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French restaurants standards fallen...


Mikey7

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according to the Sunday Times today --

Despite France's reputation for fabulous cuisine, restaurant standards are falling far behind those in the UK.

National stereotypes die hard. Despite France’s poor showing in a recent poll of 500 chefs, critics and restaurateurs conducted by Restaurant magazine, which placed only one French restaurant in the world’s top 10, as against four from the UK, the French still view England as a place with appalling weather and even worse sustenance.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-1617772,00.htm

 

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The link doesn't work for me. To try and put a balance on it 5 of the top 20 were in France (or Monaco) and well over half practice what one would call French cusine. I suspect relativly few of the 500 "judges" surveyed were French.

Personally I agree that the UK and the rest of the world are catching up while France struggles. Hopefully that will inspire French establishments to do better.

For the record the top 20 were.

1) The Fat Duck (Best Restaurant in the World, Best Retaurant in Europe)
2) El Bulli (Chefs Choice)
3) The French Laundry (Best in Americas)
4) Tetsuya’s (Best in Australia)
5) Gordon Ramsay
6) Pierre Gagnaire
7) Per Se (Highest New Entry)
8) Tom Aikens
9) Jean Georges
10) St. John
11) Michel Bras
12) Le Louis XV
13) Chez Panisse (Highest Climber)
14) Charlie Trotter
15) Gramercy Tavern
16) Guy Savoy
17) Restaurant Alain Ducasse
18) The Gallery at Sketch
19) The Waterside Inn
20) Nobu

Graham

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Hi Mike7

You said:-

 according to the Sunday Times today --

The Sunday Times is part of the Supert Murdoch stable, and like all other media that belong to him, exhibits a consistent anti-french bias. While less shrill than the Sun and Sky News, it's no less biased.

Despite France's reputation for fabulous cuisine, restaurant standards are falling far behind those in the UK.

Absolutely untrue. What MAY (I'll come back to this in a mo) be true, is that at the very top end, the proportion of top class restaurants (the mag's top 500 world wide) has fallen. I've long said this and would agree that GB is one of the best places in the world to eat, if you have a good guide and very deep pockets.

What this typically blimpish (in France we'd call it Chauvin) article fails to mention is that "Restaurant Magazine" is British based. So- surprise, surprise, they like Fat Duck. (average cost £78 per head) Gordon Ramsey (average price per head £91) and the Waterside Inn (average price per head £119). I'm not saying they're wrong to like these places - far from it, though their reviewers also love Ell Bulli, where Ferran Adriá cooks dishes that have more in common with the chemistry lab than with pork, turbot or tomatoes. Mind you, Heston Blumenthal has been known to push the limits of what is cooking to somewhere pretty stratospheric. For a somewhat less rose tinted view of this kind of cooking, read the article by Mike Steinberger in the Financial Times of 20th April.

But such food has little to do with what M and Mme Dupont eat when they go to the UK and look for "le Petit Restaurant du coin" where they can get a reasonable British meal for a fair price.

the French still view England as a place with appalling weather and even worse sustenance

I'm not surprised. Within a 15 mile radius of us here in France, we can find at least 10 restaurants with prices from E11 to E39 (wine not included) and whose standards vary from "good home style" cooking, to Michelin 1-2 star standards. That's the sort of thing your typical frenchman expects to find in the UK. So they go to "Joe's Caff" down the road and get food which is truly atrocious.  

 

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Standards. I don't know whether they have dropped or not. The thing was when we first got here that it was all so different and exotic and quite exciting to go out and eat. But my repertoire improved, depassed often standards of food we would eat when out and it stopped being the occassion it was.

I still like going out to eat and we do try and have things we don't eat at home. I made the choice to not cook certain things at home.

 

The best food I have eaten out recently was in the UK. Especially the early doors three course meals ordered up to 7pm have been superb and excellant value under £12. Wonderful if meeting up with friends later. Even 'proper' prices and wonderful menus later on in the evening and not depassing 39 euros either.

And I will admit that I may be in the same boat in the UK as I was when I first came here. The wonderful unusal combinations are as I have never had before, so they are exciting.

 

What I can say is that sometimes things in life need spicing up and I don't think that restaurants here realise that. I would apprecate them trying to tickle my tastebuds more.

