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Paris has a well-deserved reputation as an expensive food city: probably nowhere else, except perhaps Tokyo, can you spend such huge sums on such tiny quantities of food. Yet one of the great joys of this city lies in discovering its more accessible culinary treasures. Gone are the days when €10 would buy you a hearty three-course lunch, but it's enough for a sensational croque-monsieur, the best buckwheat galette this side of Brittany, or an exquisite box of multicoloured macarons flavoured with violet and blackcurrant or cherry and pistachio.
Eating on a budget in Paris often means foregoing the
traditional three-course meal, but that's no bad thing when you
also want to leave time for sightseeing. Thanks to the credit
crunch, an increasing number of bistros are growing more flexible,
allowing diners to order just one or two courses (particularly at
lunch) and serving reasonably priced wines by the glass. Soup,
sandwich and juice bars have popped up all over Paris and office
workers armed with meal vouchers worth €7.80 are more likely to
tuck into takeaway fare in a nearby park than to wash back a
steak-frites with a carafe of wine in a café. Bistro chef Yves
Camdeborde saw the trend coming more than a year ago, opening a
crêpe and panini shop next door to the bistro where food-lovers
from around the world queue for one of the coveted seats.
Though street food has its charms, a limited budget can also buy you access to a sumptuous 19th-century dining room, a 1930s bistro or a pâtisserie done up to look like the inside of a jewellery box. Our selection of classic French eats for less than €10 shows that there are still some surprising bargains to be found, and in many cafes the enjoyment factor outweighs a Michelin-star experience. All that's missing are the bells and whistles, which most of us don't want all the time, anyway.
Le Comptoir du Relais St-Germain
The 20 seats at Yves Camdeborde's Art Deco bistro are some of the most coveted in Paris: his no-choice, prix-fixe dinner fills up months in advance. Lunch is a more casual, no-reservations affair, and if you time it right - show up early or very late - you won't have to queue for the best croque-monsieur in town (€9). Made with smoked salmon and Comté cheese and served with a Caesar-like salad of sucrine lettuce, it makes the standard ham-and-cheese version seem positively banal. Camdeborde's crêpe and sandwich stand next to his bistro is also popular. 9 carrefour de l'Odéon, 6th arrondissement, +33 1 44 27 07 50. Métro: Odéon.
The roast chicken with French fries at Chartier might not be the very best in town, but it's impossible not be dazzled by the lofty painted glass ceilings and low prices (€8.70 for this dish). Dating from 1896, Chartier was one of the original Paris bouillons, serving meat and vegetables in nourishing broth to blue-collar workers, and it retains the same democratic approach today. Waiters snappily dressed in black and white dash about tallying bills on paper tablecloths while a mix of Parisians and tourists dive into simple and satisfying French fare. 7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 9th arrondissement, +33 47 70 86 29. Métro: Grands Boulevards.
Best meal-in-a-bowl salad
The French see nothing contradictory in topping a "salad" with mounds of meat, seafood or cheese. This vintage Art Deco bistro near the Palais Royal gardens with original parquet floors, black banquettes and a zinc bar has perfected the art with its selection of salades géantes costing €8.50-€9. Most rib-sticking is the salade Landaise with foie gras, duck wing, gizzards and cured ham, while the salade océane, heaped with poached salmon, squid and prawns in mayonnaise, seems light in comparison. Hot dishes are great value too: the entrecôte with chunky French fries costs €11. The dining room gets crowded and noisy, but it's all part of the fun. 6 rue de la Vrillière, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 42 61 43 78. Métro: Bourse.
It looks like a misprint: 90 cents, not €9, for a first course in a chic bistro favoured by French politicians and celebrities. Le Voltaire - so named because the philosopher once lived in this building - has never changed the price of its oeuf mayonnaise, an emblematic French dish that is poetic in its simplicity. The egg turns out to be a model of the genre, draped with silky, mustard-enriched mayonnaise and accompanied by green beans, slivered mushrooms, crisp lettuce leaves and tomato wedges. Nothing else on the menu is cheap, but at least this dish will ease your conscience as you sip one of the vintage wines. 27 quai Voltaire, 7th arrondissement, +33 1 42 61 17 49. Métro: Rue du Bac.
