After my breakfast with Guy Savoy, I made my way to the 14th arrondissement to meet Didier Lavry at Le Petit Mitron, a baker who had just been awarded the second prize in le Meilleur Croissant au Beurre d’Isigny AOP. That would be the best croissant competition in France, Paris section, then. Don’t you just love France for that?
As I walked up the stairs of the Monnaie de Paris on a quiet Friday morning, I wondered what awaited me at the top. I was in France’s oldest institution, the national mint in the centre of Paris overlooking the tree lined Seine. It was early, and the staff at the door were surprised to see me arrive as they don’t open until lunchtime. I am here to have breakfast with Guy Savoy, I announced gently in clumsy French, with some trepidation.
Lets go to Paris shall we? Just for a little while, and just in our heads. Lovely Paris, broad boulevards, gorgeous architecture, the small winding streets of Le Marais and the pep and the quirk abounding. A quick jaunt to Paris is one of my favourite London things to do. It is such a joy to hop on the Eurostar in central London, and just over 2 hours later arrive in central Paris. A whole new world greets you off the train.
Le Marais is one of my favourite places to stay when I visit. Previously the Jewish Quarter (and it still is to a large extent), Le Marais is very central and has many lovely restaurants, bars and cafes. Many designers have moved in, and yes, the chains are moving in now, but Le Marais still retains a charm and a gorgeousness that reels you in.
I spent a night at Hotel du Petit Moulin, a 17 room boutique hotel. In a 17th century building (and former boulangerie where Victor Hugo would buy his bread), I went to try a package that they were offering with La Cuisine, a cookery school just outside Le Marais facing the Seine and île Saint Louis, that small island in the centre of the Seine.
Hotel du Petit Moulin already has much to recommend it. Each room is individually designed by Christian Lacroix, and the breakfast room / evening honesty bar is one of the most cheerful and gorgeous rooms that I have ever seen. It is located in one of the most charming areas of Paris and is within walking distance of some terrific places to eat and drink. My room was beautiful and eclectic, and very comfortable. A free standing bath was accompanied by Hermes toiletries. Breakfast was classic French, pastries, yogurts, fruits, jams. I loved the whole hotel experience.
At La Cuisine I had a choice between making baguettes or croissants and breakfast pastries. Why make croissants when you can just buy them everywhere? Right? But homemade croissants are so good, so flaky, so rich with butter and they have to be eaten very fresh. Best out of the oven. And worth every ounce of effort. Yes, even corner shops sell croissants, but they are a bit lacklustre, aren’t they? Usually made with margarine and not butter, and only seeing a human hand when you go to eat it at the end.
Ah yes, but how do you know? In the shop or bakery, how do you know if they are made with butter or margarine? You can trust your nose and your taste buds of course, but you can tell with your eyes. Are the croissants straight or do they have a curve in them? Curved croissants are made with margarine, you see, and straight ones are always made with butter. Those are the (actual) rules.
Straight croissants rule. Croissant pastry is pastry that is delicately layered with butter with painstaking effort and organisation. Butter trumps margarine, no contest. For flavour, texture, and to quote a much used phrase “I would rather trust a farmer with my food, than a pharmacist”. Not only this, but freshness is key, you must eat your croissant within a few hours of them being baked, as traditional croissants are pure and have no preservatives.
Making croissants and breakfast pastries is fun. They take a while, and like most baking projects have rigid steps. But you are rewarded with wonderful golden flaky pastry, and better still you can play with them and be as creative as you want. The classes at La Cuisine are small and taught in English. My teacher was enthusiastic and knowledgable and taught us not only how to make the perfect croissant, but many other things that we could do with the croissant dough like pain au raisin, pain au chocolat and pain suisse (with pastry cream and chocolate chips_. We also experimented with delicious pastries made with pistachio paste (YES) and apricot jam. We experimented with shapes, and shaped them as rolls in and baked them in muffin trays.
I left the class with a joyful bag of pastries in hand planning kitchen adventures with croissant pastries of my own. And planning my next return to Paris, and my next stay at the lovely Hotel du Petit Moulin.
With thanks to Hotel du Petit Moulin who hosted my stay. Stays at Hotel du Petit Moulin start from €195 per room per night, based on two sharing on a B&B basis. The three-hour croissant and breakfast pastries class at La Cuisine costs €99. Booking in advance is recommended as they are popular. I travelled to Paris with Eurostar, who are currently offering tickets from £29 each way.
Who doesn’t want to go to Paris in the Spring? A world away from London, and only 2 hours by Eurostar. I went recently to eat, drink, wander, and as always, to stock up my pantry with all sorts of good things.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence is a gorgeous little town, patches of land interspersed between strands of river and streams, with waterwheels, tendrils of moss hanging down, dragging themselves round. Known for a Sunday market full of antiques, food stalls and lots of randomness, I spent a lovely Sunday meandering it last weekend. I heard after that this is where Keith Floyd had an antique shop before he became a chef.
