LEE Conetta, is Glasgow food royalty, with many years experience helping to run one of the city’s biggest restaurant groups. Each fortnight in Times Out, she will share memories of her life less ordinary, and the food she loves to cook. This week, Mrs Conetta recalls a very special visit to Paris and, fittingly, rustles up a French Onion soup.

IT was my cousin Selina’s 60th birthday a couple of weeks ago.

This set me thinking of the time we went to Paris for her 30th birthday.

We were so excited – three days in Paris, what a treat.

Of course, food was at the heart of our celebration.

On the first day, for lunch, we went to a place called Au Pied de Cochon, located in Les Halles area of Paris, famous for its French onion soup and pork dishes. Many celebrities have dined there, from Salvador Dali and Alfred Hitchcock to Brigitte Bardot,

It is also famous for being the first restaurant in Paris to be open all night and took pride in never having closed its doors since 1947, until Covid.

For Selina’s birthday dinner, her husband had booked a very special restaurant, La Tour d’Argent (which means ‘the silver tower’.)

La Tour dArgent in the 1920s

La Tour d'Argent in the 1920s

It was a Michelin-starred, historic place founded in 1582, with an amazing wine cellar beneath. In 1890, the headwaiter introduced the carving of a duck on the end of a fork without allowing it to touch the platter. It became the restaurant’s signature dish, “pressed duck” or “duckling Frédéric Delair” and each one served was given a number and the customer who ordered it was presented with a special certificate.

The website reveals a lot of the history of this famous restaurant. Already used in some homes in Italy, the fork made its first appearance in France at the Tour d’Argent in the 16th century.

“It was a remarkable invention to prevent gentlemen from staining the immaculate fashionable ruff worn around the neck,” says the website.

“Henry IV inaugurated the amazing piece of cutlery at a much talked about dinner in Paris. From that evening onwards, the Tour d’Argent could not be ignored and Henry IV came regularly to savour the heron pâté, which made the reputation of Rourteau, then owner of the establishment.”

For us, all those years ago, we were overwhelmed by the majesty of the place.

READ MORE: Cooking with Mrs Conetta - a surreal holiday moment and a tasty stew

We were shown to a window table with a breath-taking view and the headwaiter showed us the menu – foie gras, Dublin Bay prawns, blue lobster…

I started to order. “I’ll have the foie gras – “ I began, when Joe’s urgent whisper interrupted me. “No.”

I was surprised. “Oh, okay, the Dublin Bay prawns then –"

And again, from Joe: “No.”

Perplexed, I looked at him and realised he had the menu with the prices on it.

“French onion soup?” I said….

Lee Conetta. Pic: Gordon Terris

Lee Conetta. Pic: Gordon Terris

In fact, it was wonderful soup, and we had the pressed duck too, which was delicious.

Afterwards we went down to see the wine cellar, with its 500,000 bottles, and Joe bought Selina and I each a beautiful silk scarf printed with ducks.

I don’t think my cousin will forget her wonderful 30th birthday, and neither will I.

In honour of both Au Pied de Cochon and La Tour d’Argent, this week’s recipe is my own version of French Onion soup. Enjoy.

Mrs Conettas French Onion soup. Pic: Gordon Terris

Mrs Conetta's French Onion soup. Pic: Gordon Terris



6 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

7 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp flour

8 cups of beef stock

1 cup of dry white wine

1 baguette

2 cups of grated gruyere cheese


Melt half the butter with the olive oil in a large heavy pot over a medium heat.

Add the onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until soft and translucent – about 15 minutes.

Increase the heat and add the sugar and salt and pepper and continue cooking, stirring frequently.

At this stage you can stop and have white onion soup if you prefer.

Otherwise, keep cooking until the onion is golden brown.

Reduce the heat, sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly for three minutes. Add two cups of the stock and stir to blend, then add the remaining stock and wine.

Season to taste and simmer for about 30 mins.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (gas mark 7).

Cut the baguette into eight thick slices and butter both sides.

Put the slices on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown on both sides.

Pour the soup into bowls and sit them on a baking tray. Put bread in bowl, put cheese on top and grill until the cheese has melted and the soup is bubbling. Serve.