A workmen’s café in central France has been overwhelmed with requests for table reservations after it was accidentally awarded a Michelin star.
Bouche à Oreille, in the small town of Bourges, is a cheap and cheerful eatery with red and white polka dot plastic tablecloths. Its punters mostly wear high-visibility vests and are a far cry from the highfalutin gastronomes of an identically named restaurant 100 miles away in Boutervilliers, for which the café was mistaken in the Michelin Guide.
The blunder has been laughed off, but cuisine is a serious business in France, which lays claim to some of the world’s best eateries. Michelin stars abound, but some of the most rewarding dining experiences happen in some of the country’s smaller, lesser-known restaurants.
Restaurants like these, as chosen by Telegraph Travel’s destination experts…
Paris, by Natasha Edwards
1. L'Encrier, Paris
Tucked just behind the Promenade Plantée viaduct walk in the historic furniture makers' district of the Faubourg St-Antoine, the friendly, cooperative-run L'Encrier has been one of Paris's best-kept, budget secrets for 20 odd years. An essentially local crowd and a few in-the-know visitors squeeze in around its simple wooden tables, drawn by the remarkable-value menus and attractive beamed setting. The kitchen, visible behind the white counter, sends out trustworthy, no-nonsense French cuisine with southwestern touches, such as pear with roquefort, duck confit and goose magret, and virtually everyone ends with the excellent chocolate profiteroles.
Address: 55 rue Traversière, 75012
Contact: 0033 (0) 1 4468 0816; www.lencrierrestaurant.com
Prices: set-price menu from €15 for lunch, €18 for dinner
Open: Mon-Sat, midday-2.30pm, 7.30pm-11pm
2. Bistrot du Peintre, Paris
This listed, art nouveau café-bistro has a gorgeous 1902 décor of sinuous woodwork and tiled, allegorical figures of spring and summer. It is much loved by a laidback Bastille crowd for its satisfying, inexpensive cuisine. The choice goes from utterly trad snails or oeuf meurette (egg poached in red wine), steak tartare and some southwestern French touches to inventive salads and creative tomato Tatin with red pepper sorbet, so there's sure to be something to suit different tastes. All-day service is very useful when you’re on holiday. Try to be seated on the more atmospheric ground floor rather than upstairs.
Address: 116 avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75011
Contact: 0033 (0) 1 4700 3439; www.bistrotdupeintre.com
Price: lunch and dinner around €23
Open: daily, 7am-2am (food served midday-midnight)
3. Le Bistro des Dames, Paris
A clutter of paintings and posters, and the treat of a hidden, overgrown tropical garden courtyard at the rear, are all part of the aura at this bistro adjoining the quirkily bohemian Hôtel Eldorado in burgeoning Batignolles. A local arty set pops in for the laid-back, friendly atmosphere, home cooking and wines from small producers. The speciality is slow-cooked stews, perhaps tender pork cheeks or lamb navarin with seasonal veg, although you'll also find a fish of the day, big main-course salads, and good desserts. In keeping with the mood, service is leisurely.
Address: 18 rue des Dames, 75017
Contact: 0033 (0) 1 4522 1342; www.eldoradohotel.fr
Price: set-price menu from €21 for lunch and dinner
Open: Mon-Fri, noon-3pm, 7pm-2am; Sat, Sun, noon-2am (last service for food 11.30pm)
4. Jeanne B, Paris
This deli restaurant has proved a welcome addition to the street that winds up Montmartre hill. Spit-roast Challans chicken is the house classic, but you can also go modern and gourmet with a verrine of snails or a luxury lobster sandwich, along with roast lamb and assorted pies from a blackboard choice that changes every week. It has a deli counter and grocery section at the front, where you can take away charcuterie, cheese and homemade desserts and madeleines.
Address: 61 rue Lepic, 75018
Contact: 0033 (0) 1 4251 1753; www.jeanne-b-comestibles.com
Prices: set-price menus from €15 for lunch, €23 for dinner
Open: daily, 9.30am-10.30pm
- The best restaurants in Paris
Provence, by Anthony Peregrine
5. Voyageur Nissart, Nice
It would be daft to go to Nice and ignore the local food. It would also be daft, though easy, to overlook this modest spot. Not far from the station, the Nissart is away from most visitor circuits in a lively zone of many nations. There’s nothing remarkable about the outside or, indeed, the inside of this restaurant – except the happiest possible welcome from a youthful team who seem genuinely pleased to see you. Also to serve you local classics such as lamb with thyme, chicken in lemon or red mullet. Young owner Max, incidentally, speaks better English than most English people. This is a stand-out spot for anyone on a budget – and everyone else, too.