Best French onion soup
Au Pied de Cochon
A late-night bowl of onion soup is said to soothe the effects of over-indulgence, a theory that has been tested for several decades at this brasserie near Les Halles shopping centre. Once the haunt of vendors from the wholesale food market which moved outside Paris in the late 1960s, it now attracts revellers from the area's increasingly hip bars. The onion soup (€7.80) is just what it should be: plenty of slowly caramelised onions in a meaty broth, topped with thick slices of baguette and a crusty coating of emmental. Those with heartier appetites might follow this with one of the house specials involving pigs' ears, tails or trotters. 6 rue Coquillière, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 40 13 77 00. Métro: Châtelet les Halles.
Creating the perfect quiche is no mean feat: the crust should be crisp and flaky, not soggy, and the filling should contain just the right balance of eggs and cream so as to be rich but not too rich. At the fashionable Franco-British café Rose Bakery, the individual square tarts are made fresh every day, filled with mostly organic ingredients. Ricotta, tomato and thyme or artichoke and pea (€5 to take away, €13 in the dining room with two salads) are among the fillings that change with the seasons. Rose Bakery's sweet tarts are exemplary, too: the lemon tart is filled with baked lemon custard topped with a layer of lemon curd (€4 to take away, €6 on the spot). 46 rue des Martyrs, 9th arrondissement, + 33 1 42 8212 80. Métro: Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. Also 30 rue Debelleyme, 3rd arrondissement, +33 1 44 78 08 97. Metro: Filles du Calvaire.
Not many Paris bistros go to the trouble of serving soufflés nowadays, but the vanilla soufflé with Basque cherry jam has become a classic on the ever-changing menu of Le Troquet. Jovial Basque native Christian Etchebest runs this boisterous bistro with a zinc bar, wooden tables and Basque table runners between the Eiffel Tower and St-Germain, and his set menu - €26 at lunch or €32 for three courses at dinner - is great value considering the quality of the food. The secret to his sky-high soufflé (€9)? A thick coating of butter around the edge of the ramekin, which ensures that the airy mixture rises evenly. 21 rue François Bonvin, 15th arrondissement, +33 1 45 66 89 00. Métro: Sèvres-Lecourbe or Volontaires.
This offshoot of a crêperie in Cancale, Brittany, with another branch in Tokyo, serves buckwheat galettes and crêpes made with nothing but the finest quality ingredients - organic flour, Breton butter and Valrhona chocolate. The more elaborate savoury galettes cost slightly more than our €10 limit - the Cancalaise, with smoked herring, crème fraîche and herring roe, is a winner - but €7.50 brings you a galette complète containing egg, ham, cheese and an extra ingredient such as cider-laced onion jam, mushrooms or Breton artichoke hearts. For dessert, the salted caramel and vanilla ice-cream crêpe (€6.50) is a must. 109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd arrondissement, +33 1 42 72 13 77. Métro: St-Sébastien-Froissart.
Best half-dozen macarons
The macaron, two dainty rounds of almond meringue sandwiched together with a ganache filling, has become the sweet by which all Paris pastry chefs must be judged. No one can outclass Pierre Hermé, who flavours his with anything from black truffle to candied chestnut depending on the season. A classic is his passionfruit macaron with milk chocolate ganache, a perfect balance of tart and sweet, crunchy and smooth. Though €1-€2 a macaron is not exactly cheap (prices vary depending on the ingredients), it seems a small price to pay for one of the greatest luxuries Paris has to offer. Be prepared to queue for the privilege. 72 rue Bonaparte, 6th arrondissement, +33 1 43 54 47 77, and two other branches in Paris. Métro: St-Sulpice.
Best chocolate mousse
What makes the perfect ending to a meal of sausage with aligot, potatoes whipped to stringy perfection with fresh mountain cheese? Why, a help-yourself bowl of chocolate mousse (€8), of course. That's the logic behind this friendly country-style auberge dedicated to the cuisine of the volcanic Auvergne region in central France. With a dense, almost chewy texture and the unmistakeable smoothness of fine-quality chocolate, this house classic served in an earthenware bowl big enough to feed a family will ensure you waddle out in a haze of contentment. Set three-course menus start at €30. 22 rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare, 3rd arrondissement, +33 1 42 72 31 22. Métro: Rambuteau.
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