I wanted every antique knife, spoon, fork and copper pan but reserved the space for chickpeas and chickpea flower purchased from a grower and a huge fat plait of stinky purple garlic. I watched rotisserie chicken spinning around, glistening with fat and saying EAT-ME, FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-GOD-EAT-ME-NOW. I wanted to, I really did and I desperately wanted to just run and grab some of the potatoes drinking all of that gorgeous chicken fat underneath, but I behaved. As much as I wanted to grab a chicken and just eat it with some bread, I also wanted to sit down and have a nice lunch.
At the last minute we secured a reservation at Le Jardin du Quai, and surely the last one as the dining room was full. It took a while to find it, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is peppered with antiques arcades and I have a brutal sense of direction. But we found it, and sat down. Beyond a garden lies a lovely bar and restaurant, a large bright room, a dog called Scooby just outside, shelves with jars of marshmallow rolled around, cut with scissors and served with coffee, crystal candelabras stand sentry beside. In the corner, we perused the wine list, perched beside us on a large blackboard (and chose a lovely local house white). The menu was set and €40 for 3 courses and we were to eat what was on offer with no choice. I love to eat like that, it is often a sign of great confident cooking.
Truffle hunting (oink oink, SNORT!), gooey chocolate truffles, and doing the truffle shuffle (I inadvertently have earned the right through this food writing of mine), regardless of what truffles make you think of, the fungal variety, growing underground and snuffed out by dogs and less so now, pigs, are a wonder. Rich, funky, and smelling of things that most people won’t admit to (also male pig pheremones, which is why female pigs are so good at earthing them out), they are the ultimate flavour bomb, making simple things taste amazing with the tiniest bit of work. A small chop, slice or grate will do you just fine, and they will elevate eggs, fried, scrambled or in an omelette, to one of the best dishes in the world. Buttered bread becomes something you might fight your mother for, anything simple with fat and richness (lard works great), with truffles enters a My Fair Lady sort of situation, adopting a smart accent, elegant umbrella and dress.
I love a truffle.
Truffles! Don’t you love them. rich, intense, savoury and deeply addictive, I always feel for those poor truffle dogs who seek them because they love them so much, only to have to give them to the truffle hunter when they find them.
How to bring back Paris with you to London? You can’t very well shove the eiffel tower in your handbag (and why would you want to?) but there is lots of Parisian deliciousness that you can bring to your front door. What we perceive as luxury – great patisserie, brilliant lacquered duck confit in jars, (dare I say it) foie gras, great wine – are all everyday in France. Not to mention the petite copper canele moulds, gorgeous pans, staub pots, and all of the divinity that a Parisian cookware shop can involve.
Here is my guide for the shops that you mustn’t miss when in Paris. It is not an exhaustive list, but these are the places that I hit when I visit, and I add to it all the time. If you have any that I have not listed, please leave details in the comments below.
FOOD & WINE
I found G Detou by accident. Aiming for the nearby metro station, I spied this shop with gorgeous tins stacked high beneath the vintage signage. This higgledy piggledy shop full of tins, patisserie ingredients (a large plastic tub of popping candy for you?), boxes (marrons glacé, dried fruits, valrhona chocolate), jams, all the mustards you might ever need, vanilla pods, powder, extract, tonka beans. G Detou has everything you might want for your pantry from Paris. Gather, stagger with your haul to the counter, and get a receipt to bring to the kiosk nearby. Confusing at first, but very Parisian, and worth it. There is also a deli next door, also G Detou, with lots of fresh produce as well as more tins of gorgeousness. I always get duck leg confit, sausages confit in goose fat and a glass tube of vanilla pods, at least.
58 Rue Tiquetonne 75002 Paris, France
Comptoir de la Gastronomie
With a sign that is simply a goose with foie gras written on it outside, you can expect to find some in here, but also lots of other specialties including preserved truffles (in beautiful jars and tins), vinegars, wine and jams (including a bright pink rose petal jam – perfect presents, no?). There is also a nice looking restaurant attached although I haven’t eaten there yet. Let me know if you do, and what you think of it!
34 Rue Montmartre 75001 Paris, France
Marché des Enfants Rouge
I love stopping by Marche des Enfants Rouge on a Sunday. It is the perfect spot for brunch and is bustling (on a Sunday when most of Paris shuts down, this is unusual). I like to get oysters at L’Estaminet to start (they do brunch there too) and then stock up on some bits to bring back, including cheese from Fromagerie Jouannault just outside. There is a great butchers directly opposite too, some rotisserie chicken spots, a Greek deli, an Italian deli, a patisserie and lots of fresh produce, fish and cheese stalls from the market itself. The fish stall and butchers are probably more suitable if your accommodation in Paris has a kitchen, but what joy to buy from there and cook at your temporary Parisian home.
9 Rue de Beauce, 75003 Paris, France
I love popping to Finkelstajn’s, a busy Jewish deli in the Marais, just before heading to the train station for a slice of baked cheesecake and some latkes. There is some delicious and proper Jewish food here, and it is perfect for a train picnic on the way home.