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No idea why the link don't work. Anyway I didn't write it, I just thought it might interest forum readers. Here's the full article, with interesting bits about heathcare and voting at the bottom--

French Mistress: The food may be fresh, but the restaurants are stale
Helena Frith Powell
Despite France's reputation for fabulous cuisine, restaurant standards are falling far behind those in the UK.  
 
National stereotypes die hard. Despite France’s poor showing in a recent poll of 500 chefs, critics and restaurateurs conducted by Restaurant magazine, which placed only one French restaurant in the world’s top 10, as against four from the UK, the French still view England as a place with appalling weather and even worse sustenance.
When asked what they feared most about facing the English at Twickenham this year, the French rugby team’s captain replied, “the food”. France’s leading lingerie designer, Chantal Thomass, says she dreads going to her factory in Norfolk because of the cooking. “I have to go on a diet when I get back to Paris,” she says. “I blame the sandwiches. But what else is there to eat?” Jamie Oliver’s campaign for better school dinners prompted a French friend of mine to suggest we needed a similar drive for the adult population.
 
France, on the other hand, has long had a reputation for wonderful cuisine. The world’s greatest chefs are traditionally French. The national attitude towards eating has always been revered, as have the markets and the choice of fresh produce.

It is very easy to wander into town and buy any number of seasonal delicacies. I find there is no need to plan dinner in advance. You just go and see what’s around. “I love the fact that what I eat is determined by the seasons and by what is good at the greengrocer’s next door to my house,” says chef Ken Hom, who has a home near Cahors.

The French custom of shopping for fresh food each day may be time-consuming, but there is something very satisfying about coming home with a basket filled with fresh goods that you eat straightaway.

Go out for dinner in rural France, however, and you are often disappointed. Many restaurants are overpriced, second-rate and lit by searchlights. And the menu is often limited. It seems the foodie revolution that has hit England in the past 10 years has yet to reach rural France. Much of the food is frozen and, despite the country’s culinary reputation, I have heard several people complain they have had the worst meals of their lives in France.

The chef and author John Burton Race spent six months in southwest France researching his book and television series, French Leave. “During that time, I drove 36,000 miles and ate in hundreds of restaurants,” he says. “I would say maybe half a dozen were good. The rest were rubbish. If we served food like that in England, we’d be shut down. They show no imagination — basically it’s duck, duck or duck.

“I love France and, if I can afford it, I will probably end up there,” Burton Race says. “But in terms of eating out, we have far more variety, the quality is better and the prices are good. And it’s not as if we have the luxury of fresh melons, asparagus and all the other wonderful fresh produce French markets offer. I don’t think French restaurateurs have any excuse — they don’t seem to have advanced at all since haute cuisine days.”

Burton Race concedes that the poor quality could in part be due to the 35-hour week, which has led to increased costs. “Restaurants are hiring 30% more staff because nobody is doing any work,” he says. “A French friend of mine says rural people aren’t that discerning, so restaurants can get away with it. They’ve been eating undercooked duck for hundreds of years and can’t seem to get enough of it.”

Laurent Pourcel, chef and co-founder of the Michelin three-starred Jardin des Sens in Montpellier, defends French regional cuisine. “We have always had great gastronomic areas in France, but here in the Languedoc, for example, we were seen as a poor relation,” he says. “But I think quality is finally improving in regional France.”

Pourcel, who recently opened a restaurant in Piccadilly called W’Sens, is not worried by France’s low standing in the world’s best restaurants list. “You have to be wary of fads,” he says. “Remember that French cuisine has a lot of history behind it. It is here to stay. We will always be extremely important.” Yet even he admits that eating out in London is a more interesting experience than eating out in Paris.


Healthcare reform

From July 1 French residents can no longer choose which doctor they see according to their mood. By that date anybody (apart from some exceptions, such as pregnant women and children) who is part of the French healthcare system should have registered with one doctor of their choice. The initiative will stop people obtaining several opinions on the same ailment. To register, you need to provide the doctor with a “declaration of choice” form, which can be downloaded at www.ameli.fr. Non-residents can still use their E111 as before. For more information, call the social security helpline (from within France) on 0820 773 333.


Right to vote?

