Paris: Le 404
As a student in Paris a few years ago I happily subsisted on cheese, baguettes, crepes and wine. Occasionally, we’d splurge at Pizza Pino on the Champs Elysées before a night out, and onion soup at Au Pied de Cochon before the morning after. Life was good. Life was cheap.
Now, a few years later with an abysmal exchange rate, we can’t seem to be getting a decent meal without forking out €40 a head. What hurts more is that, more often than not, my €40 is going to get me some overcooked meat or fish and heaps of greasy fries. At such instances wine is almost a necessity, as no matter how cheap or expensive you just can’t seem to go wrong with it in France which massively softens the €40 blow.
Whilst a student, I had neither the luxury nor the company to visit expensive restaurants and brasseries, hence I was never really aware of the culinary hierarchy present in Paris. But now, after a hard day’s work on my feet running around the Marais house-hunting, the last thing I would look forward to was a plats à emporter (take-away box) from the greasy Asian trateur. I could really appreciate a nice glass of wine and a proper sit-down meal. And after too many mediocre meals at brasseries on picturesque tourist-trap squares we are wiser.
One of my most memorable meals was at Guy Savoy on Rue Troyon. We were in there for four hours being pampered, spoilt and fed till we cried big fat tears of joy. It’s old school, white tablecloth, and not at all stuffy. After about seven courses, when we thought we’d have to request having a nap on our seats, our eyes lit up like neon bulbs at the sight of the dessert trolley. This trolley is legendary. Creamy rice pudding, full-flavoured and smooth chocolate mousse, cute little button macarons, ice creams, sorbets, cookies and cheesecake – it was like heaven on wheels. And Monsieur Savoy popped out of the kitchen to say hi while we were elbow deep in pots of pudding. Completely, utterly, totally worth two week’s rent.
Not every unforgettable gastronomic experience requires one to sacrifice their home. Le 404 on Rue des Gravilliers (Marais) is a fine example in the €40-€50 bracket. It’s a buzzing, lively, Moroccan restaurant that does the best tagines I have ever tasted (and, apparently, the best shoulder of lamb N&D has ever tasted). And as far as cocktails in Paris go, the Mojito there was not bad either.
As with any popular restaurant in Paris, booking ahead is a must. Even though we booked on the day, had we just rocked up – unannounced and uninvited – we would’ve been turned away as all the tables were crammed (and this was a Tuesday night).
My lightly spiced Hariri soup made of lentils, chick peas, coriander and lamb and was the tastiest warming bowl of health I’ve ever had.
N&D’s Briouat aux Crevettes aux Champignons Sauvages (prawn and wild mushroom samosas) was more mushroomy than prawny but packed in a punch of dense flavours in small crispy pastry parcels. The shoulder of lamb should really be renamed as the shoulder of Goliath. It was MASSIVE. Not being a big lamb-gal myself, the little chunk I tasted was not over-whelmingly lamby and was very tender.
Soup, samosas and shoulders – all good and great. But if tagines were comparable to carnivals, my chicken and pear tagine was like a Mardi Gras in Rio. What a party. Not that I’ve been, but I’ve been told there’s no party like the Mardi Gras in Rio. And I can tell everyone that there’s no tagine like the chicken and pear at Le 404. Perhaps there is a better one in Morroco but this would be right up there with its native sister.
If you ever visit Paris, please re-consider getting that Louis Vuitton monogram bag (besides not being particularly attractive, there are plenty of knock-offs on the high street and eBay) and Louboutins (again, plenty of red soles out there), and instead spend an afternoon or evening at Guy Savoy’s. If you must have that bag, consider Le 404 for a fun night of Moroccan charm.