Paris: dining in the great outdoors

by Natasha.Edwards

In summer, every Paris restaurant sprouts an outdoor table or two – but some have turned al fresco eating into an art. For a spot of people-watching in gardens and on terraces, here are my top five

Best for power dining:
LAURENT, Champs-Elysées

At this grand-occasion restaurant, in one of the pleasure pavilions put up for King Louis-Philippe in the 1840s, the entire establishment moves into the garden in summer, where tables, set around a fountain, are carefully screened by a hedge from the hoi-polloi on the Champs-Elysées beyond. As it’s close to the Elysée Palace, Président Sarkozy is a regular – always choosing the lobster salad, apparently.
Who goes?
Power brokers at lunch, amorous couples by night.
What to eat
Beautifully presented haute cuisine, given modern lightness and a touch of the south by chef Alain Pégouret, from Cannes. Try the john dory with razor clams.
41 avenue Gabriel (+33 1 42 25 00 39,
How much?
€150; menu €80. Open lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat.
Where to stay
For a luxurious, romantic hideaway with chinoiserie rooms, try Hôtel Daniel; doubles from €420.

Best for seafood:
LA CAGOUILLE, Montparnasse

This redeveloped corner of Montparnasse is a curious 1980s throwback, but you soon forget about the uninspiring architecture for the fabulous fish, courteous service and agreeably peaceful terrace, sheltered from a paved square by bushes and pot plants. Chef Gérard Allemandou is a purist and you may initially be surprised by the minimalism of the dishes – but the essence here is top-quality fish and shellfish and nothing but, simply prepared and perfectly timed.
Who goes?
Businessmen for weekday lunch, an eclectic range of Parisians at night and weekends.
What to eat
Buttery baby sole, red mullet with herbs and the Paris-Brest for two (a ring-shaped choux pastry dessert); the selection of Cognacs is also renowned.
Place Constantin Brancusi (+33 1 43 00 09 01,
How much?
Set menus €26, €42; average €40. Open lunch and dinner daily.
Where to stay
The black and white abba Montparnasse Hôtel, the most stylish on the rue de la Gaîté theatre strip. Doubles from €132.

Best for peace and quiet:

Concealed from the street behind a porte cochère archway, the paved courtyard garden provides an unexpectedly bucolic interlude in a heavily built-up part of town. Well-spaced tables are ideal for quiet conversation shaded by elegant parasols and impressive trees.
Who goes?
Business suits at lunch, hotel guests and smart local residents by night, when the path is illuminated by a trail of candles.
What to eat
Young Alain Ducasse protogée Alexandre Nicolas, fresh from the Paris and London Spoons, puts a chic, modern take on French regional cooking, using ethically sourced ingredients. Try the Parisian-style cured salmon and tender baby lamb sautéed with spring vegetables.
57 avenue Raymond-Poincaré (+33 1 44 05 66 10,
How much?
Average €45; set menu €37 (lunch), €47 (dinner). Open lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat.
Where to stay
The adjoining Renaissance Paris Hôtel Le Parc Trocadéro; doubles from €220.

Best for arty types:

This arty hotel has an equally buzzing restaurant with neo-70s dining room and a real walled garden at the rear, where you sit at tiny round tables surrounded by cascading ivy. It is candlelit by night and conveniently heated should it be a little chilly. The all-day service and flexible menu allow you to eat light or a full-scale meal but what makes it stand out for such a hip place are the friendly waitresses and unpretentious attitude.
Who goes?
A relaxed international bunch of young trendies.
What to eat
Simple dishes using quality ingredients range from chicken Caesar salad to hamburgers and free-range chicken with chips.
8 rue Navarin (+33 1 48 78 31 80,
How much?
Average €28. Open lunch and dinner daily.
Where to stay
Upstairs, the Hôtel Amour offers arty boho chic, with black corridors and artist-designed rooms; doubles from €140.

Best for fashionistas:

Ever since Georges landed on top of the Centre Pompidou in 2000, it has been one of the most prized dining spots in town, whether you opt for avant-garde metal pods inside or the outdoor roof terrace. You are torn between observing the fashionable fauna at table and the magical panorama of Paris below. Part of the Costes empire (Hôtel Costes, L'Avenue, Café Beaubourg), it employs staff who are predictably young, lithe and offhand – but you’re here for the people-watching and the view.
Who goes?
Art lovers by day, beautiful fashion people by night.
What to eat
Food is easygoing if overpriced; go for the Tigre qui Pleure (beef marinated in cognac and flame grilled) and the raspberry macaroon.
Where? Centre Pompidou, rue Rambuteau (+33 1 44 78 47 99,
How much?
Average €60. Open lunch and dinner Wed-Mon.
Where to stay
For suave contemporary design in two old Marais buildings, try Hôtel Duo; doubles from €200.





I am a regular contributor to Condé Nast Traveller, the Daily Telegraph and Elle Decoration. As well as several guidebooks to Paris, I have also written guides to Provence, the Côte d'Azur, Lille, Biarritz and the Pays Basque, Bordeaux, Reims and French food for, among others, Time Out, Berlitz, Insight Guides, Dorling Kindersley and Thomas Cook.

I came to Paris over 15 years ago for all the wrong reasons (love!) and have lived here ever since. I still adore exploring the city and today write about art, design, food, travel and French culture in general.

My Paris

Where I always grab a coffee: Le Rostand café on place Edmond-Rostand: it's my unofficial second office, right opposite the Luxembourg Gardens.

My favourite stroll: Although I think I know the city pretty well, there are always places to discover or rediscover. The district I always come back to, however, is St-Germain for its mix of history, small streets, cafés, shopping, people watching, the local and the cosmopolitan... in short, Paris.

Fiction for inspiration: Georges Perec's Life: A User’s Manual: a mind-boggling, jigsaw puzzle of life in a Parisian apartment building. For an insight into French character, the Asterix comic strips are pretty accurate, too!

Where to be seen this summer: Café terraces all around town. If your style is St-Germain, then it's between hip Bar du Marché and newcomer Germain on rue de Buci, if you are more Canal St-Martin, then the waterside Point Ephémère. Gourmets are going to be sniffing out the restaurant at Le Crillon, which has just appointed a new, young chef.

The most breathtaking view: The view of the city that gradually unfolds as you rise up the escalators at the Centre Pompidou.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: The Jardin des Plantes for its combination of botanical garden, scientific institution and local park (perhaps not so quiet). The 19th-century greenhouses are reopening this summer, and it's surely the only place in Paris where you see ostriches when you drive past.

Shopaholics beware!: Artfully distressed concept store Merci, for its totally desirable mix of up-to-the minute and second-hand fashion, housewares, oddities and cult design items.

City on screen: Parisians adore cinema and there's something cinematic about the whole city. I love Jean-Pierre Melville's film noir Le Samourai, for its vision of Paris low life, nightclubs and the metro, with Alain Delon as the cool, lean, beautiful hitman, and, for something completely different, brilliant animation film Ratatouille, for its witty, sentimental, tongue-in-cheek evocation of Paris and its restaurant culture.

Don’t leave without...Visiting a Paris food market – one of them, all of them, preferably on Sunday morning, the best time for catching up on gossip as well as gourmandises.