In reply to those of you who have e-mailed asking if you can vote in the upcoming referendum on the European constitution, the answer is no. As a resident foreigner in France, you have the right only to vote in municipal elections. As my village’s mayor said: “It’s we French who will decide whether we want to adopt the constitution.” When I asked him how he was going to vote, he looked as if I’d asked him what planet we are on. “Non, of course,” he replied.”

 

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There's good and bad everywhere of course.

I loved the way the article started on the 'national stereotypes' footing then proceeded to concentrate on just that.

There are plenty of indifferent French restaurants, just as there are plenty of good British ones. Some of the best French meals I have had have been in Britain, but if I'd paid the same in France (which I could easily do) I'd expect, and certainly get, the same standards.

The point about sameness is perfectly valid - French tend to be very conservative eaters and will favour their regional specialities. Where Mr Burton Race was it was duck - here it's tripe, andouilette, fish and steaks. A bit more variety but rather limiting. There are a few Chinese (or rather Vietnamese / Cambodian) eateries, and the inevitable pizzerias, but nowhere near the choice of cuisine that even a small English town offers. It may be all very nice to get fresh seasonal produce when here on holiday, but it does get rather boring. I do agree that some areas, naturally, offer better local choices than others.

I don't know where the bit about overpriced rural restaurants comes from, they may not all be particularly good here (though a great many are excellent) but with a standard 4-course lunch widely available at under 10€ and a Jean-Christophe Novelli dinner creation for less than 30€ (top end of the market in rural Manche) overpriced is not something that is often heard in these parts.

The bit about healthcare is basically correct but it's not quite that simple - you choose a 'medicin traitant' (who can be a specialist if you see one often). Referrals to other specialists (except gynaecologists, opthalmologues and, possibly, psychiatrists) should come from your chosen doctor if you want the fees reimbursed - there's nothing to stop you going independently and paying.

And as for voting - we EU foreigners can vote in European elections as well as municipal ones. The EU constitution vote is a French referendum, not an EU one, so therefore we don't get a say.

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Hi,

Mikey7 says:-

 Anyway I didn't write it, I just thought it might interest forum readers. Here's the full article, with interesting bits about heathcare and voting at the bottom--

No one suggested you did write it, but you did choose to quote it and post it, so presumably you endorse it. I don't agree, and have given my reasons, none of which you saw fit to address. In quoting the entire article, you seem to be seeking to reinforce your position. Entirely your right, of course.  I'll not refer to the additions on voting and healthcare, as they're neither relevent to the thread, nor on topic to the forum, (nor entirely accurate in the case of the voting one).

Now then. I've got plenty of criticisms to make about restaurants in France, I've said to many people many times that I think the standard of cooking in French restaurants (in France) has fallen - perhaps even fallen dramatically - in the last twenty years. I also agree that the standards of cooking have improved - in some respects improved beyond recognition - in the UK. So it's logical to expect that one day eating standards generally will be better in the UK than on France.

The article suggests that this has already happened. I dispute that VERY strongly. I accept that cooking in french restaurants is often unimaginitive, but I think it's fair to say that _within its limitations_ it is excellently executed. Yes, one might wish for something  other than duck confit and magret everywhere in the South West, choucroute and baeckeoffe in Alsace, cream with everything in Normandy and so on.

But I would argue that it's wrong to criticise french restaurants for being regional. Firstly, that's what the people of the area want, just see how hard it is for NON regional restaurants to start up, and secondly that's what the majority of visitors expect to find. You have to remember that in Britain, the corn laws and enclosure acts etc drove the majority of country dwellers away from their regions of origin, and therefore most British people have lost touch with their local traditions. So how many people here still know or care about the local specialities of the towns or villages where their families lived for hundreds of years before the Victorian era? Criticising the French for being regional, shows a profound ignorance about one of the things that is integral to the "frenchness" of french society, it seems to me.

There's a LOAD more to be said about this. However, I'll just make a couple of comments on what others have said.

TU says that the best meals s/he has had recently was eating out in the UK. I'd say that the best I've had were in the USA (the French Laundry) and in London (La Trompette). However, these were at $150 food only and £46 food only. Here in France I am regularly delighted by the St Jacques in Argentat with menus (dinner, not cut price) at E28 and E39, where the food is all one could ask, not a magret or confit to be seen, but magnificent innovative palate tickling food from a master. Not far behind, in quality, possibly equal, but more traditional, we have The Central and the Toque Blanche in Tulle, where for the same sort of price you can have wonderful foie gras, veal and Zander.

