Catching up this weekend on my reading, it seems like the talking point at the moment is a comparison of France and their cross-channel cousins.
's Hugh Schofield points out that France is gloomier than the UK... and he makes a valid point contrasting the high of the Jubilee and Olympic Games with the recent anti-terror raids in France.
The focus then moves onto the food scene and the Independant
newspaper boldly claims:
"the French capital has been written off as a culinary backwater, stuck in its haute-y ways... but it is being revitalised by a new spirit of invention."
"culinary backwater"?! "written off"?! I don't know about you, but although Paris has been slowing down maybe in the face of strong international opposition, but "written off in as a culinary backwater" a little strong, no?
Meg Zimbeck from Paris by Mouth
then tries to rationalise:
"I still think that one can eat better in Paris than almost anywhere else in the world, but the action is no longer happening at the haute-cuisine level"
I've just got back from the Fêtes des Régions which has been taking place for the last three days on the Place Stalingrad and I don't think it's ever been clearer to me how rich and diverse French cuisine
It is all about the regions here. I was offered oysters, foie gras, cheese and hams good enough for you to comtemplate selling off your grandmother. There was tartiflette from Savoie, olives from Provence, as well as Basque specialities that I'll never quite be able to pronounce the names of.
It's not like we don't have this in England. I'll be the first one to suggest putting a kilo or two of beef, lamb or chicken in the oven and serving it two hours later with the best vegetables your larder can offer. But we don't have that same sense of pride and especially that pride of origin. Yorkshire pudding is made in my parents' Sussex home and your average Joe Bloggs doesn't realise that Cheddar actually comes from a place called Cheddar. Even now that we're starting to make wine in England, (as far as I know) we're not going to be differentiating one wine producing region from another, it's just going to be known as English wine.
So as I crack open a bottle of Cheverny's finest, with the taste of Limousin sausage and onion sandwich not far behind, and with a buttery Breton kouign-amann for afters, I am led to conclude that there are still many things that the French do better than the English...
In French cuisine, it is all about the quality of the products. The provenance, le producteur, the care that went into each ingredient that is then put on the plate in front of you. This is the most key aspect of French cuisine (but I should also mention that it is this that makes the French come across so snooty...)
This is starting to change in the UK (the name that springs to mind here is Ginger Pig
) but it's slow. It seems to me that the main plus-point for the London food scene is that they're hitting more buttons in terms of restaurants, service and crucially too, the price point. The number of ethnicities and cultures that come together in London also make it an interesting place in terms of variety.
In Paris, it's probably the blasé 'we've done it like this for 50 years and will carry on doing it for another 500' attitude that has given the impression that they're stagnating. This then is passed on to the hungry customer through the haughtiness of the waiter/waitress, who may walk away from the establishment more shocked than satisfied. It seems it is rather more the restaurants in Paris, not French cuisine as a whole, that are being out-classed by their rosbif counterparts.
Maybe the solution to this dilemma is that we ought to eat French produce at home more often...?