Address: 19 Rue Alsace Lorraine
Contact: 0033 (0) 4 9382 1960; voyageurnissart.com
Prices: menus from €15.90
Open: Tue-Sun, 12 noon-2.30pm; 7pm-10.30pm. Closed Monday all day, and Saturday lunch
6. Les Trois Rois, Marseille
Les Trois Rois is slightly off-centre – on a lively little pedestrian street crammed with restaurants up near Notre-Dame du Mont. The style is baroque, the welcome first-class and the modern French food comes elegantly presented. Seek it out.
Address: 24 Rue des Trois Rois
Contact: 0033 (0) 4 9153 4484
Prices: dinner menus from around €23
Open: 7.30-10pm, weekdays; 7.30pm-midnight, weekends
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7. Bistrot Gourmand, Cannes
Here’s a classic Provençal bistro – simple, bustling, friendly and rather brighter than most. It’s clear that the owners care about the place and care, more especially, about what’s on the menu, which is dominated by Provençal classics, albeit with a modern twist. Fillet of turbot in a lemon sauce with veg from the nearby Forville market looks and tastes terrific. As do cod in fig leaves or lamb chops in a mustard sauce. I can’t guarantee you’ll get these dishes when you go, for the menu changes several times a week. But, if you like a bit of bounce to your meals (this is no place for an intimate dinner à deux), I’m pretty sure you’ll be happy. For a fifth, or less, of the price you’d be paying in more refined, Michelin-starred surroundings.
Address: 10 Rue Dr P Gazagnaire
Contact: 0033 (0) 4 9368 7202; bistrotgourmandcannes.fr
Prices: at lunchtime, two-course menu from €17, three courses from €22. Three course dinner €32
Open: 12 noon-2pm; 7pm-10pm. Closed Sun evening and Mon
8. Le Sporting, St Tropez
It's difficult, in St Tropez, to find an eatery which fits into any sort of budget category. This one does, just about. It's a standard café-brasserie – no frills, tight-packed with locals in for a beer and kids running about. There are many like it in every French town. They are characterised by the scrape of metal chair legs on tiled floors, and the sense that community life flows through. And they are nearer the popular heart of French catering than any Michelin-starred spot. In St Tropez once, and having been ripped off in the pasta stakes the previous evening, I dined here on the dish of the day. It was lamb chops with many trimmings. I also had a couple of glasses of house red. I couldn't have been happier.
Address: 42 Place des Lices
Contact: 0033 (0) 4 9497 0065
Prices: dish of the day from around €15
Open: Daily, 8am-2am
Dordogne, by Nicola Williams
9. Bistro La Verrière, Chancelade
Knowing the chef holds a Michelin star for his restaurant next door makes this clever little bistro all the more popular. Snug against the 19th-century Château des Reynats, it is a bright glass space with bags of natural light, Panton designer chairs and creative modern cuisine. The confit de canard is spot on.
Address: Château des Reynats, 15 ave des Reynats, 24650
Contact: 0033 (0) 5 5303 5359; chateau-hotel-perigord.com
Prices: two courses €19, three courses €26
Open: daily lunch noon-2pm; dinner 7pm-9.30pm
10. Cabanoix et Châtaigne, Domme
No address is more revered. In a dining room of miniature dimensions, Laurent Secouard thrills with foie gras prepared six ways as a starter – raw like Carpaccio, seared with salt and spices, marinated in Armagnac, or poached in Bergerac red wine and spiced caramel. Foie gras mains continue the gastronomic excitement, matched by a wine list featuring interesting small producers.
