilege. A simple and perfectly legitimate tactic is to have just one course instead of the expected three or four. You can share dishes or go for several starters - a useful strategy for vegetarians. There's no minimum charge.

In the French sequence of courses, any salad (sometimes vegetables, too) comes separate from the main dish, and cheese precedes a dessert. You will be offered coffee, which is always extra, to finish off the meal.

Service compris or s.c. means the service charge is included. Service non compris, s.n.c. or servis en sus means that it isn't and you need to calculate an additional 15 percent. Wine (vin) or a drink (boisson) is occasionally included in the cost of a menu fixe . When ordering house wine, the cheapest option, ask for un quart (0.25 litre), un demi-litre (0.5 litre) or une carafe (1 litre). If you're worried about the cost ask for vin ordinaire or the vin de table . On this website the lowest price menu or the range of menus is given; where average à la carte prices are given it assumes you'll have three courses and half a bottle of wine.

The French are much better disposed towards children in restaurants than other nationalities, not simply by offering reduced-price children's menus but in creating an atmosphere - even in otherwise fairly snooty establishments - that positively welcomes kids; some even have in-house games and toys for them to occupy themselves with. It is regarded as self-evident that large family groups should be able to eat out together.

A rather murkier area is that of dogs in the dining room; it can be quite a shock in a provincial hotel to realize that the majority of your fellow diners are attempting to keep dogs concealed beneath their tables.

One final note is that you should always call the waiter or waitress Monsieur or Madame (Mademoiselle if a young woman), never Garçon, no matter what you've been taught in school.


Wherever you can eat you can invariably drink, and vice versa. Drinking is done at a leisurely pace whether it's a prelude to food (apéritif), a sequel (digestif), or the accompaniment, and cafés are the standard places to do it. Every bar or café has to display its full price list, usually without the fifteen percent service charge added, with the cheapest drinks at the bar (au comptoir), and progressively increasing prices for sitting at a table inside (la salle), or outside (la terrasse). You pay when you leave, and it's perfectly acceptable to sit for hours over just one cup of coffee.

Wine (vin) is drunk at just about every meal or social occasion. Red is rouge, white blanc and rosé rosé. Vin de table or vin ordinaire - table wine - is generally drinkable and always cheap, although it may be disguised and priced-up as the house wine, or cuvée. By the time restaurants have added their considerable mark-up, wine can constitute an alarming proportion of the bill.

The basic wine terms are: brut, very dry; sec, dry; demi-sec, sweet; doux, very sweet; mousseux, sparkling; méthode champenoise, mature and sparkling. There are grape varieties as well, but the complexities of the subject take up volumes. A glass of wine is simply un rouge, un rosé or un blanc. You may have the choice of un ballon (round glass) or a smaller glass (un verre). Un pichet (a pitcher) is normally a quarter-litre.

The best way to buy bottles of wine is directly from the producers (vignerons), either at vineyards, at Maisons or Syndicats du Vin (representing a group of wine-producers), or at Coopératifs Vinicoles (wine-producer co-ops). At all these places you can sample the wines first. It's best to make clear at the start how much you want to buy (if it's only one or two bottles) and you will not be popular if you drink several glasses and then leave without making a purchase. The most economical option is to buy en vrac , which you can also do at some wine shops (caves), taking an easily obtainable plastic five- or ten-litre container (usually sold on the premises) and getting it filled straight from the barrel. In cities supermarkets are the best places to buy your wine, and their prices often beat those of the vignerons .

Familiar light Belgian and German brands, plus French brands from Alsace, account for most of the beer you'll find. Draught beer (à la pression) - usually Kronenbourg - is the cheapest drink you can have next to coffee and wine; ask for un pression or un demi (0.33 litre). For a wider choice of draught and bottled beer you need to go to the special beer-drinking establishments or English-style pubs found in most city centres and resorts. A small bottle at one of these places will cost at least twice as much as a demi in a café. In supermarkets, however, bottled or canned beer is exceptionally cheap.

