“The classic soup à l’onion is truly a formidable beast – and you can pronounce that ‘formidable’ in either French or English with equal precision.” Richard Ehrlich

The Centre Pompidou in Paris is described by its architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, as “an evolving spatial diagram” whilst the nearby construction of the Westfield Forum Les Halles, was described by Mayor Betrand Delanoê as “a soulless, architecturally bombastic concrete jungle”. You win some, you lose some, however both were dependent on the razing of the 19th c food market called Les Halles, and many Parisiennes later came to regard this architectural destruction as nothing short of a comprehensive loss.

The new market now sits on the outskirts of the city.

Émile Zola in his novel Le Ventre de Paris called the original Les Halles “The Belly of Paris” and it was in the central market that farmers and dawn traders from across France mingled with homeward-bound Parisian partygoers over a petit-dejeuner of soupe à l’oignon, France’s famous Onion Soup.

Onion Soup from European Peasant Cookery (2007) Elisabeth Luard

1kg onions

100 g butter

1 litre water

Salt and Pepper

Yesterday’s baguette, thickly sliced

4 tbsp grated Gruyère

Skin the onions and finely slice

Melt butter in a pot, but don’t let it brown

Add the onions and cook gently, until they are soft and golden

Add the water and bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and turn down to simmer for 20 minutes

Meanwhile dry the baguette slices in a low oven

Put each slice in a soup bowl and pour the soup over

Let the bread bob to the top of the soup, sprinkle with the cheese and flash under a grill to melt and gild the cheese

Wine thoughts

A big red from the south west of France would fit the bill here, timid reds and flacid whites have no place on the table when this soup is ladled out.

Malbec is a wine now associated far more with the southern hemisphere than its regional homeland in France, so if you can locate a bottle-aged Malbec (known here as Auxerrois) from Cahors, then you will have a robust wine that offers rich, dark and uncompromising fruit flavours, often skilfully softened and bolstered with Merlot or Tannat. A well made Argentinian Malbec will make a suitable partner too. Beware the many inexpensive but spineless Chileans on offer, they will find the caramelised onions too powerful an adversary.