to find the best restaurants and
other good places to eat in France - A guide to the guides.
How to find the best restaurants and
other good places to eat in France - A guide to the guides.
enormous amount is said, written and televised about the best
restaurants in France, and other good places to eat. Some of
is well researched, but a lot of newspaper articles and supposedly
objective pieces have been penned by hacks and travel
writers in exchange for a free binge offered by restaurants themselves,
or local or national tourist offices.
No risk of that here; there are no individual
restaurant reviews on About-France.com. Defining a good restaurant is,
choosing a good book or a birthday present, a matter for individual
choice and individual preference, not something that can be objectively
determined by measurement against a scientific benchmark.
That being said, there are clearly "good restaurants" and
restaurants" in France, and plenty that are in the middle, and there
are a number of guides to help you find them. The best, and most
complete of these, are naturally French.
But what is
a "good" restaurant. Is it one providing delicately prepared and
presented food that is as much an experience for they eye as it is for
the taste-buds? Or is it good traditional-style home cooking, made from
fresh local ingredients, according to age-old recipes? Or is
exotic? Or is it something that is tasty and yet good value for money?
One person's "great little restaurant" down a backstreet can seem
footlingly banal to someone used to the grand tables of the best
gourmet restaurants, specially in France. Yet each can be something to
write home about.
There are half a dozen well-known restaurant guides in
France, offering restaurant information on the Internet ;
these are detailed below. The most famous of all, is of course, the
Michelin tyre company produced their first travel guide over 100 years
ago.... in 1900! And they first began giving stars to good
restaurants in 1926. Today, the highly demanding Michelin stars are the
international gold standard when it comes to ranking restaurants. With
Michelin, there are no under the table deals. Michelin stars - a
ranking from one star to three stars - are only given to the very best
In 2013, there were 106 three-starred
Michelin restaurants worldwide, including just 28 in France. Of those
in France, ten are in Paris, the rest spread around French cities,
towns and even villages. Three-star Michelin restaurants are the nec
plus ultra of gourmet dining, and they don't come cheap.
are big differences in price depending on the location. While a
four-course menu in a three-starred restaurant in Paris may well set
you back 350 € per person, plus wine, the most rural
Michelin restaurants offer menus at less than 150
These are the prices for the basic menu in restaurants such as
Régis Marcon's "Clos des Cimes" at Saint Bonnet le
in the Haute Loire department of Auvergne,
or the Michel Bras
restaurant at Laguiole, way off the beaten track in the Massif Central,
between Aurillac and Rodez.
Michelin are a bit more
generous when awarding two stars; there are 82 two-star restaurants in
France, 18 of them in Paris.
Then there are hundreds of one-star
restaurants spread across France.
Since 1997 Michelin have also included a category
called "Bib Gourmand"
the world-famous "Michelin man" mascot, his full name being Bibendum). This
lists restaurants offering very good value for money.
The Michelin website
can be searched by location (town, department), and/or type of
restaurant. Unless you choose one of the selection criteria in the
Classification drop-down menu, you will get a full range of
restaurants, including Michelin starred, Bib Gourmand, a
Michelin selection, restaurants with menus for under 20 €uros,
and also a lot more restaurants that are just listed for information
in this case does not mean recommended.
The website also has a zoomable map
showing thousands of restaurants, starred or otherwise; but they do not
all show up - even the three-starred ones - unless you zoom in to a
fairly local level. There is an option to show just certain types of
restaurant, from brasseries and pizzerias, to classic or gastronomic
restaurants. But for a list of three starred restaurants in
France, and two-star restaurants, the clearest source seems to be
French version of the list is better than the English one.
main rival is the Gault et Millau Guide, which was founded in 1972.
Since 2010, Gault & Millau have classed restaurants
scale of one to five chef's hats (called toques
in French). At the top end of the scale, Gault & Millau have
their 5-toques category even more exclusive than Michelin's 3 star
ranking. In 2013, the five-toque category listed just 15
addresses to Michelin's 28. Most, such as the Clos des Cimes at St.
Bonnet le Froid, are in the top categories in both guides; but 5 of
Gault & Millau's top 15 only have two stars with Michelin.
Conversely, 18 of Michelin's 3-star restaurants do not get 5 toques
with Gault et Millau.
