The Paris issue

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Paris's entrailles

Fergus Henderson’s insider’s guide to Paris reveals the city’s blood and guts, and its heart and soul.

Two of the great loves of my life were cemented on the same day: my wedding day. Margot and I had the ceremony and then left our drunken friends to fly to Paris, where we headed to Brasserie Balzar in Rue des Écoles for supper. Margot had steak tartare, which was a fortunate choice as it acted as a comfortable pillow when she fell asleep face-down. So I was left on my own eating my pied de porc grillé, a fine grilled pig's trotter.

The honeymoon was short, because we both cooked at the French House Dining Room and it had to shut down for our nuptials, but we managed to eat very well. Lunch was at the same place every day: Le Rubis in Rue du Marché St-Honoré, and we enjoyed every innard and extremity on the menu. Wonderful tête de veau with a sauce gribiche to cut through the lip-sticking nature of the calf's head. Tripes à la mode de Caen, rich and steadying with Calvados but also incredibly uplifting. The boudin noir - simply wonderful blood sausage with potatoes. They also do a very good dish of lentils, rich with stock, to which they add a huge knob of butter just to make sure.

My allegiance may have drifted slightly. Not from Margot, I hasten to mention, but from Le Rubis to Chez Georges on Rue du Mail. Their andouillette - a sausage made with the business end of the pig's digestive tract - had more "A"s than I'd ever seen before. The sausage, already unique with its unmistakable special flavour and aroma, has an alliteration-loving fan-club: the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique (or AAAAA, as it appears on many menus), the marque of choice for connoisseurs of pork-lower-intestine snags.

I had a moment or two at Chez Georges, one of which involved my favourite pudding: vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce. As I ate, a great blob of chocolate sauce made a break for freedom and landed on my tummy, not a small target at the best of times. A waitress of a certain age sporting a very fine blue rinse mopped my shirt with a warm flannel. Oh ho! A heady moment: a steadying Vieille Prune was required.

I think the boned-out veal trotter at Le Grand Véfour was the most esoteric dish in my odyssey of guts and extremities. It was a thing of wonderment, flattened and truffled, crisp on top and very sticky underneath, which is where the truffles lurked if I remember correctly. This in the most beautiful restaurant: it doesn't get much better. Except that it does. Stepping out of Le Grand Véfour after a grand time at the table, you find yourself in le Jardin du Palais Royal, taking the perfect post-lunch stroll.

There is an understanding of lunch in Paris, and its restaurants are primed for those who lunch to win. Where did we Anglais go wrong? Lunch is lunch, not just a simple intake of would-be nutrition. Or worse.

Rungis is there still, one of the great markets for all its modern ills, doing what it ever did, connecting with la profonde. A collection of aircraft hangar-sized buildings with corners selling butter, game birds, radishes, shellfish and, of course, offal. In the great offal hall, the sounds of meat being pushed across the metal tables is a symphony for the gut.

I'm not all blood and guts, I should add. One of the best things I've ever eaten in Paris was a sea urchin soufflé at Le Pré Catelan on Bois de Boulogne. The spiky shells held little clouds of musk. Come to think of it, though, they're technically innards as well. Perhaps I am all blood and guts, after all. Certainly I can't leave you without mentioning Pharamond near Les Halles, where you are brought your pot of tripe on a little brazier so it can be cooked and thickened to your desire.

And that's the wonder that is Paris. A city where gnawing on the ends of animals and scooping out their insides remains among the most refined and social of pursuits. A place where you can wear the latest Chanel jacket, but still have your calf's head and eat it too. Vive la France!

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