Fashionable Food

During Paris Design Week this past September a chic meal was as much the order of the day as decor-shop hopping along the design routes created in the city’s various arrondisements. I became especially au fait with St Germain and Montparnasse, as I was staying in the area – not far from big-name design stores like Cassina, Cappellini and Ligne Roset alongside smaller treasure troves like Sentou (not to forget The Conran Shop on Rue du Bac). It’s a smart part of Paris, to be sure, but it retains an aura of intellectual cool, having once been the stomping ground of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and later Serge Gainsbourg (all of whose tombstones I visited at the Montparnasse cemetery). They were regular patrons at cafes like the legendary Café Flore – a wonderful spot if you can get a table out on the pavement, and serving an affordable and tasty plat du jour. Having had my fair share of café fare – notably the ubiquitous, budget-friendly goat’s cheese salad, with complimentary baguette - the chance to graduate to a rather more upmarket dining experience was not to be scoffed at. Especially when it entailed a candlelit meal at Ralph Lauren’s eponymous restaurant occupying the ground floor and inner courtyard of the flagship Paris store. Set on a particularly upmarket block on Boulevard St-Germain, the crowd here is well-heeled and well-groomed native Parisian or ex-pat American (their statement designer handbags are the real deal), who especially appreciate that the highlight of the menu – pasture-grazed, hormone-free Angus beef in steaks or burgers – comes direct from Ralph’s family ranch, the Double RL, in California. Though described on the menu as a ‘distinctly American experience’, the restaurant is fabulously Parisian in aura. The decor might be all Horse & Hound plush leather upholstery and framed hunting scenes, but there’s an underlying elegance that is just so very French. Seated in the enchanting courtyard is first prize, but if it’s chilly, indoors is a perfect mix of laidback comfort and grandeur. Tables are adorned with crisp white napery, silverware and bowls of fresh red roses, and the dapper staff could well be moonlighting Lauren models. You have to start with appetizers like the Maryland-style crab cakes (€22) or New England clam chowder (€17) – all while sipping bucket-loads of champagne, of course. Slender Parisians love their salads, and the list of fresh offerings here is accordingly long – we shared a classic Caesar (€14) with shaved Parmesan and toasted croutons, along with the ceviche-style shrimp cocktail (€21). The burgers are the real stars, and you can choose between the famous Ralph’s Burger (an American classic, €27) and versions with turkey, tuna or even a veggie patty. They all come with generous bowls of the best fries ever. My dining partner, a svelte Montparnasse local, polished off a Double R seared ranch steak (€60) with sautéed spinach and hash browns, while I went for the whole Dover sole (unspeakably delicious, and probably not unworthy of its €49 price tag) with delicate garden greens like fresh broad beans and a heavenly lemon-caper sauce. We shared sides of roasted Roma tomatoes and green beans (€9 per bowl), and rolled out before the charming maitre ‘d had a chance to deliver the dessert menu. Paris might be awash with a myriad of Michelin-starred eateries, but when in St-Germaine, and in need of a meal that’s both refined and hearty, in exceptionally stylish surrounds, your first stop should definitely be Ralph’s. Ralph's, Ralph Lauren, 173, Boulevard St-Germain, Paris, France, 75006, 01-44-77-76-00 Text: Leigh Robertson