Few Australians can claim knowledge of Paris's food scene like Guillaume Brahimi. The chef at Sydney's Bennelong and Melbourne's Bistro Guillaume was born in the 19th arrondissement, in one of Paris's northern working class suburbs, became a stagiaire at 14 at La Tour d'Argent, and worked his way into the kitchen of Joel Robuchon's Jamin before surprising his peers with a move to Sydney in the early 1990s (to play rugby; the cooking came later). Brahimi heads back to his native land at least three times a year, most recently to film the series French Food Safari for SBS. "I discovered some new places, it was a good eye-opener," he says of the two-week tour.
Beautiful, seasonal produce is at the core of each of Brahimi's top 10 Parisian eating experiences, whether it's a raw ingredient from the market or a three-star meal. "I still get a buzz when I see a beautiful roast chicken with mushroom. I don't understand people who are trying to create new tastes; I think they are fashionable," he says. "And, you know, fashion goes."
1. Seafood from Rungis market "If you're a foodie and you want to see what a real market is, get up early and head to Rungis, 7km south of Paris. We got there 2.30am or 3am. A lot of the foods that come from other parts of Europe have to go to Rungis first before being dispatched, from a lime to a lobster. It's something like the size of Monaco in total, a little bigger in fact. I think it's a must-see. The seafood market is abundant with wild seafood, turbot and sole, Breton lobster and live scallops." Rungis Marché International, +33 1 41 80 80 00
2**. Breton lobster ravioli at Le Comptoir
** "Le Comptoir is probably the city's best gastro-bistro. The menu changes every day. Beautiful homard Breton, slightly poached inside the ravioli, a touch of butter at the end; it's just beautiful. Chef Yves Camdeborde [ex Ritz, Crillon and Tour d'Argent; also a judge on French MasterChef] has got one menu and no choices. If you're vegetarian you won't have the fish, so you'll just have the garnish - he's not going to try to do something else because he's got 14 million people who want to come to his place." Le Comptoir, Relais St-Germain, 9 Carrefour de l'Odéon, 6th arrondissement, +33 1 44 27 07 97. Métro: Odéon.
3. Orange madeleines from Blé Sucré "We arrived there at four or 5.30 in the morning for filming and [former Le Bristol pastry chef] Fabrice Le Bourdat was making these amazing orange iced madeleines. If you can, get one when they come out of the oven. He does his millefeuille only on weekends and when he runs out, he runs out. People queue for it. It's a tiny little shop, a good secret." Blé Sucré, Square Trousseau, 7 rue Antoine Vollon, 12th arrondissement, +33 1 43 40 77 73. Métro: Ledru Rollin.
4. Aged Comté from Laurent Dubois "Affineur Laurent Dubois says Comté is a star in his Paris shops - he has one in the 5th and another in the 15th. There's one we tried aged 36 months. It's unbelievable. You should see the cheese he got me for last Christmas. I went there and I said 'Listen, we've got to feed 20 Brahimis, we need cheese for two days.' No problem." Fromagerie Laurent Dubois, 47 boulevard St-Germain, 5th arrondissement, +33 1 43 54 50 93. Métro: Maubert-Mutualité.
5. Wild strawberries at La Grande Épicerie "In the heart of the 7th is my favourite department store, Le Bon Marché. La Grande Épicerie occupies the entire ground floor, showcasing the best produce from around the world. I never need an excuse to visit, but it's during summer that I make a special pilgrimage here in the hope of finding a punnet or two of fraises des bois. Their unique flavour has to be tasted to describe. Superb with pistachio ice-cream." La Grande Épicerie de Paris, 38 rue de Sèvres, 7th arrondissement, +33 1 44 39 81 00. Métro: Vaneau or Sèvres-Babylone.
6. Champagne and seafood at Plaza Athénée "If you want to see one of the great hotels in the world, a palace in fact, you go to the Plaza Athénée. In the bar they've got a trolley of 10 Champagnes; Comtes de Champagne '96 will do me. Then dinner at Alain Ducasse's restaurant, it's the pinnacle of food. He does a turbot cooked in an elaborate cast-iron and steel dish and he puts some seaweed on the bottom so you've got all the seaweed coming into the fish. It's just beautiful. The simplicity of letting the produce talk, that's the hardest thing to do." Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, 25 avenue Montaigne, 8th arrondissement, +33 1 53 67 65 00. Métro: Alma-Marceau.
7. Butter from Le Beurre Bordier "Jean-Yves Bordier's butter is the best in the world. I hate milk, I hate cream, and this butter I can eat it like that. It's available from a few good delicatessens, and they deliver it every day from Brittany. We got him on the show when he was doing his delivery to Paris. It's still churned in a wooden churn and hand-shaped to order. He does one with seaweed, one with yuzu, but his best one is the salted classic one." Le Beurre Bordier. Available from La Grande Épicerie de Paris (see above) and Lafayette Gourmet.
8**. Bread from Jean-Luc Poujauran and Poilâne
** "Jean-Luc Poujauran's bread is the best, although he mostly supplies only restaurants now. If you're in Paris you must go to see Poilâne, because you know the quality is always the same. When it's consistently good, day in day out, wow, that's the hardest thing. I know everybody knows about Poilâne, but you must go." Jean-Luc Poujauran; Poilâne, 8 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th arrondissement, +33 1 45 48 42 59. Métro: Sèvres-Babylone.
9. Tarte infiniment vanille from Pierre Hermé "Ok, this is a cliché, but for me, the trio of vanilla at Pierre Hermé is just… ah. And I'm not a sweet person. Hermé was obsessed with vanilla and he was studying it and discovered there was Madagascan, Tahitian and Mexican and he decided to create a dessert with these three vanillas. When you taste the three different vanillas it's unbelievable. Of course you can have his macarons, and people say, oh, macarons again, but there are macarons and there are macarons. There's Hermé and Ladurée and after that there are followers. My biggest problem is every time I buy some to bring home, I eat them before I arrive at the hotel room." Pierre Hermé, 72 rue Bonaparte, 6th arrondissement, +33 1 43 54 47 77. Métro: St-Sulpice.
10. Pork with piment d'espelette, tomato, onion and olives at La Cantine du Troquet "Christian Etchebest is a friend of mine from the Basque area, and has done Michelin-star food working for Christian Constant, did all of that and said, 'I've had enough', and opened a bistro. It's fantastic: no bookings, no phone numbers. He does an amazing pork dish with piment d'espelette and tomato, onion and olives. And it's the sort of place you just sit down with a bottle of red wine and you drink and you don't order, he just sends the food and happy days, thank you." La Cantine du Troquet, 101 rue de l'Ouest, 14th arrondissement; find them on Facebook. Métro: Pernety.