The most memorable lunches I’ve ever eaten have been in France.
From a posh restaurant lunch in a medieval hilltop village near Cannes to a freshly baked baguette and some brie de meaux under the plane tree at the House With No Name, le déjeuner in France is special. It’s certainly not something to be gobbled at top speed in between phone calls at your desk. When my daughter started school at the école maternelle round the corner from our house in Orléans, classes stopped for an hour at noon and virtually every child went home for a proper lunch.
Most French people I know take time over lunch They wouldn’t dream of going to a sandwich shop or takeaway – which is why I was taken aback by the news that Pret A Manger has just opened its first branch in Paris. A cheery notice on the Pret website reads: “We've opened our very first shop in La Défense, Paris... and we're really very excited! So, if you're planning a trip to Paris any time soon, do pop in and say bonjour! Our second shop on Marbeuf, Paris, opens in a few weeks (our builders are on a roll!)…”
I’m a big fan of Pret A Manger – the Pret sweet potato and lentil curry soup is sublime – but I’m not convinced the French are ready to give up their traditional long lunch break to eat sandwiches. And what they’ll think of the plastic cutlery, triangular bread and indeed the name Pret A Manger is another matter (strictly speaking Pret should be Prêt after all…)
But maybe there are enough time-pressed office workers and ex-pats to make the venture a success. When we lived in France I remember making special trips to buy Cheddar cheese at Marks & Spencer in Boulevard Haussmann every time I was in Paris. My husband got very irritated. “It’s absolute sacrilege to buy English cheese in France,” he said. But I still did.
PS: The old M&S in Boulevard Haussmann closed in 2001. But M&S recently opened a new store - on the Champs-Elysées, no less.