La Saint-Valentin 2022 falls just as we are regaining a little more freedom in France, and the idea of a romantic evening away from one’s own kitchen has rarely seemed quite so lovely. My favourite tables pour deux in Paris are always the ones where you are not sitting self-consciously in a hushed corner but simply slightly offstage from the main performance in a busy, buzzy restaurant, preferably on a plush, high-backed banquette. I’m thinking tucked beside the fireplace at Hôtel Costes or under the mirrors in Le Grand Colbert or cosily in front of the bookcases in Hotel Brach. The food will probably be the least memorable part of the evening in any one of these places, but isn’t that the way it should be?
As for sweet gifts coming my way this year, Pierre Hermé has invited graphic artist Nicolas Ouchenir to decorate his “Secret Garden” macaron selection – specially created with notes of iris, saffron, violet and vanilla – with his delicate calligraphy. Patrick Roger’s chocolate heart “Tourbillons” are decorated with swirls of red and full of candied almonds, and Alain Ducasse’s more angular “Pépicoeurs” are filled with their sublime fruit purées and pralines.
And if you are cooking at home – be it for a first, nerve-wracking time, a romantic punctuation in a much longer story, or even as the ultimate self-care soirée – fresh black Perigord or Provençal (Tuber Melanosporum) truffle is always a good idea. For a start, it’s the season (they taste best in January and February). They give any dish instant star power, and, above all, their earthy aroma is probably the most sensual one can find. The wonderful bonus to all these positives of truffles is that it is simply prepared dishes that show off their flavour the best: pasta, risotto, scrambled eggs, creamy artichoke velouté, potato purée, toasted sourdough and butter, all along with a well-prepared and seasoned green salad, are all perfect pairings.
But my absolute favourite combination with truffle is with a robust cheese, such as an aged Comté or a gooey St Félicien, served at room temperature, with some really wonderful, icy champagne from Selosse or Deutz. According to true French food lovers, such simple luxury is the height of refinement and pleasure, for, after all… “l’amour, c’est le meilleur des menus” (“love is the best menu”).