three of the last five christmases have been spent in paris - well, where better for good food, tasteful christmas decorations, a chance to be a flaneur along the boulevards and the opportunity for a good dose of culture in some of the world's greatest museums?
however, after twice opting for self-catering, this time i booked into a cosy hotel. the reason? the previous time, i was in a tiny, drafty one room apartment in sub-zero temperatures, unable to take off my street clothes for five days because there was only a single, one-bar electric fire to 'heat' the place! in fact, i had all the cooker's rings and oven on full blast in a vain attempt to stop myself shivering. at least the gin and tonic didn't need ice...
so, without the chance last month for self-catering - a real pleasure at christmas in paris with the markets over-excelling themselves with irresistible ingredients - i faced a simple challenge: where to eat christmas day lunch? i was determined not to be driven into a soulless tourist trap or be reduced to an omelette in a neighbourhood bar, so undertook a search for a decent restaurant that would be open.
and i got lucky.
a ten minute stroll from my hotel and close to the place des ternes in the 17eme is la maree, a classic seafood restaurant that delivers excellent food in comfort to a largely local clientele. a good spot for business lunches in the week, it's just far enough away from the arc de triumph to be off most tourist's radar and i was clearly the only non-parisian diner there on christmas day.
an e-mail conversation got me a reservation for the last table for the second serving and i turned up to be welcomed by name even before i opened my mouth, led to my table and my aperitif was to hand before i'd even really taken stock of the room. it's quite intimate and comfortable in old school style, but the service is fast and friendly.
i didn't spot on the web site that there was a special lunch but that was no problem and my choices arrived speedily, but without any sense that they wanted me out of the place, even as other tables slowly cleared.
an amuse bouche of brouillade d'oeufs au saumon fume, mouillettes au beurre de baratte was an amusing take on boiled egg and soldiers, with smoked salmon and a runny scrambled egg served in the shell. delicious and perfectly matched with the offered pouilly fume 2010.
next up, a tasting plate of six oysters from the marennes. parisians are always big oysters fans but they go extra crazy during the holiday season and these were an excellent choice, full of big flavour.
the main course of aioli de cabillaud et legumes de saison was a mediterranean classic - a simple filet of roast cod on a bed of boiled vegetables (potatoes and leeks) in a thin broth, with a large smothering of garlicky mayonnaise. i last had it on one of the iles de porquerolles on a sailing holiday some years back and this instant taste of mediterranean sun in cold december paris was magical.
next, a plate of cheeses - cantal, brie (a point, running off the plate) and roquefort, with rocket salad, followed by a noisette (cafe with a dash of milk) and mignardises (little chocolate treats).
in all, it was one of the most pleasant christmas meals i can remember, made even better by the price - just 58 euros! extra bonus: it should have been a bottle of wine between two people, but they gave me the whole thing for no extra charge.
and that evening, all i needed in my room was a bit of fruit and a slice of cheese. sorted!
plus i have a great place to return to on my next trip. recommended: lamaree.fr