Tag Archives: Time Out

A Gaul-ing time in Paris

You know when you’re standing in front of the mirror issuing toe-curling put-downs to your reflection but wishing you’d actually thought of them during the argument you’ve just lost? It happens to me all the time. And last weekend, all that practice finally paid off when I found myself giving icily cool ripostes (in French!) to a particularly stereotypical maitre d’ in a Parisian bistro.

I was heartily looking forward to my trip to Paris with the Spaniard, imagining long, romantic walks punctuated by rummages in bobo bric-a-brac boutiques, and topped off with hefty, rewarding meals. I didn’t yet know that we’d chosen the coldest weekend of the year to visit one of the most overpriced capitals in the world and would return to London with dry, scaly cheeks bitten raw by the arctic wind, an empty wallet, and a firm resolve never to return. So I did some research, bought the guides, made hit lists of good restaurants and booked them in advance in my best French.

On our first night in the city, we draped ourselves in thermal vests, polo necks and thick coats and scarves and braved the plummeting temperatures to walk across town to Itinéraires. As requested when I booked, I’d called back earlier that day to confirm my reservation, but had had to leave a message because no one was answering the phone.

After a half-hour walk we arrived bang on time and pushed at the door with numb fingers. Once inside, the trouble began. The head waiter cocked his head, looked us up and down and enquired, ‘Messieurdames?

‘Hello. We’ve got a reservation.’

‘Ah oui?’ He gave the booking list the briefest of glances. ‘Mais non madame, you didn’t call back, so we had to let your reservation go.’ He crinkled his eyes and drew his lips back to reveal his teeth. ‘Je suis désolé.’

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And the winner is…?

(I wrote this in July 2008. Unfortunately, funds didn’t stretch to my own analysis of which is the world’s best restaurant.)

Best Restaurant awards generate as much hyperbole as they do consternation. As awards and accolades become more commonplace, what’s the point in point scoring, who’s counting – and who are the real winners?

FOODIE LEGEND has it that when then Restaurant editor Thom Hetherington went for an after-work drink with his mates one evening, the conversation turned, inevitably, to eating out. Soon the friends were involved in a passionate debate about which restaurant was the best in the world.

Hetherington, renowned for his maverick style and originality, decided to run a light-hearted round up of the top fifty candidates in his magazine. Grabbing a discarded cigarette packet, he jotted down the list as the rankings were settled.

Spanish chef Ferran Adrià’s restaurant El Bullí came out on top. The list, published in 2002, was seized upon greedily by the press. It still provokes excitement, derision, incredulity and fierce debate seven years on.

“They sent out a press release and people stupidly believed this kind of nonsense,” explains Guy Dimond, editor of the restaurant section of London’s Time Out. “People don’t think of the criteria of how it’s judged. There’s no substance to it. It got Restaurant magazine tonnes of publicity. And the next year they thought ‘oh my God, we’d better do it properly’.”

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