27 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, France
Pierre Hermé & Ladurée
We have both of these in London now, but when I first started going to Paris – pre when the macaron craze hit London hard – I always made sure that I stopped at each of these shops. Ladurée is a traditional gorgeous tea room serving beautiful pastries and macarons, and they also have a shop so that you can buy to take away. Pierre Hermé is a little less traditional but no less brilliant – it is my preferred of the two – and his jams, biscuits and teas are terrific too.
several locations in Paris – I like the to go to Rue Bonaparte as there is both a Pierre Hermé and a Ladurée there
If G Detou is the Aladdin’s Cave of French food and produce, E Dehillerin is the equivalent for cookware. With two floors and high ceilings, the walls are lined with copper pans, moulds, and all kinds of kitchen tools that you might like to bring back. The payment system is by kiosk as at G Detou, so queue to get your bill (they will ask for your address too for the invoice, it is very old school), then go to the kiosk to pay.
18-20 Rue Coquillière, 75001 Paris, France
A cookware shop, across the road from G Detou, with everything you might want from canele moulds to – erm – your very own stainless steel pan with an eiffel tower handle. Don’t let this put you off though, it is well worth a visit.
48 Rue Montmartre, 75002 Paris, France
More cookware, and very near over two floors but also very pretty and colourful vintage style storage tins to brighten your kitchen / pantry at home.
36 Rue Montmartre, 75001 Paris, France
I travelled to France with Eurostar on their #wheninparis campaign.
A quick jaunt on the Eurostar, 2 hours 15 minutes later we were alighting at Gare du Nord. Our hotel, just a few stops away, and near my favourite spot Le Marais, saw us briefly, we had lots of Paris to see and to do.
We were in Paris to do some Christmas shopping.
An old friend and I took the trip. Both food obsessed and fond of a glass of wine or a cocktail, we had marked out our maps with places we wanted to visit. We hadn’t much time but we were ambitious. Paris is home to fantastic cookware shops, fromageries, wine shops, patisseries and so many great chocolate shops. So many things that would put the sparkle in any day and especially Christmas.
To start, we hit Le Marais. Le Marché des Enfants Rouges to be precise. A 10 minute walk and we were at the gorgeous bustling market. The market itself is rammed with cosy and delicious places to eat. Lots to buy too. Greengrocers are selling clementines (check: in the bag for confiting), cheesemongers were selling fantastic cheese (some gruyere, comte, brebis and nutty orange vieux gouda for me), lots selling wine wine (Beaujolais, St Jospeh and Bordeaux would see us through). Outside the market there are shops dedicated to olive oil, salmon, chocolate and patisserie.
This market seems to have everything. Almost everything. But it doesn’t have that many copper moulds.
So, we’re off again to E Dehillerin, a wonderful Parisian cookware shop. Intense and at times, intimidating, you muscle your way through the crowd, find what you want (it is glorious – they have everything) and queue to pay for it.
Wait, no! You queue to give it to a guy who gives you an invoice. Then you put your name and address on it (!) and queue to pay for it. They type it up, if your name is awkward like mine they question you, you shout it out because you are starting to get a little stressed by now. They then take your money and then you go back to the first guy, with your printed invoice, and collect your canelé moulds. Or whatever gorgeousness was worth that. And, it is.
The bags are getting heavy now so back to the hotel. A quick pause for some wine. We have been working hard after all. Beaujolais Nouveau is everywhere so we indulge. Then to the Christmas Market at the Champs Elysées.
The streets are lined with saucisson and cheese which you can buy to take home, roasted chestnuts, vin chaud (mulled wine: both red and white), tartiflette, giant pans of it, lots of gifts, some good some bad, but the atmosphere is great and we have fun.
The next day, we need downtime. We have shopped out hearts out and we want to indulge. So we hit the Mandarin Oriental, pausing to ogle beautiful dresses in glamorous windows as we do.
We dine in Camelia, a restaurant from Thierry Marx who spent several years in Japan. This is French food but with a strong influence from Japan. Sea bream with clear broth and kombu seaweed (€36) was light and rich and one of the best things that I have eaten in a while. The desserts are terrific, there is even a cake shop as you walk in. We nabbed some canelés as we left for the train home. One of the chefs is from Bordeaux, and I can’t leave those behind.
As we leave, I discover the bar manager at the Mandarin Oriental is also Irish, so we pop in to say hi. And have a drink, and maybe another one. My friend has wanted cocktails so she is very happy, and once I taste them, I am too. I love cocktails but too many are too sweet. These are high end, and expensive, but what a treat they are.
We float out, but it is time to consider home. Back to the Eurostar we go. We are sad to leave but our journey home contains wine and canéles and cheese. So we are happy. And we have lots of goodies for Christmas too.
Merry Christmas! Silly season has started.