Strong alcohol is consumed from as early as 5am as a pre-work fortifier, and then at any time through the day according to circumstance, though the national reputation for drunkenness has lost much of its truth. Brandies and the dozens of eaux de vie (spirits) and liqueurs are always available. Pastis - the generic name of aniseed drinks such as Pernod or Ricard and a favourite throughout Languedoc - is served diluted with water and ice (glaçons). It's very refreshing and not expensive. Among less familiar names, try Poire William (pear brandy), or Marc (a spirit distilled from grape pulp). Measures are generous, but they don't come cheap: the same applies for imported spirits like whisky (Scotch). Two drinks designed to stimulate the appetite - un apéritif - are Pineau (cognac and grape juice) and Kir (white wine with a dash of Cassis - blackcurrant liquor, or with champagne instead of wine for a Kir Royal). Cocktails are served at most late-night bars, discos and music places, as well as at upmarket hotel bars and at every seaside promenade café.

On the soft drink front, you can buy cartons of unsweetened fruit juice in supermarkets, although in the cafés the bottled (sweetened) nectars such as apricot (jus d'abricot) and blackcurrant (cassis) still hold sway. You can also get fresh orange or lemon juice (orange/citron pressé), at a price. A citron pressé is a refreshing choice for the extremely thirsty on a hot day - the lemon juice is served in the bottom of a long ice-filled glass, with a jug of water and a sugar bowl to sweeten it to your taste. Other drinks to try are syrups (sirops) of mint, grenadine or other flavours mixed with water. The standard fizzy drinks of lemonade (limonade), Coke (coca) and so forth are all available. Bottles of mineral water (eau minérale) and spring water (eau de source) - either sparkling (gazeuse) or still (eau plate) - abound, from the big brand names to the most obscure spa product. But there's not much wrong with the tap water (l'eau de robinet) which will always be brought free to your table if you ask for it.

Coffee is invariably espresso - small, black and very strong. Un café or un express is the regular; un crème is with milk; un grand café or un grand crème are large cups. In the morning you could also ask for un café au lait - espresso in a large cup or bowl filled up with hot milk. Un déca is decaffeinated, now widely available. Ordinary tea (thé) is Lipton's nine times out of ten and is normally served black, and you can usually have a slice of lemon (limon) with it if you want; to have milk with it, ask for un peu de lait frais (some fresh milk). Chocolat chaud - hot chocolate - unlike tea, lives up to the high standards of French food and drink and can be had in any café. After eating, herb teas (infusions or tisanes), served in every salon de thé , can be soothing. The more common ones are verveine (verbena), tilleul (lime blossom), menthe (mint) and camomille (camomile).


Eating and drinking are among Paris's chief delights, as they are in the country as a whole. The capital offers a tremendous variety of cuisines: as well as regional French cooking, notably from the southwest, you can sample Senegalese, Caribbean, Thai, eastern European and North African cuisine, among others. There's also a huge diversity of eating and drinking establishments: luxurious restaurants in the traditional style or elbow-to-elbow bench-and-trestle-table jobs; spacious brasseries and cafés where you can watch the world go by while nibbling on a baguette sandwich; or dark, cavernous beer cellars and tiny wine bars with sawdust on the floor offering wines by the glass from every region of France. You can take coffee and cakes in a chintzy salon de thé, in a bookshop or gallery, or even in the confines of a mosque. Bars can be medieval vaults, minimalist or postmodern design units, London-style pubs or period pieces in styles ranging from the Swinging Sixties to the Naughty Nineties.

It's true that the old-time cheap neighbourhood cafés and bistros are a dying breed, while fast-food chains haveburgeoned at an alarming speed. Quality is also in decline at the lower end of the restaurant market, particularly in tourist hotspots. Yet, however much Parisians bemoan the changing times, you'll find you're still spoiled for choice, even on a modest budget. There are numerous fixed-price menus (prix fixe) for under €12.20, particularly at lunchtime, providing staple dishes; for €22.87 you'll have the choice of more interesting dishes; and for €30.49, you should be getting some gourmet satisfaction.