Gault and Millau website has a
full list of all their restaurants (with
or without toques), which can be selected by region or smaller unit,
then sorted by toques (choose "Trier
les résultats" (sort results) then
de toques décroissant" (number of
toques, downwards) . For most diners, except the most
restaurant listed in this list – including those with no
toques – will be worth a visit.... and prices,
specially at the lower end, can be very reasonable. For a
complete list of Gault & Millau listed restaurants, visit their
page, and click "trouver"
before filling in any search criteria. Or else type in a town or region
on the main page of the website.
restaurants with both Michelin 3 stars and Gault & Millau 5
toques ranking (2013)
Another guide that only lists the best restaurants is Le
which roughly translates as the
Gourmet Directory. The guide lists about 4000 restaurants
and hotels in France, and their quality standards are high. Le Bottin
Gourmand does not class restaurants, but their easily searchable online
can provide lists by town or department, and by budget. Their lists
include virtually all Michelin-starred or Gault-et-Millau-toqued
restaurants, plus plenty more not necessarily included in the other
Diners can be reasonably assured that any classic
or modern restaurant featuring on any of the top three online guides
(except for some of those that are just listed on the
Michelin website) will source all their ingredients fresh from local
suppliers, whenever this is possible. In many cases, they may also
source as far as possible from local producers, notably meat, cheeses
and vegetables. All the food served will have been prepared fresh on
the premises; and while bread and patisseries will have been supplied
by local bakers, and cheese
from a local cheese merchant or producer,
even such things as sorbets or soups will have been prepared by the
chefs. Nothing will have come out of the deep-freeze.
Any self-respecting restaurant will have a good
choice of French wines, notably local wines if in a wine-producing area. Foreign
wines are not common in French restaurants, though restaurants with a
good cellar may well include a few at the end of their wine list.
Even top restaurants may have their own house
wines; but wine is not essential. In most good restaurants, there will
also be a choice of still or sparkling mineral waters, and tap water (une carafe d'eau)
will be provided if you specifically want it. But it may be necessary
to specify "du robinet",
meaning from the tap (GB) or from the fawcet (US).
Other restaurant guides
The same can not be assumed for many other
thousands of restaurants that do not appear in the top guides. While
many ordinary everyday restaurants do
source a lot of their ingredients locally, and do not use deep-frozen
products, others have less scruples. Many will use fresh produce where
appropriate, including some local products, but may rely on deep-frozen
or otherwise industrially-prepared ingredients for certain options or
The biggest French online restaurant
guide is l'Internaute
(The Internet Surfer) with a searchable online restaurant database; this is a
user generated restaurant guide, listing a lot of urban restaurants,
but not much in smaller towns. As with any user-generated listing,
specially those that cannot check that reviews are from bona fide
customers, the star ranking can be very dubious. As happens all too
often on sites that allow unverified and unverifiable
user-generated ratings, good restaurants
can get poor reviews put up by people with a grudge, or even by
competitors, while other restaurant owners get their friends to give
them glowing reviews, or even write their own reviews. By all means use
l'Internaute to find restaurants (though they do list some that do not
exist, or under the wrong name or in the wrong place); but be wary of
More reliable, but more limited and a different
sort of guide, is "Les
In the UK, the Les Routiers brand "recommends
only quality establishments.... that
offer... great food " and value for money. In France, where the brand
originated, les Routiers is primarily a restaurant
label and guide for
truck-drivers. While there is an emphasis on value for money and good
plentiful food, and French truck-drivers tend to be more sensitive to
good food than their counterparts in many other countries, the brand is
distinctly less chic than the three top guides. Les Routiers
restaurants are roadside restaurants with parking space, often
plenty of it. The Les Routiers website lets you search
for restaurants with search criteria useful for tourists and
lorry-drivers, including such things as with-shower, wide-loads,
motorway restaurants, and so on. To select the best restaurants on the
Les Routiers database, click the "Relais
casserole" button; this is the
les Routiers label for good food.
Two other guides are Le
Routard, and Le Petit
the French equivalent of Backpacker's guides. These travel guides have
aged and matured with the backpacking generation of the seventies, for
whom they were originally designed. Today they remain outdoor and
travel centered guides, targeting a youthful or once-youthful
audience, alternative options to the more establishment travel guides
listed above. Both these guides recommend thousands of restaurants, and
their logos are therefore commonly posted in doorways or windows. Le
Petit Futé has a searchable online database,
descriptions saying why a restaurant has been
recommended; Routard.com 's guides must be downloaded for a
fee, depending on the area. While neither of them concentrate on top of
the range restaurants, they both have their quality standards, and a
recommendation by one or the other should be a sign that a restaurant
is good, of its category, and normally good value.
Finally, there are plenty more restaurants in
France, specially in small towns or in rural France, that are not in
any guide book, and not even on Tripadvisor (where reviews are not
necessarily any more reliable than on the Internaute website, for the
same reasons); you may find them in local or very local tourist
brochures, on the French Yellow Pages website
or just by asking people with local knowledge. And if you can check out
eating places with somone with local knowledge, that can often be as
good a guide as any. As long as they give
you a choice of addresses, they'll probably be sending you to somewhere
that is worth a visit.
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