Before committing to embark on my first Christmas shopping trip of the season, I thought it best to sit and gather my thoughts over a spot of breakfast and when in Bath, where better to seek an aspect of calm amidst the hubbub of city centre than Le Parisien Café and Restaurant; a stylish venue with a distinctively continental ambiance...
Date and Time: Sunday 20th November 2011, 10:15
Name of Establishment: Le Parisien Café and Restaurant*
Location: Milsom Place*, Bath
Reason for Visit: Momentary solace from the rush of the weekend (and Christmas) shopping experience!
Situated in the prestigious Milsom Place complex, Le Parisien lends to the vicinity an air of independence given that its neighbouring eateries include top-end chains; YO! Sushi, Jamie's Italian and Côte Brasserie. The cobbled exterior courtyard which leads to a two-storey café-come-restaurant with a firm focus on all things 'le français', certainly draws in a dedicated clientele; no doubt those wishing to partake in the popular street-side café culture or in other words, watching the world go by from behind the rim of one's coffee cup. Consequently, the outside space, sheltered from the elements with burgundy awning, is rather better attended than the restaurant itself which I feel is a little dated in terms of its décor and perhaps does not reflect the appeal of this venue to the best of its ability. That said, it is perfectly comfortable and a lot more spacious than anticipated upon first glance.
However, I too chose to sit outside and, settling into a wicker chair beneath one of the sporadically placed heat lamps, took in my surroundings whereby rows of marbled table-tops gleamed under the morning sunlight and flurries of people flitted past; some opting to stay awhile whilst others moseyed on to the High Street beyond. The finishing touches make this an aesthetically pleasing space; the servers have been crisply attired and miniature salt and pepper shakers adorn each table alongside napkins – burgundy to adhere to the colour-scheme and intricately folded into ceramic containers, (an arrangement instantly destroyed however once one is removed!) Sipping at a skinny latte and delighting in its well-prepared potency, I will note here that service is efficient and quick yet not particularly friendly – a factor which made conversation seem ever-so-slightly mechanical and the particulars of one’s order left, for the large part, unacknowledged. For the record, I had to ask twice for skimmed milk and my question regarding the size of the coffee cups (whereby small basically denotes an espresso) was met with little more than a bemused expression. There is no denying the quality of the fare however as my Almond and Cherry Danish was just divine. Topped with nibbled almonds and a dusting of icing sugar, the fresh, flaky pastry was of a melt-in-the-mouth consistency and had been packed with an ample measure of bitter-sweet cheery purée. Of course, I could have chosen to invest in a full English Breakfast which, in my opinion, constituted the only low point in terms of the breakfast menu and yet, I was satisfied with what I had chosen – my selection proving tasty and filling despite its simplicity.
When it came to the lunch menu however, authenticity seemed to have been somewhat restored given the array of temptingly French options which included a cheese and charcuterie plate (£8.50), Croque Monsieur (£7.95) and Madame (£8.50) as well as a selection of freshly-filled baguettes. Of the hot plates, the Mussels Mariniere (£7.95) proved particularly appealing with the promise of a creamy garlic and white wine sauce in addition to an accompaniment of crusty rustic bread – yum! Furthermore, at what I considered a rather reasonable price and in light of the venue's alcohol licence, this dish could be perfectly coupled with a crisp glass of Chardonnay!
In conclusion, a predominantly chic café/restaurant set within well-established surroundings – surroundings which incidentally, seem rather well matched to the classical flair that Le Parisien clearly aspires to. The occasional strands of peculiarity however are undeniable; dishes, for instance, which have been haphazardly thrown into to the mix, (perhaps to accommodate Bath's tourist presence). Although I did not sample the full English breakfast and therefore cannot comment on the quality (or origins) of its ingredients, I would suggest that remaining mindful of its intended identity would fare better for this venue than offering a fry-up and thus, adhering to a notion of English-ness that here, sticks out like a sore thumb! Can I be so bold as to suggest freshly-prepared crêpes with seasonal berries as a suitable alternative? On the other hand, this was a perfectly pleasant spot to spend an hour or so and it's fair to say the character and poise of this venue all but won me over – I can sidestep the frosty nature of the service as ironically, it encompassed elements of that stand-offish French vibe that I happen to find amusing. It is simply the removal of those unnecessary crowd-pleasers that will tighten this venue's individuality and set it apart from the numerous chain restaurants in its midst.