I've not had TU's experience with moderately priced meals in the UK. Not in restaurants cooking _British_ food. I don't want or need to go to the UK to eat French food, I get that cheaper and better (generally IMO) here. I DO eat Indian, Thai, Perenakan and Chinese food there. For me these (forgetting Singaporean food as it's not really well known) cuisines are the REAL strength of food in the UK. The excellence of the Dim Dum in - say - the Royal China in Queensway, is amazing. Quite as good as almost anything in Hong Kong, for example. Some of the best indian restaurants  are magnificent, and often at reasonable prices. I WOULD criticise the french for their gustatory conservatism, as it is jolly hard for a really good asian restaurant to make a go of it here, as their customers would refuse to eat the real thing. But I guess the same would have been true in the UK back in 1960, so it may be that one day things here will change in that respect.

However, that's little to do with the experience of the average french tourist (or working visitor) visiting Britain. THEY are looking for a good local English restaurant at the sort of price they expect to pay in  France - what other experience have they got to guide them? Just as M or Mme Dupont don't reckon to go to the Côte d'Azure to eat Norman food, or to Brittany for Provençal food, so they don't expect to go to the Uk to eat Indian, Chinese, Italian or French. And although I try hard to explain that such a beast almost doesn't exist, I can see the look of polite disbelief and incomprehension on their faces - only dissipated when I show them some of the guides.

In almost all respects I agree with what Will says. Especially over the hypocrisy in criticising stereotypes on the one hand while indulging in them on the other. But then, the Sunday Times is a Murdoch rag, and as such, criticing French culture is de rigueur. I wonder if I might quote from that article I referred to. (Heston Blumenthal is VERY much in the El Bulli tradition, so many of  Mike Steinberger's strictures would apply to the Fat Duck too).

Referring to a conference in Spain where top chefs were showing off their ideas, he says:-

"Adriá went one better, crushing licorice sticks in a blender, flash-freezing the purée with liquid nitrogen, and then having his assistant eat the resulting pellets while blowing water-vapour trails out of his nose. Adriá calls his concoction Licorice Dragon.

"Licorice Lunacy might be a more appropriate name. Pardon the pointed question, but what the hell is happening to haute cuisine?

"When the planet’s most celebrated chef is a pseudo-scientist (does he work in chefs whites or a lab coat?) who aims not to please but to shock, and when his juvenilia is lauded as genius and widely imitated, it is fair to say the food world has reached a sorry pass. Given the age in which we live, it is hardly surprising that novelty and entertainment value have come to be considered the highest virtues in high-end cooking. What is surprising is that so many people think this represents progress. It does not. Far from revolutionising haute cuisine, Adriá-ism, to give his postmodernist approach a name, is making a joke of it.

[Snip]

"It is often said that Adriá-ism is the culinary world’s answer to deconstructionism, and there is something to the analogy. Whatever its virtues, deconstructionism took much of the pleasure out of reading; literature was to be dissected, not enjoyed. This same ethos informs Adriá’s work and that of his acolytes. They cook mostly to provoke, not to delight. It is, quite literally, food for thought - food that is Intended for the mind, not the taste buds. But what is the ultimate purpose of haute cuisine, if not to create ethereal flavours?

[snip]

"So what is it, then, that leads so many supposedly food-savvy people to embrace food that offers no sense of place and little if any pleasure? Part of the answer, I suspect, is the neophilia that afflicts many food writers. True, neophilia plagues other fields - ar

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There are a few restaurants in my part of the NE of England that do good eclectic cooking. A great choice, well cooked and vary from trad things with a twist to chinese or indian on the menu too.

I won't hesitate to take french friends to these places and I am convinced that they will enjoy.

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Ian, a most facilitating post.

 

I would argue that what French cooking (or indeed any cuisine) does best is take quality ingredients and cook them to clearly show off and build on their natural flavours. This was fundamentally what was behind that much maligned fad called Nouvelle Cuisine, a French response in the late ‘70s to the heavy saucing that historically served to disguise indifferent ingredients. The problem with this style of cooking is that ingredients and chefs have nowhere to hide and if they’re not up to it then they should stick to proven regional dishes and the classics (ideally lightened up where appropriate).

