For many years I’ve disliked Montmartre in Paris: crowds around Sacre Coeur, artists chasing you down to do your portrait in Place du Tertre, hawkers peddling Eiffel tower keychains, and streets filled with flashy souvenir shops. On my 25th trip to Paris my mind actually changed, thanks to the tour I took with Culinary Tours Of Paris.
The tour I took in Montmartre with John-Paul Fortney, the owner and tour guide, exposed me to the “other” side of Montmartre. This was a rather unique walking tour because it combined history, sites and food and it was done in the best way possible. Over the course of 3 ½ hours, I was entertained with stories, wine and food….visiting a different restaurant for each course of the meal and exploring Montmartre in between.
Montmartre Culinary Tour
I met John-Paul at the exit to the Abbesses Metro station and as we walked to the first restaurant, John-Paul and I started talking about food, partly because we passed by Le Grenier à Pain Abbesses, which recently won first prize in the 2015 Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Francaise de la Ville de Paris (Best baguette in Paris for 2015). John-Paul gave me insight into the whole baguette competition and industry.
Montmartre has a very large concentration of boulangeries who have won the Best Baguette award in the past. Why? John-Paul believes it is because of the “confrérie” or “brotherhood” that exists in the area: the bakers get together often and talk about what works and doesn’t work in their practice and expectations are set very high.
A really good baguette will have irregular holes. You want random “bubbles” as this will indicate that it has risen enough. The interior texture should be chewy and the exterior should have uneven colouring.
The first restaurant we visited was “Chez Julien”(2 rue Lepic) where we had a charcuterie and cheese plate with red wine. What’s interesting about this place is that they have a provider from the Auvergne region who makes deliveries to them weekly.
- Cheeses: Cantal, St. Nectaire, Bleu d’Auvergne
- Charcuterie: Saucisse sèche d’Auvergne, Jambon d’Auvergne, Rillette de Porc
- Wine: Côtes de Thongue from Chemins de Bassac (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir)
As we walked along Rue Lepic, the street became much quieter and the architecture of the buildings became more interesting. Fewer stores and flashy signs. We also came upon the apartment where Van Gogh lived (15 Rue Lepic) and the Bateau-Lavoir building (13 rue Ravignan) where famous (poor) artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Cocteau lived back in the late 1800s to 1914. From what I learned, Montmartre was loved by artists because everything was cheap—accommodations, booze and taxes!
At this restaurant, the inside was modern but they served classic French dishes. John-Paul feels you can’t go wrong at “Jeanne B” (61 Rue Lepic) and I agree. He had the Mitonnée de poissons comme une bouillabaisse (fish with mashed potatoes covered in a bouillabaisse sauce) and I had the Poitrine de cochon a la moutarde violette (Pork breast rubbed in mustard) with gratin dauphinois (potatoes and crème fraiche).
- Wines: Faugères from Château La Liquière “Cistus” (White: Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, and Bourboulenc)
While walking eastward along rue des Trois Frères John-Paul shared with me his impressions of Montmartre and the restaurant scene. He felt the quality of restaurants has improved greatly in the 8 years he has lived in the area and added that restaurants are more careful with patrons who have food allergies.
If there was one impression about French restaurants I had after this tour it is that you do not need to go to Michelin-starred, expensive restaurants to have a high-quality meal. There are many who make excellent dishes with exceptional ingredients at a reasonable, if not low, price. Interestingly, John-Paul suggested that if you see carefully selected wines on a menu, it is a good indication that the food will be good.
Our trek to the third restaurant took us by some windmills. Yes, windmills in Paris. John-Paul explained that Montmartre had a large gypsum deposit. Windmills were used in the 1600s and 1700s to grind gypsum into what is known as “plaster of Paris” and to grind wheat. The popular Moulin Rouge, which is a Paris icon today, was constructed to pay homage to the windmills which were being torn down in the late 1800s.
At one time there were 13 windmills in Montmartre and today there are only two. The Moulin de la Galette is actually comprised of the two windmills which ground flour and pressed grapes:
- Moulin de Blute-fin was renamed Moulin de la Galette and is now a private residence
- Moulin Radet sits atop of the restaurant, Le Moulin de la Galette. Renoir was inspired to paint the “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” that now resides in the Musée d’Orsay
While Paris has numerous crêperies, the “Crêperie Brocéliande” (15 rue des Trois Frères) is on a totally different level. On Tripadvisor, it is #2 on the list of dessert places in Paris and did not disappoint. I got my fix of apples indulging in the “La Calvados” crêpe, which was a crepe filled with fried apples, Calvados apple sorbet and flambé. I paired this with “Chouchen”, an apple apératif from Brittany. It is made from the fermentation of honey in water.
Culinary Tours of Paris with John-Paul is truly unique in that it is more than just going to a restaurant. It is a walking tour that provides you with three restaurant experiences, great food, and an opportunity to learn some fascinating things about a popular area in Paris.
A big thank you to John-Paul and Culinary Tours Of Paris for providing this unique experience. As always, all opinions are my own.