From Les Halles to Manchester: Petit Paris deli has world-class oysters and 50 types of French cheese

We had a chat with Petit Paris owner Matthieu Dath about cheese, wine, and Brexit.

By Kelly Bishop | 12 April 2023

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Good delis in Manchester city centre are few and far between, despite the fact that more people than ever now call the city their home. Quality independent food shops that give city-dwellers a chance to skip the shrink wrapped sorrow of the supermarket are very welcome. So, when French deli Petit Paris opened on King Street in 2022, Manchester said, “Enchanté!”

We popped in for a sharing board, a couple of glasses of wine and a chat with Petit Paris co-owner Matthieu Dath about saucisson, champagne, and the perils of Brexit. 

Black and white photos of Les Halles at Petit Paris. Image: Manchester’s Finest

On the walls behind the counter are grainy, black and white photos of famous French food market Les Halles – some dating back to the early 1900s. Wheels of cheese the size of car tyres, whole hung cows, sacks of potatoes. Vast warehouses filled with every kind of cheese, meat, flowers, and more make up this, the second biggest market in the world that has existed in some form or other since the 10th century. 

When Les Halles outgrew its original location it moved to Rungis where it still operates to this day, feeding the whole of Paris. The market is slightly bigger than Monaco and 13,000 people work there – Matthieu is sometimes one of them. He used to be based on site at Rungis and still pops back regularly to manage the export business he has run for 15 years. Before that his mum worked there for 20 years. He remembers playing with his remote control car among the palettes of fruit and veg as a child in this “village of food”. 

Matthieu Dath talks us through the wine at Petit Paris. Image: Manchester’s Finest

Many of the producers who work the market are old pals of Matthieu’s and he sources the products he sells at Petit Paris directly from them, meaning the stuff on sale right here in Manchester has that famously fussy Parisian seal of approval. Quality control is taken very seriously and most of the things Parisian Matthieu and his English partner Sophia Parton (who has also been instrumental in building the business) sell cannot be found anywhere else in Manchester.

One wall of Petit Paris is lined with over a hundred wines (including grower Champagne) all sourced directly from French growers. Cutting out those middlemen means bang for your buck that is head and shoulders above anything you will find in supermarkets.

“I could have worked with local [UK] suppliers to make my life easier, by a lot, but we wanted to have good quality, unique products. There is no cheap, bad wine in our shop. The cheapest wine is £10. The most expensive one is £84.” 

You will find wines from lesser known grapes like Terret Blanc at Petit Paris. Image: Manchester’s Finest

We try a delicious boutique Champagne from Marc Hennequiere, which Matthieu sells by the glass, and a white wine from Languedoc made from the Terret Blanc grape – something you don’t see very often in the UK. There is Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc here too, French of course, and Matthieu says he has surprised a few Chardonnay naysayers accustomed to the “cheap stuff” when he’s given them a taste. He’s very confident about his wine.

“In France we complain about supermarkets because [we prefer to shop] local, at butchers, bakeries, all these things. But if you do go to the supermarket in France you can find good wine, good cheese, good meat, nice fruit and veg, that you want to buy. Here, in Tesco you don’t want to buy it. It’s all in [plastic] bags and stuff. Small independents like us have good cheese, good suppliers, the quality is amazing, the wine is the same. Some of our products may seem a bit expensive but it’s pure quality: free range eggs, fair trade, vanilla from Madagascar, butter from Isigny. Actually for a shop in a prime location like King street, we try to be very competitive [on price].”

There are over 50 types of French cheese at Petit Paris. Image: Manchester’s Finest

Petit Paris’ sleek black fridges are the stuff of dreams for any curd nerd. There are over 50 different types of (mostly) French artisan cheese honking away happily inside them. Prices aren’t bad at all, with some examples cheaper, pound for pound, than equivalent cheeses in Marks and Spencer – though most of these cheeses can’t be found anywhere else. Alongside the cheese, fridges are full of luxurious treats like goose rillettes, rabbit pate, and herby pate de campagne Bretagne. 

