The whole concept of French cuisine can take in anything from a luxurious, faintly intimidating gastronomic experience that has you hanging on every flavour, accompanied by a ritual of silver cloches and bread handed out on tongs, to the archetypal tomato salad, steak-frites and chocolate mousse at an old-fashioned bistro. In fact, get rid of your preconceptions of French cuisine as a question of grandiose sauces, it can also be dead simple: I know a very chic old brasserie, where the starters include radishes, another where the egg mayonnaise is a cult item, but what counts is that the mayonnaise is fresh and homemade. Then there is the ambience, an art deco brasserie with its late-night buzz or a café terrace where you can survey the fauna and listen to gossip over a salad and an expresso. The current stars of the Paris dining scene are the “neo-bistros”, or “bistronomiques”, often run by chefs trained in haute cuisine establishments, who modernise regional dishes or traditional favourites, using finest-quality ingredients, while keeping the convivial, casual atmosphere and affordable prices.
There are also countless ethnic restaurants. Asian restaurants are particularly concentrated in the "Chinatowns" of Belleville and the 13th arrondissement. Sushi bars have sprouted everywhere, with a hub of authentic Japanese places on rue Sainte-Anne near Opéra, while North African restaurants, reflecting former French colonies in Morocco and Algeria, can be found all over town.
Dresscode is generally casual, except in the grandest, haute-cuisine restaurants, which may insist on jacket and tie, but it is a carefully studied casual – think smart jeans and a well-cut jacket; adapt your style to the area (fashion-conscious St-Germain, boho 11th) and don't wear shorts or tracksuits unless you really want to stick out like a tourist.
Average prices here are for a three-course meal, not including wine. However it's fine, especially at lunch, to order just starter and main course or main course and dessert, or just a salad or omelette in a café. Bistros often have a menu-carte system, with set price for two or three courses. Many places have good-value lunch menus. Service is always included in the bill (any extra tip is purely optional) and bread and a carafe d'eau (tapwater) are free.
Most restaurants serve around 12.30-2.30pm and 8-10.30pm; if you’re looking to eat outside these times, try brasseries and cafés, which may serve food until 1 or 2am, and possibly throughout the afternoonn. Many places close for all or part of August. Top restaurants and fashionable places may need reserving weeks, even months in advance, but it can be worth worth ringing up at the last minute to see if there's a chance cancellation.