Address: 3 rue Geoffroy de Vivans, 24250
Contact: 0033 (0) 5 53310 711; restaurantcabanoix.com
Prices: three courses from €19
Open: Thursday to Sunday September to December & mid-Feb to June, daily July and August; lunch noon-1.30pm; dinner 7pm-9.30pm
Bordeaux, by Anthony Peregrine
11. Café Populaire, Bordeaux
Should you be looking for a quiet, romantic meal – in which perhaps, Lord forbid, to propose marriage – coming here would be a catastrophic mistake. The Café Pop’ is where you go for copious quantities of simple regional staples in a good-hearted atmosphere which grows wilder as the evening progresses. Once the eating is done, you’ll be co-opted into a continuum of conviviality. The music is insistent, dancing inevitable – and not merely for the beardless. Folk the wrong side of 40 find themselves swept along in 1980s surroundings… which may or may not recall their heyday. This is a landmark in Bordeaux. Not only will your marriage proposal fall flat, but you’ll also have to keep a sharp eye on the intended, lest some swarthy Gascon sweep her off.
Address: 1 Rue Kléber
Contact: 0033 (0) 5 5694 3906; cafepop.fr
Prices: mains from €14
Open: Tues-Sat, 8pm-2am (last food orders, 11pm
12. Brasserie l’Orléans, Bordeaux
Opened in 1942, the establishment became a landmark in Bordeaux and, since 2007, has been regaining its status. New owner Franck Chaumès has restored its “Parisian brasserie” verve with classic dishes and a classic bustle. Tables are close together, furniture is bric-à-brac-ish and, once again, there’s a happy urgency about the place. Look out for duck confit with honey, lamb chops with thyme and as many oysters as you can manage, all accompanied by a good and reasonably-priced selection of wines. If you don’t like liver, you might find that l’Orléans’ calf liver – one of its signature dishes – changes your mind. Then again, you might not.
Address: 36 Allée d’Orléans
Contact: 0033 (0) 5 5600 5006; brasserie-lorleans.fr
Prices: starters from €5.50; mains from €17.50
Open: daily, 12 noon-2.30pm; 7.30pm-midnight
13. La Brasserie Bordelaise, Bordeaux
On one of the key old streets in the St Pierre district, La Brasserie is the sort of eatery where no one’s sure whether it’s food or conviviality which has the upper hand. The place has barrels as tables, bottles along every wall and the buzz of locals tackling great meat and shellfish as if decibels were desirable. This is not the setting for your romantic dinner à deux – but if you want Bordelais bustle and a sense that you’re at the centre of things, you could do very much worse. There’s also a surprisingly satisfactory wine list, plus a selection of cognacs and armagnacs to satisfy the most exacting.
Address: 50 Rue St Rémi
Contact: 00 33 (0) 5 5787 1191; brasseries-boardelaise.fr
Prices: lunchtime dish of the day €14
Open: Mon-Sat, 12 noon-3pm; 7pm-midnight
Brittany, by Greg Ward
14. Au Pied d’Cheval, Cancale
In sight of Mont St-Michel across the bay, and an easy drive from St-Malo, Cancale is renowned for its oysters. And there’s no better place to try them than this simple restaurant, one of dozens squeezed along the waterfront. Originally it was just a streetside stall with a sideline in shucking oysters to eat on the spot; now dining rooms on two floors complement the tables outside, but the principle remains the same – pick what you fancy from the baskets piled with shellfish, and it’ll be ready to eat within minutes.
Address: 10 quai Gambetta, 35260
Contact: 0033 (0) 2 9989 7695
Prices: seafood platters from around €28
Open: daily, noon-2pm, 7–9pm. Closed mid-Nov to March, plus Wed in low season
15. Chez Jacky, Riec sur Bélon
The seafood restaurant of your dreams, tucked away in a ravishingly beautiful riverfront setting, down a dead-end road near the mouth of one of southern Brittany’s lesser-known estuaries (don’t worry, the last few miles are signposted). Its prime raison d’être is that the owners cultivate oysters in the adjacent waters; they don’t believe all that nonsense about only eating oysters when there’s an “r” in the month, and stay open all through the summer. Plentiful other piscatorial pleasures are available though, including huge shellfish platters, and lobsters served with rice. Eat at simple tables in the cluttered interior, or on a gorgeous open-air terrace.
Address: Port de Bélon, 29340
Contact: 0033 (0) 2 9806 9032; chez-jacky.com
Prices: menus from around €24
Open: Tues-Sun, noon-2pm, 7-9pm; open Easter-Sept only
16. L’Écume des Jours, Roscoff
Set in a converted 500-year-old mansion, halfway around the quayside between Roscoff town and the ferry port, this inconspicuous restaurant deserves its sky-high reputation for the best in modern Breton cuisine. Look for some intriguing flavour combinations, like scallops with smoked duck, or pollock cooked with onion marmalade and cider. Book ahead to get a table on the sea-view terrace, or snuggle up by the fire in winter.