There’s coppa from Corsica and black ham from Bigorre – one of the best hams in the world, too. We try a Tomme au fleurs sauvages (an alpine cheese coated with wild flowers). It’s unique nutty and herby flavour apparently divides opinion but we are all over it. There’s comté of various ages, the salty, crunchy 30 month one is a bestseller. Another popular cheese is a truffle brie. We try one of the only non-French cheeses on sale too, the Swiss Tête de Moine which is delicately scraped into flower-like curls using a special contraption called a girolle. Some customers are such fans of this cheese that they have been in and bought a whole £80 wheel to take home. Petit Paris also sells that Xmas market favourite raclette – plus the grill to cook it on. The plan is to rent these grills out to people at Xmas so customers can host their own raclette parties at home. 

Baguettes for lunch come slathered in butter and filled with French ham and cheese. Image: Manchester’s Finest

This wouldn’t be a French shop if it didn’t also sell snails. Usually, Matthieu says, they come frozen but there are no freezers at Petit Paris so his are fresh. Just pop them in the oven for a few minutes until the garlic butter melts and serve with one of the crusty baguettes in the basket on the counter.

These baguettes are also the basis for takeaway lunchtime sarnies, slathered thickly with salted French butter from a huge wooden tub, and layered up with ham and cheese.

You have to try the cheese and charcuterie boards at Petit Paris. Image: Manchester’s Finest

If you can, stay awhile and grab one of the eight indoor seats or a spot on the teeny terrace to savour a cheese and charcuterie board. We enjoyed ours sitting outside in the sunshine with a glass of lightly chilled Beaujolais and almost felt like we were on the continent. The ingredients for the sharing boards change weekly, so you’ll never get the same one twice. The one we tried included that herby pate from Brittany, pork rillettes, sliced saucisson, individual discs of fudgy goats cheese, fat cornichons and more.

Petit Paris is the only place in the north of England doing Gillardeau oysters. Image: Manchester’s Finest

If that’s not enough to get you pencilling in a visit, yet more shelves are stacked with award-winning artisanal chocolate, gourmet jams, indecently buttery biscuits and other absolute treats that you can’t get elsewhere.

And Petit Paris is the only place in the north of England where you can get French Gillardeau oysters – rated among the top three oysters in the world. These oysters are so sought after that there is a G lasered onto their shells to avoid counterfeiting. Matthieu knows the producers personally and has been able to bring them to Manchester exclusively.

Shelves full of gourmet French products at Petit Paris. Image: Manchester’s Finest

Matthieu had a lot of experience in exporting French food around the world, but he wasn’t prepared for the problems that Brexit would cause him when opening a French shop in Manchester. 

“I’ve always wanted to have my own ‘epicerie’ selling cheese and wine like in France. I’ve never had a shop before and of course it was hard, but [opening the shop] was the easiest part. The hardest part’s been Brexit. Importing the products. The paperwork, delivery, delays, cost.

“When I opened the shop, my first goal was to bring good wine [at a reasonable price]. In France, [a bottle of] wine costs 5-10 euros. If you spend more than 10 euros you’re getting premium wine. On each bottle of wine I import from France, I have to pay £2.23 duty tax. After that you have your margin and the VAT, on a £10 bottle the government is making a lot of money. Duty tax in France on alcohol is 5-10 cents.

Fancy a bit of rabbit pate? Image: Manchester’s Finest

“I used to export to Iraq [from France] and that was easier than England. One person says you have to do it this way, someone else says you have to do it that way. The English government has got no clue. England is a consuming country. It doesn’t produce much. So when you import 70% of your food, [you] shoot yourself in the foot [with these] restrictions.

“It was hard work but we managed to do it. I think we arrived at a perfect time when the mentality has changed and people want to buy more locally.”

Petit Paris is still a very young business and there are big plans for expansion. In the future, Matthieu and the team plan to add all kinds of events to the calendar – from French conversation socials to cheese and wine tastings. He says he might even start stocking some Italian and Spanish cheese if demand is high enough. 

If you’re not already one of the many fans of Petit Paris and you love oozing cheese, cured meats, wine or chocolate, we highly recommend you give the shop a visit.

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