(most of the cheese didn’t survive the week but – HEY – it was too delicious to keep it)
E Dehillerin, 18-20 Rue Coquillière, 75001 Paris, France
Closed on Sunday
Le Marché des Enfants Rouges, 39 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris, France
Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysées, from Friday, November 16 2012 to Sunday, January 6 2013
Camelia at the Mandarin Oriental, 251 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris, France
I travelled as a guest of Superbreak who organise great value Christmas shopping packages to Paris including return Eurostar travel and one night at 4* Crowne Plaza Republique with full breakfast and a river cruise from £159pp. Book on www.superbreak.com or call 0871 700 4384.
Travelling is wonderful. You may have cottoned on to the fact that I enjoy a little of it every now and then. A lot of it more precisely. People ask why, they wonder how I can do it all. They also wonder why I do it all.
Why do I do it? I love getting an insight into another culture. I love getting under the skin of how people eat, how they shop for food, what they shop for and how they cook it at home. I love gathering recipes and bringing them home.
I love being inspired by how other people operate, being immersed in a whole different thing for a little while gives you great perspective on your own existence.
Hotels are great, I love them and the luxury they provide. But after a few days I get antsy. I miss my kitchen and I miss being able to cook. My kitchen keeps me calm, and cooking keeps me sane. When I am stressed or sad my first instinct is to cook.
So, when I haven’t cooked for some time I get doleful when I see piles of glistening vegetables in markets, wheels of cheese in cheesemongers and absolutely anything else that I could be cooking or eating at home. I can of course take stuff home but I still miss the process of cooking, of being regularly able to do it.
I was watching the lovely Rachel Khoo’s cookery show, The Little Paris Kitchen, on BBC2 this week and it brought me right back to my Paris trip in December. Where I stayed in a proper house owned by locals (while they were away) and had a kitchen. For a time my life in Paris felt very real. I tweeted lots of pictures and other detail and promised to tell you all about it too. A little belated I have nabbed some time to do it.
It was a fabulous house, 4 bedrooms and sleeping 7 at a very reasonable £494 per night, much cheaper than a hotel but with lots of luxurious touches and a gorgeous kitchen to cook in. Aspirational for a Londoner with a tiny flat like me.
It was spacious and bright with a large open kitchen and living area and a fantastically stocked kitchen (kitchenaid, good knives, pots, pans etc.). I spent the weekend shopping in markets and local food shops and cooking joyfully when I got home.
I visited 3 markets that weekend, all nearby, and all food (of course!). The third one was particularly special as we visited on an organised tour with our guide, food writer and chef Camille Labro. Camille was bouyant with knowledge and enthusiasm and brought us through every stall describing everything.
We chose food that caught our eye and then returned home where we cooked up a wonderful feast. Scallops, artichokes and cheese (not together!) were a trinity of culinary highlights that I can still taste when I think of them. There was lots more too.
As I sat and ate it all, supping some wine, I wondered why I had never lived in Paris. I still don’t know, but I feel I might have done for just a few days now.
I travelled to Paris with Housetrip, who rent over 2,400 properties in Paris and 86,440 in other cities all over the world (with an impressive 1,000 being added every week). The properties are owned by locals and rented out when they are away. Our food tour with Camille Labro was organised by Context Travel.
Food is changing everywhere all the time. That’s life, and that’s a good thing, in the main. You’re as likely to find Scandinavian inspired haute cuisine in Paris now as a soufflé, so it takes a little research to find somewhere that does the old school classics and does them well.
When in Paris, and especially when in Paris in January. I want French Onion Soup. I need French Onion Soup. I need it’s comforting rich beefy stock and sweet sleepy slippery onions beneath their heavy cheese blanket. I need to pierce that cheese and bread with my spoon and drag some soup out, savouring every gentle spoonful before diving back in.
It helps if I can then follow this with a fresh rich steak tartare, sharp with mustard and capers, and creamy with egg. Spreading it on toast, all the while not really wanting to talk but to watch everything going on. Watching the waiters, the other tables, sipping some wine, soaking it all in. Enjoying Paris, enjoying the characters, the families eating Sunday lunch, the solo diners, not many tourists but a few, although I expect they are academics from the Sorbonne next door. I continue, eating more tartare, sipping more wine, and loving Paris and my little January escape.
Brasserie Balzar, next to the Sorbonne, is a Paris institution since 1898. Previously home to Sartre & Camus and their argumentative lunches, it is now more likely to house lunchers from the Sorbonne, and in season tourists, but don’t let this put you off, it is well worth a visit.
I need to get back there soon.
49 Rue des Ecoles
75005 Paris, France
01 43 54 13 67 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 01 43 54 13 67 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Nearest metro: Cluny – La Sorbonne
(Ps – apologies re slightly blurry photos, I was more focussed on my food than my camera, which is how it should be :)
When I travel, one of my first pit stops is twitter, where I ask the hivemind for recommendations. Results are mainly successful, sometimes bizarre, but always a brilliant starting point when travelling and wanting to eat well. Particularly when you want to eat as locals do and off the tourist track.