Address: quai d’Auxerre, 29680
Contact: 0033 (0) 2 9861 2283, ecume-roscoff.fr
Prices: lunch from around €16
Open: Mon & Thurs-Sun, noon-1.30pm & 7-9pm
17. La Criée, Quiberon
For utterly fresh fish, cooked to perfection, look no further than this homely little restaurant, right by the port in Quiberon and attached to a fish shop with a smokehouse that supplies shops and restaurants all over France. Waiters bustle around with blackboards that list the day’s catch, or you can simply choose from baskets piled high with shellfish. Besides classic recipes like sole meuniere, they offer choucroute and stews, and a delicious bream cooked with chorizo. The one downside is that it’s all indoors.
Address: 11 quai de l’Océan, Port-Maria, 56170
Contact: 00 33 297 305309, maisonlucas.net
Prices: set menus from around €18
Open: Tues-Sun, 12.15-2pm, 7.15-10; closed Jan, plus Sun eve in low season
18. La Table de Jeanne, Vannes
This bustling, very friendly place, next to Vannes’ fish market – always a good area to go to restaurant-hunting – is hugely popular as a romantic rendezvous with young-ish local couples, but attracts visitors too with its zestful take on traditional recipes. The changing daily menu, chalked up on a blackboard, always includes some meat, but the freshest fish from the market is the speciality, from clams or scallops to burbot spiced with turmeric. The three cave-like dining rooms make a snug retreat in low season, and there’s an exceptionally well-priced wine list.
Address:13 place de la Poissonnerie, 56000
Contact:00 33 297 473491,latabledejeanne.com
Prices:lunch menu from €12.50 except weekends
Open:Tues, Wed & Sun, noon-2pm; Thurs-Sat, noon-2pm, 7-9.30pm
Normandy, by Greg Ward
19. La Rapière, Bayeux
Squeezed snugly into an ancient cottage that’s tucked down an alleyway just off Bayeux’s main street, this long-standing favourite offers the kind of classic local recipes you won’t find in the new generation of French restaurants. Dishes like beef with chestnut stuffing and chicken wrapped in cabbage leaves mix with traditional staples like slow-cooked leg of lamb. Out of season, with a fire blazing and every encouragement to linger over cheese, apple tart, and Calvados, it’s a lovely place to while away an evening.
Address: 53 rue St-Jean, 14400
Contact: 00 33 231 210545, larapiere.net
Prices: three-course lunch menu from €16
Open: Tues–Sat, noon–1.30pm, 7-9.30pm
Burgundy, by Greg Ward
20. L’Auberge du Marronnier, Chateauneuf
I stumbled across this budget eatery quite by chance while visiting the nearby chateau. A wonderful place to while away a sunny afternoon on the tree-shaded terrace. Classic Burgundian fare – steaks, duck, etc. – at very reasonable prices. And a very friendly proprietor.
Address: Place du Marche, 21320
Contact: 0033 3 80492191
Prices: Menus from €15
- Freshly baked baguette (would advise a baguette “Tradition” or “Campagne”) 1.3$
- 2 slices of Jambon de Paris (white ham from the butcher) 3$
- Salted butter with salt crystals from the cheese store 2$ for 125gr.
Eat out during lunchtime.
You can try to do it on your last day. Lunch menus are cheaper than dinner menus. Go for a formule. While you can always pick an entree, main course, and dessert separately, one thing we learned after visiting Paris is their set menu.
- Eat out at lunch instead of dinner. ...
- Opt for 'une formule', which is a set menu. ...
- Order wine by the glass. ...
- Beware of sodas and sparkling waters. ...
- Go to the bar inside a café to have your coffee. ...
- Order “à emporter” ...
- Avoid “le brunch” ...
- Eat like a Parisian.
The Cost of Food in France
In France, you can expect to spend around €25-40 per day on meals. However, this amount will vary based on a number of factors, including which city you visit and where you choose to eat. Lunch with a drink in Paris can run nearly €16, but a street crepe normally costs only €5.