The big boulevard cafés and brasseries are always more expensive than those a little further removed, and addresses in the smarter or more touristy arrondissements set prices soaring. A snack or drink on the Champs-Élysées, place St-Germain-des-Prés or rue de Rivoli, for instance, will be double or triple the price of Belleville, Batignolles or the southern 14e. Many bars have happy hours, but prices can double after 10pm, and any clearly trendy, glitzy or stylish place is bound to be expensive.


You'll find restaurants offering dishes from every region of France and overseas in Lyon. Vieux-Lyon is the area with the greatest concentration of eateries, though you'll find cheaper and less busy ones between place des Jacobins and place Sathonay at the top of the Presqu'île. The possibilities are endless, but on weekends booking ahead is always a good idea. The most affordable type of Lyonnais eating establishment, the bouchon (cork), derived its name from the vast quantities of Lyonnais wine consumed there. Tradition has it that wine bottles were lined up as the evening progressed, and at the end of the night the bill was determined by measuring from the first cork to the last. There are several bouchons located in the streets between Cordeliers and Terreaux, particularly in rue Mercière.

Restaurants in Lyon

L'Amphitryon, 33 rue St-Jean, 5e (tel; Mº Vieux-Lyon). Usually packed restaurant serving Lyonnais specialities; Service till midnight.

Brasserie 24 Collonnes a la Une, 79 rue des Trois Maries, 5e (Mº Vieux-Lyon). Near the cathedral, this friendly brasserie, with an early twentieth-century mirrored and stained-glass interior, becomes a jazzy piano-bar at night. Open daily 10am-midnight.

Café des Fédérations, 8 rue du Major-Martin, 1er (tel; Mº Hôtel-de-Ville). Typical bouchon serving the earthiest of Lyonnais specialities (marinated tripe, black pudding and fish quenelles ) in an atmosphere to match: there's even sawdust on the floor. Closed Sat, Sun & Aug.

Chez Léon, Halles de la Part-Dieu, 102 cours Lafayette, 3e (tel; Mº Part-Dieu). Bar and restaurant in the market halls, whose specialities include seafood and snails. Closed May-Aug.

Léon de Lyon, 1 rue Pléney, 1er (tel; Mº Hôtel-de-Ville). Sophisticated and delicious eating, with original culinary creations as well as traditional Lyonnais recipes in this upmarket brasserie, whose huge interior is divided into intimate and warmly panelled smaller dining areas.

La Mère Brazier, 12 rue Royale, 1er (tel; Mº Croix-Paquet). A beautiful setting complements the excellent food, like Bresse chicken, artichoke hearts on foie gras, truffle crêpes - but it's very expensive. Closed Sun, Sat lunch & Aug.

La Meunière, 11 rue Neuve, 1er (tel; Mº Hôtel-de-Ville). Booking is essential in this excellent bouchon. Closed Sun, Mon & July & Aug.

Paul Bocuse, 40 rue de la Plage, Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or (tel Lyon's most famous restaurant, named after its celebrity chef-owner, is 9km north of the city, on the west bank of the Saône. Traditional French gastronomy is the bill of fare, with stunning crême brûlée and baba au rhum.

Le Petit Glouton, 56 rue St-Jean, 2e (tel; Mº Vieux-Lyon). A small but airy and unpretentious bistro in the heart of Vieux-Lyon. You can dine inside or on the small street-side terrace.

La Tour Rose, 22 rue B?uf, 5e (tel; Mº Vieux-Lyon). Gastronomic palace with concoctions like asparagus with an oyster mousse or salad of lobster and spinach with a creamed truffle sauce. Closed Sun.
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