When I recently asked for recommendations for Paris, two people I really rate resounded “You have to go to Les Papilles”, so I took that as an order and I did.
Les Papilles is part epicerie, part wine shop, mainly restaurant. It is wooden and warm with a big round table in a bay window / alcove at the back and all other tables seemingly proceeding towards it, lining a long counter and shelves of wine with occasional food bits lining the walls. There is also a downstairs area with a huge table, and lots more wine.
The menu is fixed, you have it or you don’t, although a vegetarian friend in Paris has told me that they can prepare a vegetarian menu if informed in advance.
I love the confidence of a fixed menu. There is little worse than a menu that reads like a bible, and a haphazard one. I like that I can walk in and say, I will have what you’re serving, and can I have this wine please? Especially when choosing the wine involves cruising the wine shelves and plonking it on your table for the waiter to open. Speaking of which, prepare yourself for the occasional visit to your table if you are sitting next to the wine.
We went for lunch – we were too late to get a dinner reservation – and were presented with a blackboard with the menu written on. The food was hearty, precise, full of flavour and very French. The soup and main course were served family style to share at €33 per person. The portions were very generous and the food beautifully executed. I would hop on the eurostar solely to go back.
30 Rue Gay-Lussac 75005 Paris, France
01 43 25 20 79
Nearest metro: Luxembourg
Paris Part 2! Last weekend I journeyed a speedy 2 hours on the eurostar early Friday morning and found myself in Paris for a bistro lunch, caviar & champagne late afternoon snack and a brasserie dinner. We had a sneaky indulgent champagne breakfast on the eurostar too – we couldn’t resist. I love it and that was just Friday too.
We stayed at Hotel La Tremoille in the 8th, an old school hotel with some modern twists. It was perfectly central allowing us leisurely strolls along the Seine. There was even a local caviar shop and truffle shop and restaurant. Tres luxurious.
Part of our package was a Baguette to Bistro walk led by Meg of Context Travel and Paris by Mouth, a fun, informative and really delicious morning tour of St Germaine taking in a lovely boulangerie, cheese shop and chocolate shop.
The highlight for me was the cheese tasting. We visited one of the oldest cheese shops in Paris, Androuet (now also in London). Proud and rich in history there were stories of cheesemongers having to pray in monasteries in Provence for a week before getting access to the monks prized and delicious cheese. They stock only raw cheese too, bar one pasteurised one for pregnant ladies. Meg chose some cheeses and we had a little tasting outside before moving on to a fantastic chocolate shop. We stopped by this amazing Parisian institution on the way – Deyrolle – where we spied this amazing taxidermied dinner party.
Part 3 & 4 to come: living like a local in Paris, and where to eat and visit.
We stayed at Hotel La Tremoille as guests. They are offering a Flavours of Paris break including caviar and champagne and a Baguette to Bistro walk, for January & February only – to book visit www.hotel-tremoille.com. We travelled with Eurostar. Eurostar Plus Gourmet currently offers travellers up to 50% discounts at many top restaurants in Paris, Brussels and Lille. See site for details.
How lovely to visit Lyon again for the Bocuse D’Or last week. It’s such a warm city, charming and obsessed with food. I am definitely the last and so I always feel at home there. My trip last August was brief, and there was one bouchon I neglected to hit, Café des Federations. I didn’t miss it this time.
I was there on a grey Thursday. I wandered by the Saone and meandered up the narrow streets, suitcase in tow. My French isn’t great, but it’s enough to get me by, and stumblingly, I secured a table for one for lunch.
I love solo lunches, I can’t think of anything nicer than lovely food, intimate ecelctic surroundings, some delicious wine and a great book, whilst cosy in a corner with the occasional bit of people watching between chapters. It’s fairly uncommon here in London, not so in France.
At the banquette ahead of me were two other solo female diners, one young Japanese lady, in town also for the Bocuse D’Or, and a wonderful elderly French lady, dolled up to the nines with perfect make up and hair and a big fur coat for company.
At Les Café des Federations, you are not given a menu. Shortly after sitting down, you are presented with a selection of nibbles, this time charcuterie lyonnaise, two types of sliced sausage with cornichons; another dressed meat (which I think was tongue) and caviar de la croix rousse, a gorgeous and incredibly moreish peasant caviar, a puy lentil dish in a tart cream dressing.
Once these were finished, I was asked which dish I wanted from a list recited by the waiter. All the Lyonnaise bouchon classics were on here: Tete de Veau (calf’s head), Andouillette (Lyonnaise sausage made from the er… business end of the bowel, otherwise known as chitterlings), Quenelles en Brochette (lovely light fish mousse type thing shaped into a quenelle in a light fish soup), Boudin Noir (black pudding) and the one I chose, Poulet au Vinaigre (Chicken in Vinegar). I also chose a spritely house white to wash it down with.
