LAST week, enthused by the early spring sunshine, I went to Paris for lunch. Travelling to St Pancras at an unearthly hour, I was trying to make the correlation (in my head), between the super-efficient Eurostar and the more romantic Orient Express. After all, we were going to have a good breakfast on board, with a champagne dinner on the way back.
We got off to a good start, leaving dead on time. With a mixture of hunger and expectation, we looked forward to being served. A flight-style dish containing an insipid, colourless sausage and a tiny herb omelette, without herbs, soon shattered that illusion. This was more about fuel than experience.
However, in a very short time, we were approaching Paris, although, going through the tunnel always feels as if we haven't left England.
More minor disappointments followed, not least of all finding that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
However, lunch was going to be good. We had decided that most traditional of French inventions, the brasserie, was what was needed.
A very old, and famous example was up, close to La Bourse. Typically, with its belle époque interior and bustling white aproned waiters, it was an authentic slice of Parisian life.
Tainted very slightly by the sommelier trying to serve me with lukewarm St Veran, and an overly strong gratinée à l'oignon, we had an acceptable lunch, and oh, I nearly forgot, I had to ask for the menu en français, as I could not understand the English version.
Back on the train after an exhausting trip around the sights, although not hungry, we were served something akin to a cheap airline meal, but fortunately, with as much champers as these hollow legs can hold.
I felt it best not to offer them my recipe for the famous onion soup, but I'm happy to share it with you.
French onion soup
[500g onions, finely sliced
50g unsalted butter
1l chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
25g plain flour (optional)
250ml dry white wine
4 thickish slices of French bread, toasted
100g grated Gruyère cheese
Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and add the onions. Cook over a moderate heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring regularly. There is a sweet moisture in the onions which will allow them to caramelise. (If adding flour, do so now.) When they have become a sweet-smelling, golden colour, add the wine and boil for a few minutes. Add the stock and bay leaf, and simmer for about 20 minutes. When ready, season to taste and pour into suitable oven-proof soup bowls. Place a croute on top of each, top with the cheese and brown under the grill. Voilà! Serve at once.