On a hot day in Paris last week, a friend and I settled into a four-course lunch at the Restaurant Astier, one of the city’s last bastions of the full old-school French menu.
A cozy neighborhood staple in the 11th, Astier hosted the older couples and well-upholstered businessmen you might expect to be lunching on a week day. But the table next to ours was different.
Five 20-something British lads, casually dressed as if for a weekend football match, were passionately dissecting the cuisine. Two had their own restaurants in London. And the other place they look for inspiration?
The Astier was recommended by my dining partner, Travel & Leisure magazine’s Paris correspondent, Alexandra Marshal. Just over seven years ago she packed up her apartment in Brooklyn and bought a place in Montmartre. Now, she is constantly bothered by old friends coming through Paris, wanting lunch recommendations.
Judging by her reception at the Astier—I sat down first, and when she arrived, was promptly moved to a better table—she recommends it a lot.
With Alex in charge of the menu, we started with a terrine of duck and guinea hen foie gras, wrapped in bacon. Then a haunch of pork served with pomme de rattes and apricots in a Le Creuset pot for me, and more guinea fowl for her, this time stuffed with bacon and fava beans.
When the cheese course (pictured above) arrived, the waiter simply set the tray on the table. I immediately cut the nose off a wedge of camembert, and Alex was appalled.
“Now, that is something you don’t do,” she said, and explained the importance of keeping the cheese slices in triangles.
Then came dessert and I ordered the special: a milk chocolate mousse served on a stewed apple stuffed with pralines. The apple made it healthy, I think.
After lunch, we got talking to the young men at the next table. Two were running restaurants in London.
Alex Potter recently opened the Rum Kitchen, a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill.
Joe Grossman, slender and bearded, introduced himself as the owner of the Patty & Bun, a new hamburger restaurant near Oxford St. Last month, he received a stellar review in a Guardian round-up of London burgers that incidentally demolished the recent New York import, Shake Shack.
Mr. Grossman said that London had a more creative food scene than Paris, but that his generation of British gastro-lads were still looking west for inspiration.
“It all starts in Brooklyn,” he said of the trends he was seeing in London. “But not everything works. We had a meatball place open, like you have in New York, but it didn’t last.”
The five friends had come to Paris for the day and were looking to get dinner in, before taking the last Eurostar train back though the Chunnel to London. Each had a jacket slung over the back of his chair, suggesting a taste for places that might have a dress code.
Alex suggested Pierre Sang, a successful and buzzy Korean-French fusion restaurant named for its chef, not far from the Astier.
The lads said they wanted to find a classic steak frites, but seemed skeptical at her recommendation of L’Entrecôte.
“It really is one of the best traditional steak frites you’ll find,” she said.
A restaurant which specializes in the dish, with branches in several countries (including New York), it seemed to them not sufficiently undiscovered for the day’s adventure.
Undecided, but happy from the heavy lunch and wine, they stepped back out into the shimmering August day.