The best way to get to know a culture is to eat with locals, and these days you can just book yourself an invite to a dinner party
Fresh from an autumn downpour, Montmartre’s slopes were wet, glistening and bathed in magical evening light. Cafe terraces were already packed tight, glasses clinking, smoke curling and conversation humming, and on any other evening I would have found it impossible to resist squeezing in to soak up some quintessential Paris buzz. But, tonight, unbelievably, I had somewhere even better to be – a French dinner party. 
I’ve been devotedly visiting the city for years, and while I’ve had my fair share of great meals in bistros and creperies, oyster bars and brasseries, I still never feel more like a tourist than when eating out. The food culture is formidable, and understanding it, let alone feeling part of it, has always seemed just out of reach. 
I certainly never thought a dinner at home with locals would be on the cards. But apparently, rather than spending years cultivating Parisian friends with fabulous apartments and haute cuisine hobbies, you can just book yourself an invite to one of these hallowed soirées. Who knew? 
Open supper clubs are fairly easy to find on social media, and of course there are plenty of platforms that connect tourists and locals. I’d reserved a place at tonight’s event on the culinary experience site Eatwith.com. Dinner would be hosted and prepared by a long-time Montmartre resident at her place and best of all, she would join us for the meal. 
And so I found myself outside the door, dressed in de rigeur black, bottle of wine in hand and dying to find out at last what really happens behind the closed doors of a Parisian dinner party. What do they serve? What do they talk about? Was French dining etiquette really as crushingly formal as its reputation? And quelle horreur, was I going to have to try and pronounce Houellebecq and find something intellectual to say about him? 
Hostess Claudine, the epitome of chic in an elegant floral kaftan, welcomed me into the kind of bijou apartment that made me want to move in on the spot. Candles flickered, low jazz was playing, vintage mirrors and framed sketches lined the walls and a smell of warm butter floated from the kitchen. 
Our small group for the evening was a New York couple on the last night of their holiday, two Parisians and myself, a Londoner. Claudine poured us each a cold glass of Touraine crémant (a deliciously dry fizz), produced a dish of freshly baked gougères from the kitchen, and expertly kept the conversation rolling through the first awkward 10 minutes or so. 
By the time we moved to the dinner table, everyone’s initial stiffness had vanished and we tucked into a green bean salad, followed by spiced veal-stuffed tomatoes and zucchini, a cheese course and a chocolate fondant, enjoying the chance to pepper Claudine with questions about the menu as we ate. 
Her passion for local and seasonal ingredients meant she had plenty to tell us about each dish, from the tomatoes, full of flavour after the hot summer and bought from a store that sources all its produce near the city, to the cheeseboard stand-out, a phenomenal Beaufort D’été that a friend had brought her from the Alps. 
As the wine flowed and the dinner party got into full swing, the chat progressed from food and travel to politics, race, gender, and cultural changes in France. We were absolutely off the rails in terms of traditional ‘Don’t Discuss at The Dinner Table’ topics, especially for a table of strangers, but that only added to the fun. Kevin, one of the New Yorkers, later told me he and Naomi ‘still beam about the conversation,’ while Claudine said for her it had been ‘incroyable!’ 
Emailing a few weeks later, Kevin added that experiencing the city through local cuisine and in an intimate home setting had brought something special to their trip. “There was context behind every bite.” he said. “It was great to feel that personal connection to what was on the table and it made the meal feel more authentic. 
Overall the evening was simply amazing. You rarely get the chance to sit at a multinational table of strangers, enjoy a delicious meal, discuss all the non-small talk topics impacting three nations and walk away happy, smiling and laughing. It was intellectually stimulating, fun…and tasty.” 
I spent the rest of my stay in a blur of galleries and gardens, long rambling walks and patisserie stops, returning each evening to the utterly beautiful Hotel du Louvre – a character-filled Paris hotel I love not just for its perfectly central location, but its dizzying cultural heritage (French Impressionist Camille Pissarro and a long list of other art and literary luminaries have stayed here over the years). 
It was a weekend full of typically touristy activities but the warmth and authenticity of the meal at Claudine’s and the rare feeling of having been welcomed ‘in’ in Paris lasted throughout – I felt more at home in this head-spinning city than I ever had ever before.
Hotel du Louvre is a true Paris classic, with quite possibly the best location in the city – between the Louvre and Opera, you can tumble out the front door and into the heart of Paris’s cultural action without wasting a moment. 
Service is warm and polished, rooms are elegant (many with iconic views) and hotel bar L’Officine is an other-wordly riot of tropical plants and botanical cocktails. King View rooms from £400, or from £452 with breakfast, on a double occupancy basis (hyatt.com).
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Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
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