À nous la capitale!
Following our little misfortunes in Lyon, we had almost a whole week in Paris to live the dream. We had rented a little studio in the 11th Arrondissement, with a “kitchenette”, which allowed us to cook a few meals, coffee and breakfast.
Our place was near the Goncourt metro station, which was ideally close to Canal St-Martin, République, as well as the cool Oberkampf area.
We loved every minute of it! We took things pretty easy, sleeping in, then going for a stroll in the morning in search of coffee and croissants. My partner quickly took to the “Chaussons aux pommes” (or Apple turnovers: like a puff pastry calzone with an apple compote filling), ubiquitous in France, but bizarrely nowhere to be found in Sydney. A real pity!
We would then choose an activity for the day, which often involved visiting a particular pâtisserie, then by the time we finished walking, visiting and eating, it was already time for the sacro-sanct Apéro! We quickly adopted a little bar at the corner of Rues St-Maur & Oberkampf, which had a particular pinball machine that my partner hadn’t tried yet, and where we ended up talking to a few regulars, most of them pinball fanatics too. The “patron” even offered us a bowl of crisps by the end of our stay… a nice attention.
The area is full of little bars and restaurants, such as that little one, “Le Chat Noir”, where we had an unexceptional but still nice cheese platter, but the attraction of this place was the really vibrant ambiance, full to the brim with people who just came for a drink, a nibble or to hear the gig from a local band downstairs (I think it was accordeon-realistic-chanson-punk style!)
It was really nice to wander the streets, full of little bars and restaurants, and really quite lively at night.
But back to our missions, which had mainly to do with the sweet stuff.
Chef Cyril Lignac (Photo http://www.cyrillignac.com)
First Pâtisserie mission: Cyril Lignac Pâtisserie. This talented chef with the country’s most famous south-western accent, is very popular, successful, and the media can’t seem to get enough of him. His profile has been particularly raised since he took on the role of one of the judges in the French version of Top Chef.
The shop was nice, with a beautiful display, but photography was not allowed. There was so much to choose from, I had no idea what to get, everything looked fantastic: those beautiful chocolate éclairs, Cyril Lignac’s signature lemon tart… in the end I chose a Paris-Brest to eat straight away, plus two other pastries to take home.
We couldn’t eat inside the shop (which was fine for my partner, who had already destroyed his Chausson aux Pommes), so I took my box of pastries and after walking around in search of a bench, we decided to just have a little expresso at the closest café. When the waiter saw me with my little pastry box, he told me straight away that it was no problem if I wanted to eat it there! Who said Parisian waiters were a…holes? They are awesome
Oh my God… that was so good! If you are not familiar with the Paris-Brest, it consists in choux pastry filled with praline (hazelnut-almond) cream, this one was a bit reworked and modernised: mmmmh…
I then tasted at home the two pastries that were recommended to me by the lady at the shop, but for some reason, they did not excite me as much the Paris-Brest… I did find them nice, but with slightly too much vanilla cream compared to the other ingredients maybe..? Next time I’ll definitely try his éclairs!
Our next mission, La Pâtisserie des Rêves, was enchanting. It was in the bourgeois quartier of the 7th Arrondissement, near St-Germain des Prés, not far from the equally exclusive Le Bon Marché & Grand Épicerie de Paris. The decor and the beautiful pastries placed under glass cloches made for a special experience. Again, it was very hard to pick! So I chose some Éclairs, a Meringue Lemon tart and a Paris-Brest.
Of course, my partner bought a Chausson aux Pommes from there as well, which he declared THE best of the whole trip! I had to have a bite, and could only agree with him.
I think these pastries were by far my favourites, I can’t wait to go back! I now understand what the hype around Philippe Conticini, one of France’s most creative and respected pastry chefs, is all about. (And he’s the inventor of the “verrines” concept, creating “vertical” desserts to be enjoyed out of glasses).
We also walked past this chocolaterie on another walk near Bastille, La Maison Georges Larnicol, and I didn’t regret stepping in: such a vast array of chocolate treats and beautiful chocolate creations, like this Deux-Chevaux Citroen car pictured below… I could have stayed there for a while.
The extent of the chocolates on offer would make anyone dizzy!
Closer to Canal St-Martin, I really wanted to visit Du Pain et des Idées, which I heard a lot about: apparently, this boulangerie-pâtisserie makes some of the best bread in Paris, as well as succulent Chaussons aux Pommes!
Unfortunately to my great dispair, it was closed when I finally made it on a Sunday morning. It will have to be for next time…
I consoled myself by admiring the cool windows displaying a multitude of vintage and antic boxes. You can watch this YouTube video from the BBC’s Little Paris Kitchen program, to get an idea of the place and its owner, Christophe Vasseur.
Culture hour: we went to see the Helmut Newton’s exhibition at Le Grand Palais…
… which was very interesting. Not recommended for the puritans though: the exhibition definitely contained a higher than average amount of nudity!
We couldn’t go past an offering from the ice-cream icon, La Maison Berthillon, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Berthillon ice-creams (which I had already mentioned in this post) are quite simply considered the best in Paris, and it’s easy to see why! The flavours are so intense and with authentic flavours, people queue all over town to get their fix. Luckily they can be found not only at their stores, but are also served in restaurants, cafes and ice-cream stalls.
I was able to squeeze an express flash visit to my sister in Clichy, and we went to the park with my nephews and niece where there was an outdoor festival, with street theatre, music, face painting, actually pretty cool stuff. Bought some “Barbe-à-Papa” (Dad’s beard = fairy floss), watched the kids on the swing, running amok, getting lost in the crowd… being kids!
It was then time to go home and eat the Couscous. Incidentally, according to a 2011 census, Couscous was elected one of the French people’s favourite dishes, behind Duck Magret and Mussels & Chips.
As my brother-in-law is from Algeria, my sister, who is a great cook, has been able to learn how to master many North-African dishes over the years, including couscous and all its variations. That was a fine example of it.
Days were flying at an alarming speed, and for our final meal in Paris, I wanted something a bit special, and thought of going to the renowned and trendy (as well as conveniently close-by) restaurants Le Chateaubriand or Le Dauphin, but I was really worried that they would be über-trendy and that they wouldn’t have much to offer my veggo partner…
So I did a bit of research and found out about the Fric-Frac, a little bistrot nearby as well, who assured me over the phone that they had veggo options… Maybe not as fancy as the other two, but that would do just fine, phew!
It seemed like a real “restaurant de quartier”, with a lot of locals, an unassuming decor and a simple but appealing menu hand-written on the black board.
The meal was very nice, but still affordable: a place without “chichis” (pretension).
And that was it for Paris! It went awfully fast, and I can’t wait for the two tiny days we’re going to spend there early February
Au revoir, Paris!
Cyril Lignac Pâtisserie
24 rue Paul Bert, 75011 Paris
La Pâtisserie des Rêves
93 rue du Bac, 75007 Paris
(Several locations, check website)
Du Pain et des Idées
34 rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris
Maison Georges Larnicol
132 Boulevard St-Germain, 75006 Paris
Au Chat Noir
76 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011 Paris
13 Rue de la Pierre Levée, 75011 Paris