 

On the Adriá-ism as it were, time will tell as it has for Nouvelle Cuisine. The best aspects will enter the mainstream in the long term along with the gadgets needed to make them. In the mean time there will be poorly judged attempts at copying but as this is a Catalan based movement and not a French led one, French restaurants will not be rushing to follow blindly.

 

The lack of diversity available in restaurant in France is a challenge. Fine for a couple of weeks holiday a year but to be a long term resident would give cause for concern. One reason I’m attracted to the Languedoc is the broad range of ingredients and relatively diverse cooking styles one can find, although by and large execution leaves a lot to be desired in many restaurants. I also don’t care for many of the Languedoc’s regional specialities. Nevertheless, over the past 12 years dining options have at least improved significantly, although not as much as the regions range of quality wines.

 

Graham

www.languedoc-dining.com

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Hello,

I'm really replying to Graham, as I've no recent experience of eating out in the NE, so can't comment on TU's reply.

I'm glad Graham found my post facilitating, though I'm a little at a loss to guess what it facilitated!!! (I'm teasing, Graham, as I think you fell foul of a spell checker!)

I think there's a lot of truth in what you say about good cuisine in many countries being at its best when showing off good ingredients simply. By THAT criterion though, I'd judge food in Britain quite harshly, as the most successful modern dishes there are either asian influenced with fairly powerful spicing giving interest and character to fairly tasteless raw materials, or else flavoured up reworkings of classics, with complexity being added again to compensate for raw materials that are fundamentally rather tasteless. I should add that I'm judging by what I see on "Saturday Kitchen" and in the Beeb "Good Food" magazine.

To some extent I agree with what you say about Adriá-ism. What worries me, however, is the way in which food critics seem to eschew the traditional, however excellently executed, in favour of the novel, and the more novel the better. What really worries me about this trend, is that people no longer know how to judge, or whether to trust their own sense of taste and balance anymore. Plus of course, the fact that fewer and fewer people here still have a good home cooked meal at lunch, means that more and more people are losing their gastronomic reference points. So they accept what the increasingly rarified critics say, because they no longer have the confidence or the experience to stand up and say "No! This is pretentious nonsense that is being served here". So I fear that Adriá wll have more influence than he ought, due to the adulation by the media. However I take your point about his being Catalan.

I'm interested to see that you say that the eating experience has improved in the last few years in the Languedoc. It's not been my experience generally in France (not explored the Languedoc-Roussillon), though I'm delighted if it's true, of course.

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Yes it was fascinating, really.

Ref. dining the Languedoc having improved, things need to be kept in perspective as progress has hardly been meteoric. I would put it down to several factors.

Montpellier's Le Jardin des Sens in the '90s helped put the Languedoc on the gastronomic map and some of the staff who trained in the Kitchens have opened restaurants in the area. Montpellier itself has also boomed of course.

The Provence overspill has boosted tourism, and brought new residents and second home owners.

Just as a new generation of winemakers have come to the region attracted by affordability and quality of life, so have a few ex-Parisian chefs opened up in the region.

On Adriá-ism, ate at El Bulli the best part of 10 years ago without any pre-knowledge of what he does. In those days it was a mere 16 course experience (plus bits and pieces) and about half the dishes were creative conventional, several were outstanding. If nothing else the other dishes made for some serious reflection. Art needs to move on but agree the "critics" need to do more to promote the classics.

Graham
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Ref. dining the Languedoc having improved, things need to be kept in perspective as progress has hardly been meteoric.

Hasn't the Jardin des Sens recently lost a star?  Or something like that, it's been in the news recently anyway.  Whatever, it's still ranked pretty high, but from what I hear you have to book ages in advance.  And while you're waiting, you sell your house to pay for the meal! 

Even the locals here in mid-LR say that it's a kind of no-man's-land for eating out, and you have to drive a long way to find a really good restaurant at a reasonable price.   Our best eating experiences in France haven't been local.

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Yes, Jardin des Sens lost their 3rd Michelin star this year, not a big surprise to those who follow such matters. Prices go sky high when a restaurant gets three but the food's the same.

Agree that Languedoc is dire for neighbourhood restaurants e.g. Pezenas has nothing decent.

Graham

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