I haven’t had to wake up before half 6 since I was at school in 2011, so you can imagine my displeasure at having to do it on Wednesday, to be ready to go to Paris.
I’ve been waiting for this for many many months, and only partially looking forward to it, as I thought money was going to be a grave issue. Until Monday when Student Finance gave me a very hefty injection of cash, so I was now free to treat this as a Gastronomical tour of the French capital.
This was going to be the first of a four-part series, and we thought we would be trying to wrangle our way into fashion shows and whatnot, but we actually went on the day the Paris Fashion Week finished. Either way, the trip’s success as far as restaurant critique was such that I am extending this series to eight parts.
So it takes around two hours-ish to get from Southampton to Folkstone in Kent to get on the Eurotunnel, excluding the break we took for an elevenses/late-breakfast. Then a half-hour on the Eurotunnel to get to Calais, and then a gut-wrenching four hours to get to our Novotel Hotel, which is still forty minutes out from Central Paris.
Like with my excursion to Florence last year with the college, I have only ever been to France in the heat of summer and stayed in resorts, so to still be miles out from the capital, in a still-very-urbanised area was a new experience. Not a pleasant one either. We were near the university of Créteil, and the condominiums around there are just not nice to look at; not a form of architecture I’m fond of.
Also like with my little Italian adventure, this series will include a number of characters with whom I dined over the course of the four days: the more prominent among them were my student radio co-presenter Dean Connor, along with Rhiannon Lucas, Lina Edvardsson Ceder, Connor Mackay, James Horton, Hannah Brewer, and Josh Addis.
Early-evening, that’s when we actually arrived in Central Paris having caught the Metro from our hotel. It took us just around the corner from the Eiffel Tower itself (see pictured). From where I was stood I got some pretty nice shots of the tower, but my attempts to capture it while it sparkled were not as successful.
We had a little more success in the finding of somewhere to eat, although even that was on the turbulent side. Initially we – myself, Rhiannon, Lina, Hannah, Connor, James, Josh, and around half a dozen Sport Journalists – were going to go into the Café du Trocadero, but we were put off by the idea of paying €22 for a Spaghetti dish. So we high-tailed it to Le Malakoff, situated just next door.
We were initially very unsure and regretting our spontaneity at this point, having found the menus we had been given were for sandwiches and cold buffet, none of which appeared to be options. Five of us surreptitiously left in search of something else, while just as I had decided upon a Scandinavian salad, we discovered there was actually a main menu as well. Bit more like it, don’t you think?
We were so tired and so hungry, but we were not prepared to order a starter – we were not altogether sure if we had enough money to afford an entrée and a drink!
The restaurant itself has not got a great deal of variety when it comes to main meals. Meat dishes are steaks, the fish dishes are steaks, and the pasta dishes should really be in Italy. I refuse to have Italian food in a French country.
So I opted for a Butcher’s Joint, which was served with “chipped potatoes” and a green peppercorn sauce (see pictured).
When it comes to steaks, I always opt for Medium Rare: – I always need a little bit of pink in there, but it gives the perfect balance between juicy and chewy. And it makes for a delicious piece of meat.
In the corner of my dish I had a single halved tomato and a tiny pile of sweet potatoes and courgette. If anything, they may as well have been there for presentational purposes: I don’t see the point in giving people vegetables if they’re only going to give you a teaspoonful.
My friend Hannah, seated opposite me, had a similar dish yet priced exactly the same as mine at €13.80. However, hers was a sirloin steak (see pictured) served with chips and “Beurre de Maître d’Hôtel” – in English money that is Master of the Hotel’s Butter.
As for Rhiannon and Lina, sat next to us, they broke my rules and went for a vegetable tagliatelli dish (pictured below) with Rhiannon ordering without mushrooms.
Once again this dish was the same price as mine and Hannah’s steaks. Bearing in mind the size of our portions we believed we were getting the food at better value than we had initially thought. When we observed the stylish inner decor for the restaurant (something I have fallen for in the past), we imagined it was a tiny-portion-place. We were so very wrong.
We were even supplied with baskets of bread to give further substance to the meal. For me, it was something to dip into my green peppercorn sauce. It was gorgeous and had plenty of bite to it, which lasted quite a while on the tongue. My steak was cooked just to the “doneness” that I like, which is so uncommon these days in restaurants. Half the chefs of the world today do not know how long to put a steak on the griddle for according to the customer’s wishes, so I was very pleasantly surprised. The chips were like those at a takeaway though, letting the side down just a little. Over-salted, thin and not especially warm inside.
Now I hate being that guy, but I was the only one to order a dessert – but I only have one reason. That it was an opportunity to have a Peach Melba, which I last had in 2005. Created by the legendary Auguste Escoffier and named after the Australian opera star Dame Nellie Melba, the idea of putting peaches with vanilla ice cream and drenching it in a raspberry sauce is the Queen of all Desserts for me (if I were making it, grating a little white chocolate over the top like a dusting would give it the gentlest but perfect finish).
Le Malakoff’s version of the Peach Melba however (see pictured) was very Knickerbocker Glory-esque, drenched in whipped cream and even topped with a Glacé Cherry and sprinkles – somewhat unbecoming of a restaurant of this calibre. I was expecting perhaps an impressive spun sugar casing or something. The other thing I have to complain about is that the use of redcurrant jelly in lieu of a raspberry sauce. Aside from that it was rather nice. There could have been more peaches in there. And definitely not worth the nearly €8 extra that it cost.
All in all a very good start to the trip. Not the best restaurant I’ve eaten it, but by no means the worst either. Le Malakoff is probably somewhere in the middle of the leaderboard at the moment, although it is the first restaurant I’ve reviewed this year that is not part of a chain. So give it a chance.