An account of Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails' time in Paris...
Depending on the extent to which you've delved into the content of this blog, you may well already be familiar with my unfaltering admiration of the French culture; a love initiated with a six-week stint in Toulouse as a teenager and confirmed with each and every visit to the country's vibrant capital city thereafter. Thus, it's fair to say that the four-night Parisian break scheduled with the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) had been rather hotly anticipated whereby the outfit selection process had been ruthlessly orchestrated and our essential edibles meticulously mapped! Yes, there were sights to be seen, Chardonnays to sip and macarons to munch - now excitedly airborne, the BFF and I were just several thousand feet above the city globally recognised as both gastronomically gifted and shamelessly chic...!
Date: Sunday 8th April – Thursday 12th April 2012
Name of Establishment: Miscellaneous, read on!
Location: Paris, Central
Reason for Visit: Where better for a mini-break with the BFF than the metropolis famous for its top-notch nosh!?
I grappled with how best to document what would ultimately constitute a whistle-stop tour of this culinary capital given that the BFF and I had just four days in which to make the most of all that it had to offer. Therefore, I thought it best to stick to the areas in which we spent the majority of our time; attempting to encompass the overall flavour of each, (bear with me though, I am in no way intending to peruse a career in travel writing!) That said, I'll start with the area including the Rue de la Convention, our base for the trip whereby residential bustle meets old-school France and incidentally, where we spent our first evening given that, after negotiating the madness of the Metropolitan (on route from the airport), dinner-time factored rather late in the day! Here, Café Convention provided the edibles with Croque Monsieurs all-round! Yes, the décor seemed somewhat stuck within decades past (with MTV suspended above the bar and an elaborate light fitting spanning the close-knit tables beneath it) but at our (rather late) hour of need, it delivered, burnt toast and all; the crêpé-based dessert menu and potently-blended cocktails amply preluding our intended flirtation with French fare. When it came to inexpensive tipples however, the BFF and I discovered La Source, a friendly pavement-café offering an extensive range of classic concoctions at only seven-Euro each; a bargain, especially in light of the freehanded nature of European measures, (and, the complimentary bowl of peanut-flavoured puffs to accompany one's beverage – yum!)
|Croque Monsieur avec Charcoal!|
Naturally, the BFF and I touched upon the city's main tourist attractions and whilst being herded around museums and monuments amidst a sea of wide-eyed, back-pack clad travellers doesn't particularly appeal, elbowing our way through the crowd at Ladurée* for a dainty box of macarons was certainly worth the ordeal. Despite the fact that the café is currently closed for refurbishment, the flagship outlet of this famous Maison Fondée marks an institution dating back to 1862 and, with the pop-up store located amongst the designer clothes shops, car showrooms and luxury brands of the Champs Elysées – commanded by the presence of the Arc de Triomphe and apparently one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world – it is both well-attended and beautifully arranged. With cut-crystal chandeliers suspended over rows and rows of exquisite-looking confectioneries, it comprised a welcome alternative to the numerous fast-food franchises that exist within its proximity – yes, even the golden arches have a home here, though why anyone would yearn for chicken nuggets in light of over a mile's worth of alternative edibles, is quite simply beyond me! And from one pillar of French pâtisserie past to another, (and a long walk towards La Musée du Louvre and beyond), Angelina*, situated on Rue Rivoli, is an absolute must-see. Founded in 1903 by Austrian confectioner Antoine Rumpelmeyer and, with an interior designed by Belle Epoque architect, Edouard-Jean Niermans, this establishment is the epitome of elegance. Here, the BFF and I agreed that the Chocolat Chaud was undoubtedly the finest we had ever tasted – its rich, velvety viscosity decanted from a jug into bone china tea-cups alongside dainty florets of Chantilly cream that could be swirled through the mixture, as desired. Signature Mont-Blanc pastries also left an impression of gastronomical genius; their chestnut cream filling and light textured finish the perfect accompaniment to the molten chocolate that had stunned us to silence!