My French chicken was seductive with rich dark meat, crispy skin with a sliver of fat underneath, and the tart cream vinegar sauce was delicious. Served with rice, it was great comfort food and a lovely lunch. Although I did have an enormous pang of regret when a couple nearby got the boudin noir, and the gateaux de foie looked superb also.
St Marcelin cheese was offered, which I love, but I instead chose the Pear in Red Wine, which was served cold and was perfectly light and fresh and aromatic with cinnamon and nutmeg. It was really refreshing, and felt healthy and light (for a dessert!).
The food was charming and the bouchon lovely. It was an indulgent and soothing couple of hours and came in at €23 or so. I did prefer the overall experience and the food at Le Garet, but Cafe des Feds (as they call it) is worth a visit too. We need a few bouchons in London, I think, although they just wouldn’t be the same here, would they?
Chocolate is not a treat or a sweet but true gourmet food.
When Claude Bosi (chef-proprietor at 2* Hibiscus) starts giving tips on where you should eat in Lyon, you take notice. So happily he did exactly that, just a few days before I went to Lyon, in a piece in the Financial Times.
I was a little smug (just a tiny bit – promise), when I discovered that the market we were planning to go to, and Le Bec, which we had already booked were on his list. Bernachon wasn’t on my radar, however, so I looked it up and added it to the list.
Bernachon is like a museum for edible treats. A mini cathedral to food. You could hear a pin drop. The best of chocolate, sweet and excellent savoury treats. Before you even enter the shop, you’re salivating. Glorious cakes, springy brioche, perfect quenelles, macarons, chocolates, swoon. It has the air of a Sloane St designer shop, only here we are not paying homage to Jimmy Choo or Prada, here the macaron and chocolates are king. Isn’t that the way it should be? Certainly for me, anyway.
Maurice Bernachon trained as an apprentice in the art of chocolate from the the age of fourteen. He later joined the workshop of master chocolate maker Monsieur Durand ane when he retired in 1953, he offered Maurice Bernachon his chocolate and candy shop. Today his grandchildren – Candice, Stéphanie and Philippe Bernachon – now run the enterprise. The raw cocoa beans are roasted, grinded, blended and conched in-house. There’s that attention to detail and sourcing that is the hallmark of an excellent product.
I have a mini tradition now, every time I go to France I bring back a box of macarons. I know Pierre Hermé and Ladurée are in town but it’s such a nice souveneir to bring home, and one that doesn’t last very long, granted. But, swoon, these were small spritely delights. And there’s nothing better, once greeted by the glorious English rain, than a macaron to evoke a petite taste memory of your lovely little holiday.
Bernachon, 42, courts Franklin-Roosevelt, tel: +33 04 78 24 37 98, www.bernachon.com
Lyon has a promising culinary reputation. Reputed to be the gastronomic heart of France, friends and natives had talked it up and I was worried it may not live up to my increasing expectations.
I quickly secured a reservation at 2* Le Bec, the reviews are exceptional and it looks exciting, but much to my misfortune, they had water damage on the day I was to dine ,and were closed. 3 restaurant La Mere Brazier was also high on my list, but sadly (for me) they were closed for summer holidays. Paul Bocuse was mentioned but I had already decided to save that for my next trip, the prices are lofty, and the reviews mixed. I’ll visit another time with another food obsessive.
So, what to do? In truth, I was always more excited about the Lyonnaise Bouchons, peculiar to Lyon and serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Bouchons were always going to be the heart of the trip and there was a few I wanted to try out.
The highlight of these was a recommendation from a Lyonnaise friend, Le Garet. We popped in on our first night, to discover that they were full so we made a reservation for lunch on our last day. Lesson No 1 – book your bouchons before you leave, the good ones are always booked up. There was one I really wanted to try but it’s so popular with locals that I hadn’t a hope without an advance reservation.
On our return for lunch, just two hours before we were due at the train station to board our train back to London via Lille on the Eurostar, we were greeted with smiles and charm and on seating were presented with pork crackling. A large bowl of caper berries and a jar of cornichons were delivered shortly after. We were going to get on.
Le Garet is enchanting, warm red walls with walls packed with pictures and photographs and French eccentricities. It’s impossible not to be seduced. It’s a joyous place, the diners are enjoying their food and company, and the staff are smiling and friendly.
The wine list is presented in a copybook, specials are writted on a mirror with marker and the menu otherwise, was one I had become very familiar with in other bouchons: Pieds de Veau (calves feet), Cervelles (brains), Rillettes d’Oie (goose rillettes), Grenouilles (frog legs), Tete de Veau (head cheese), Bavette, Saucisson, Foie de Veau (calves liver). A meaty offaly paradise, not for the faint hearted but for those who love flavour and rich food.
By now, I had visited many an eatery and following a visit to the market wanted colour and flavour. I needed something to repair my meat saturated soul and nurture me. I opted for lighter but still traditional dishes, starting with a glorious Tomates Steak et Ornue, Pistou et Parol Blanc – a fantastic tomato salad with large slices of tomato steak, slices from a smaller tomato, both drizzled with pistou and with cured ham on the side, predominantly fat, like lardo, with a little pink meat. A large basket of very good bread was served on the side.
