The Trouble with French Restaurant Food
By Nicholas Farrell
French restaurant food is supposed to be one of the great wonders of the world, and I have just spent a couple of weeks in France: not once did I eat an even half-decent, let alone memorable, meal. The could-not-give-a-damn attitude of the staff added insult to injury and the bills they made me pay were a disgrace – roughly €50 for a simple three-course meal and half bottle of the cheapest local red.
It was not, I assume, even personal. Everyone, as far as I could see, got dished up the same rubbish. When I Googled: “Why is French restaurant food so bad?” it flagged up 267 million results. Naturally, in the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards this year, produced by Restaurant magazine, not a single French restaurant was in the top 10.
So bad were the French restaurants during my recent stay that I began pining for a Big Mac and posing surreal questions like, what, in fact, is the difference between a tranche of terrine de veau at €12.50 euros a time and a can of bog standard dog food, or between two tiny slices of foie gras de canard at €14.50 euros and a petite can of deluxe dog food?
But here’s the funny thing: the terrine and the foie gras were the best things to be had in the restaurants of Frèjus, between Cannes and Saint-Tropez, where I was. For a simple reason: those restaurants have nothing to do with their creation because they buy them in. In other words, no French chef has had anything to do with them.
The food writer Anissa Helou says, “I lived in Paris and had with my then-lover a property in the southwest of France in the mid-1970s and used to go there a lot. What was great then is that you could walk into almost any restaurant and eat wonderful food.
“I wouldn’t take the risk anymore of eating in places I don’t know in France because it is almost certain the food will be very poor.”
I love France and have been there many times. One of the great experiences of my life was a nine-course meal in 1969 at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Beg Meil on the Atlantic coast of Brittany near Quimper. I was 11 years old. Ever since, one way or another, I have tried to relive the magic of that exquisite experience. Sadly, however, probably during the 1980s, French restaurants lost the plot.