|The home of the Macaron!|
Discovering that Parisians are rather dedicated to the concept of 'ladies that lunch', it would have been rude of the BFF and I not to partake. Our pick of the bunch consisted of a cosy bistro which we stumbled upon after exploring the boutiques that border Le Jardin du Palais Royale, (Marc Jacobs anyone?!) Reflects de Scene* (22 Rue de Beaujolais), like a lot of eateries in and around the city, offers a set lunch menu featuring a small number of modern and seasonally inspired dishes; a menu, owner Thomas refers to as tailored from the 'quality of his know-how'. The salmon fillet was both well-cooked and beautifully presented alongside a well-portioned ratatouille – the seasoned 'white' sauce drizzled over the fish contrasting the tang of the oily vegetables to perfection. The BFF's steak was also well received, though it was the crunchy topping of her crème brûlée which gave way to the cool, creamy indulgence beneath which she chose to label as the wow-factor! From luncheon to dinner and just a stones-throw away from the most prominent Parisian landmark of them all, amidst the café-come-brasserie style establishments in viewing distance of the Eiffel Tower, was Café du Trocadero; a dwelling of decidedly restaurant calibre offering a selective menu of French specialities from which the BFF and I chose le Confit de Canard; which although ate very well given its amply-executed disposition had been disappointingly accompanied with a generous heap of lattice fries and the option of that well known dressing; Heinz tomato ketchup! Thus, not quite the fine dining we had hoped for but a meal that picked up with an impressive pudding of chocolate mousse cake which had been layered onto a base of chocolate crumb and boozily soaked Morello cherries – just delicious!
|...and their devilish dessert!|
|Café du Trocadero...|
Although many frequent the numerous road-side cafés for espresso and cigarettes, Parisians don't tend to share a bottle of vino between them outside of a meal-time rendezvous and yet, we found that asking for this (in our sketchy Bristol-based French) led to complimentary olives and crackers – win! Café St. Regis* on the picturesque Ile St. Louis (near to the Notre Dame) was a perfectly placed competitor for an afternoon tipple and yet, one of the highlights of the trip overall was our return visit to Café du Trocadero for an evening spent sipping at a crisp Riesling whilst the after-dark lights of the Eiffel Tower intermittently illuminated the sky - marking each hour that passed with a five-minute display of brilliantly blue sparkle. All this before retreating to our hotel armed with cheese and charcuterie - a perfect ensemble even if I say so myself!
And from the hyped-up hot-spots of the central area to the 18th arrondissement offering a refreshingly quirky vibe; upon the curious cobbles of Montmartre and a road or two away from the seedy bars and clubs of Pigalle, visitors are treated to a decidedly rural feel that comes alive at night with a young, funky after-hours scene. For the BFF and I however, this area was all about the vintage clothing and of course, sampling the local fare; from a colourful crêperie which delivered galettes of an ample standard despite the presence of a single member of staff to Coquelicot* (Rue de Abbesses); a boulangerie and café in which I relived the practice of drinking tea from a soup bowl;something which baffled me upon that aforementioned trip to Toulouse and seems a somewhat rustic affair whereby dunking a hobnob into a cuppa is taken to a new level in light of the pastries that are soaked with one's beverage here!
|Spot the BFF...!|
In conclusion, Paris is a glorified carb-fest; from the daily breakfast basket of fresh bread and croissant to the macaron-a-minute diet that the BFF and I entertained for the duration of our stay. This, in addition to the 'chain' boulangeries that cash in on the stereotypical attributes of what us tourists consider French fare; with Brioche Durée and Paul seemingly the equivalent of Britain's beloved Greggs and its 'authentic Cornish pasty'! Yes, this is most certainly not the place for an Atkins enthusiast but, to be fair, there is so much more to this city than the sucrées at every turn, (yes really!) I love that gathering ingredients from the local tradesmen; the butchers, the bakers and the fishmongers for instance, remains commonplace and the buzz of the road-side food market (which, upon the Rue de la Convention, took place every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) encourages a culmination of fresh, local produce. For this is a city very proud of its culture; whereby their culinary expertise holds a great deal of significance – this may well explain why passion for the art of cookery seems to exceed the notion of convenience and why those aforementioned chains, on the large part, seem to take a back-seat. There is an element of snobbery however and, I couldn't write a balanced account without mentioning that, at times, the service was, for want of a better word...pretty blimmin' dire actually (something which prompted a couple of walk-outs on our part in fact). That said, it kept the BFF and I on our toes in terms of attempting to soak up all that this food-focussed city had to offer – quite literally too given the need to walk off all the calorific treats that we allowed ourselves each day! Finally, despite the fact that it rained profusely, there is a lot to be said for Paris in the Springtime...and, in my view, any time at all for that matter!