Kat had the Rillettes d’Oie, which she had spotted the diners at the next table eating. We had assumed that they had a healthy portion for two but were gobsmacked when a whole Staub terrine full of Rillettes arrived for Kat alone. My salad was enormous also.
Main courses were Grenouilles Fraiche en Persillade (Fresh Frogs Legs with Persillade) for Kat and for me, a traditional Lyonnaise dish of Quenelle de Brochet a la Lyonnaise – a large set pike mousseline in a seafood broth. The frog legs were as perfect a representation of that dish could be, fiddly but tender and spiked with persillade, I had order envy. My quenelle de brochet was gorgeous, very light and spring served in a light marseillaise-style seafood broth with creamed spinach with nutmeg on the side. A perfect lunch dish.
As is common at the end of a Bouchon meal, we each ordered a demi St Marcelin, a soft small cows milk cheese, perfectly round and like unleashing children from the school gates, the cheese blurted out then oozed from the rind once I put my knife through it. Swoooon.
We accompanied our meal with a Pot (46cl) of White Burgundy (St Veran Bourgogne Blanc), a bargain at €11. The vibe was friendly with perfect friendly service, and nearby tables were chatty too, we seemed to be the only tourists there that lunchtime.
A special mention for the bathrooms, odd I know, but they were great. Decked out like a ladies boudoir, bloomers and old brassieres were hanging out of the drawers and over the lamps. The walls were decked with pictures as the floor below.
The meal came to approx €35 each, including extra service as it was very good and we had such a lovely time. I had an extra glass of wine and we had coffees too.
I would go back to Lyon just to eat here, it was a perfect two hours. I spied the bavette on the next table, it looked divine, and I am – almost – desperate to try it. Lyon is only 5 hours from London on the Eurostar. I think I can figure out an excuse to do it. Wait! I’ve got one: Le Garet.
Ah, the glory of the French food market. Fresh produce, glorious flavours, bright colours, the smells of the fruit and lack of smell from the fish.
As the heart of gastronomic France, you would expect Lyon to have a very good one, and it does. In fact it has several, but time was restrictive on my two night Eurostar trip their last week, so I chose one in the heart of the city by the Rhone, the Quai St Antoine Food Market.
It winds along the river gently. Starting at 4 or 5 am and running until midday in the heart of the city, it’s a very popular and well sourced market. Everything was fantastic, the selection was varied, and better than all of that, in the main it was local.
All kinds of tomatoes begged to be picked up, flat peaches radiated perfume and I swooned at the first bite. Bounties of herbs, garlic and fresh beans. Bright pink radishes with their green leafy hat, baskets of saucisson and legs of ham. Dripping gravy brown rotisserie chickens, turning seductively, challenging you not to buy.
Best of all were the prices. So reasonable, there is no need to grace your strip lit supermarket here. That’s the way it should be. Why don’t we have such markets here?
The weather is challenging, I know, and the costs of London markets for stallholders are prohibitive. Add to that the waiting lists for markets at Borough, but London could house so many more.
We have so many spaces in central London that could house indoor markets – community halls and abandoned spaces. It would make so much sense to support small producers and create a cost effective space for locals to buy quality everyday produce. Not cupcakes or truffles or big chains that we see in all the markets now. I want to buy good tomatoes, salad, fresh eggs, vegetables, meat and fish from the people that grow or produce them. A good rotisserie chicken!
Normal every day food from a normal every day market. Can’t we have one soon?
Whoooooosh! I am not sure if that is the sounds of the Eurostar, or the TGV (super fast French trains), or my trip to Lyon, but it all seemed to go by far too quickly. It seems like weeks ago that I boarded the Eurostar and travelled to Lyon, but it was only Tuesday morning. We travelled swiftly from grey wet London, current home of the bad hair day and soggy feet, to sparkling hot Lyon, home of bright intense sunshine, great wine and food, and a peep of sunburn. My Irish skin could barely handle the 34 degree heat that awaited us.
I love travelling by train. I could spend days and weeks travelling Europe by train, and anywhere else for that matter, it’s my perfect means of travel. The Lyon trip was a baby train journey but enjoyable nonetheless, taking a piddly 5 hours and allowing us a break for a glass of wine in Lille. A perfect two night break all in all. It was just lovely, holed up with my book, watching the countryside whizz by, with a glass of wine for company.
Why Lyon? It’s the gastronomic heart of France and it’s been top of my list for forever. The top of my list is extraordinarily well populated though so it’s taken me a while to get there. How I’ve longed to experience the seduction of a Lyonnaise Bouchon and delve into the menu with a bottle of glorious local wine.
I am just back, so this is just a wee photographic preview. I will be back with the details and full posts soon.
There’s a few perks to this little sideline of mine. We get invited to lots of things, we get sent things, or at least people offer to send us things. Some are crazy (surgical instruments anyone?) but sometimes we get invited to great events, nice restaurants and receive some products that I would actually like to try and would buy normally. I only ever write about them if they’re of interest. Otherwise, what’s the point?
This brings me nicely to last Saturday, a gorgeous sunny day which I spent in Lille in Northern France, in the company of fellow food bloggers, exploring the culinary landscape, courtesy of Eurostar, who, via the medium of our friend the internet, are raising awareness of their Little Breaks. I know that the Eurostar can bring me to France in less than a couple of hours, but it never occurred to me to do a day trip as it always seemed too far away. Crazy, when as a Londoner I will cheerfully sojourn 2 hours South for a couple of hours for dinner or to meet a friend.
Nevertheless, I was very excited at the prospect of a trip across the water. I’ve not had many opportunities to travel outside of the UK & Ireland for various reasons this past year or more. I want to travel more and I will. For now brief European breaks will be the band aid on that open sore, that need to travel.
I didn’t know much about Lille, I’d heard lots, that it was industrial and not really all that interesting. Some people had found it disappointing. Why bring us there then? There must be things that they had missed.Why else would they bring fussy food bloggers?
We gathered at 6am at St Pancras, one of my favourite London stations, it’s so vast and gorgeous. Another 5 am start, how many must I suffer in the name of this blog? I jest, but really, is this to become my regular wake up time?! Before I knew it we were in France. Chris announced that he was now on Orange-France, to which I asked, are we in France already? I was so sleepy, that I had missed the tunnel, literally with my eyes open. 1.5 hours after leaving St Pancras we disembarked in Lille.
A quick tour around Lille quickly dispelled any worried of over industrialisation, it’s a very pretty town with gorgeous architecture and lots of dainty little shops and cute eateries. It’s also quite serene, although, I know it’s August and most of France is on holiday so this may not always be the case.
We had a quick wander around, visiting a local chocolate shop (it looked lovely although I didn’t purchase here so couldn’t recommend), and then drawn by the colours of the gorgeous macarons and cakes, patisserie Patrick Hermand. I couldn’t help but treat myself to a box of 12 macarons which I devoured on Saturday night and finished for breakfast on Sunday morning.
Next up, another wander through the winding narrow streets of Vieux Lille and stopped off at Meert, a lovely and decadent patisserie, shop and cafe. We were advised that the local specialities were waffles and merveilleux. I was drawn by the chocolatey decadence of the latter and overwhelmed by the enormity of it on its arrival. It was still morning after all! I coaxed some fellow bloggers into eating some by putting it on their table and walking away when they refused my offer to share. It was utterly delicious, mind, but I just couldn’t take it!
We followed this with a trip to L’Atelier des Chefs for a cooking class which was very pleasant, but I can do this in London, so perhaps may not do this in Lille again. I could see how this would be a lovely option for others, but I already spend way too much time in the kitchen. It was fun, but with just one day, I would prefer a lazy lunch.
5 am was seeming unwise at this point, and taking it’s toll, so I was glad of the sit down at La Capsule for a beer and cheese tasting. The cheeses, as you would expect in France, were superb. Strong and stinky cow’s cheeses and one more delicate goats cheese from Philippe Olivier, a notable local fromagerie, maroilles & mimolette were my favourite and I shall be looking out for those. The beer tasting was interesting, as I am not a beer drinker at all, these, however, were unlike those that I was used to and I could enjoy a glass or two, particularly the lighter Page 24, which I brought home to sup on at L’abbaye des saveurs .
This was followed by a frantic dash on my part to gather some interesting French food & drink that I could play with at home, notably a violet syrup and a violet liqueur, gorgeous and vibrant and purple, I can’t wait to play.
So, back to London we went, indulging in champagne on the Eurostar, and then champagne in the champagne bar at St Pancras on our return at 7pm. I would love to and will do it again, I loved Lille, and could imagine a sleepy, indulgent and stress free break there. I really need one at the moment. Just look how happy this local is?!
It was a pleasure to spend the day with fellow bloggers Chris, Helen, Helen, Krista, Liz, Margot, Michelle, Kang, Stephen and Kerri, Ms Marmite Lover and Andrew. Thanks to Eurostar and We are Social for organising.
Notes: Eurostar operates up to 10 daily services from London St Pancras International to Lille with return fares from £55. Tickets are available from http://www.eurostar.com or 08705 186 186. Fastest London-Lille journey time is 1 hour 20 minutes.
While in Paris, I wandered into a local weekly food market by chance. It was fantastic and depressing. Why don’t we have these? Local people buying their weekly groceries, it was so relaxed and bountiful. The quality was fantastic and prices very reasonable. If we had one here people would travel miles to it. There were several fruit and veg stalls, a few cheese stalls, fish stalls, a charcuterie, boucherie, really everything you would need. The supermarket nearby was empty, why would you go? And to top it, it was surrounded by lovely food shops, 2 charcuteries, a chocolatiers, a boulangerie, to name but a few. Bring back proper food markets to the UK, I say! There should be one in every town.