The last time we stayed in Paris was in a top-floor apartment on boulevard St-Germain overlooking the rooftops and the grandiose Notre Dame, a beautiful area saturated with chocolatiers, bakeries and bistro’s in its web of narrow cobbled alleys. This time it was on the other side of the Seine in the thick of the Marais/Pletzl district, an area with a long-established Jewish community where designer boutiques rub shoulders with kosher delis, book shops, grocers and pâtisseries.
You’re about to go on a little holiday – just one day out of the week we spent in this fabulous city. It’s a bit of a walking tour stopping off at a few sights along the way but first things first, breakfast. Located a couple of minutes walk away from the apartment is a great little pâtisserie on Rue Sainte Croixe Bretonnerie called Legay Choc. It’s run by two brothers (one gay, one straight) who’s surname just happens to be Legay.
One thing that makes this particular establishment stand out from the rest is la baguette magique, a specially-formed bread stick that’s only sold on Saturdays. It’s crusty, it’s warm and it’s just what you need to take back to the apartment to tear into whilst sipping on your morning tea or coffee.
Legay Choc does make a bunch of other breads and pastries such as a beautifully-moist and chocolatey cravat (€1.9) and sickly sweet but oh-so good clafoutis framboises (€2.45). One thing I did enjoy was something I discovered in a tiny grocery store whilst sniffing about the French goodies – a small tin of vanilla chestnut spread (€1.6) that was perfect just splodged onto fresh baguette. Now that the stomach was full, it was time to head out and explore this town.
Just a short walk down Rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie is the Centre Pompidou, a high-tech inside-out cultural centre constructed in the 70’s. The guts of the building were designed to be kept on the outside to free-up space for the arty-farty stuff inside. Ducts and pipes are painted in coded colour such as green for water, blue for air, yellow for power, red for elevators and white for the buildings structure.
Inside there’s a library, gift shop, restaurant, cinema and museum and a whole lot of people queueing up for something or other. Outside on Place Georges Pompidou you can sit at one of the alfresco eateries and sip on a cold beer or not-so-great coffee as street performers and artists get down with their craft.
Moving along down Rue Aubury le Boucher you get to Forum des Halles, an area that for centuries was a vibrant collection of fresh produce stalls until it was packed up and moved to Rungis in the city’s outskirts to relieve congestion in the area.
What was built in its place in the early 80’s is what you see today; a concrete and glass structure housing a massive underground shopping centre, cinemas, restaurants, swimming pool and subway station. It’s only redeeming feature is a confusing but beautiful park and views to the spectacular 15th century Église St-Eustache with its gothic arches and imposing neoclassical façade.
Winding our way through the back-streets we end up at the sprawling Musée du Louvre, not to check out Mona Lisa or the other 35 000 artworks but to wander the grounds and central Cour Napoléon with its 21 metre Grande Pyramide.
A short walk up Rue de Valois and you arrive at the beautiful Jardin du Palais Royal, a formal garden layout with a central fountain, perfectly pruned hedges and shaded bench seats to take a load off and just breathe in the serenity. Either side of the garden are arcades housing an interesting mix of small art galleries, fashion boutiques, cafés and jewellers. Clearly a place geared to those that have money to burn.
Just around the corner on Rue des Petits Champs is the Galerie Vivienne, an ornate 17th century covered passageway lined with designer shops selling watches, fabrics, clothes, books as well as a tearoom, café and restaurant. If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic or posh, this is the place to hang.
All this walking worked breakfast off in no time so we make our way to Rue Ste-Anne where I knew there was a concentration of Japanese eateries. Back in the 1960’s this area had a bit of a gay underground vibe to it before they moved on to the Marais in the 70’s.
The 90’s brought a bunch of Japanese restaurateurs to the area and made it the “Little Tokyo” it is today. Sadly we were a tad early as none of the restaurants were open so we carry on walking and end up at Montmartre, an area we’re more familiar with.
The steep inclines on most of the streets in the Mont surely give the legs a workout and as we traverse the few parallel streets below Basilique du Sacré Cœur we stumble upon this little place on the hillside overlooking the city. Le Relais de la Butte is a nice little brasserie that has cosy indoor dining plus a perfect cobbled terrace scattered with fallen chestnuts from shady trees above.
Menu du jour was €13.80 and featured a choice of entrée and main or main and dessert. Bargain, whatever the decision. After looking at the printed menu I decided on the menu du jour plus a serve of escargots de bourgogne (€8). How could I not? There we were, sitting on a terrace overlooking the rooftops of Paris. It had to be done. A complimentary baguette basket is delivered, a little ramekin of green olives and then the glorious snails drenched in parsley butter. Beautifully seasoned and extremely tender.
The entrée is a salad of processed meat on cold cubes of roasted potato with a simple salad of endive and croutons. The meat was underwhelming and reminded me of the luncheon Mum used to put on my sandwiches as a child. The plat, or main is a gloriously tender and juicy thick slice of roasted veal with celeraic purée, roasted cherry tomato and jus. I absolutely adored every thing about it, down to the creamy purée. The dessert consists of one option, that being a rich mousse ou chocolat. Nothing exciting or ground breaking, just a bit of sugary chocolate to have with our cafe noisette (€2.1 much like a piccolo latte).
Wandering down the steep streets through Montmartre such as Rue Lepic there’s a bunch of deli’s, boulangeries and pâtisseries interspersed with tiny galleries and souvenir shops and when you hit Boulevard de Clichy and the Moulin Rouge you’re met with a slightly seedy and gritty side of town. Carrying on down Rue Blanche past the 17th century Église de la Sainte-Trinité we end up at Galeries Lafayette, that massive department store that spans a few city blocks.
Lafayette Maison has a load of stuff for the home, Lafayette Coupole with its stunning Nouveau coloured glass dome sells all types of womens fashion, electronics and stationary and Lafayette Homme has all fashion for men. The most interesting part of the mammoth development is what can be found on level 1 in the Homme building. Most interesting for me, anyway.
Lafayette Gourmet is a beautifully set-up cornucopia of fresh foods and aisles of edible treats you just want to pack into a case and take home. Artisan chocolates, pastries and breads, a spice department that echoes some of the ones you see in Morocco … everything is beautifully merchandised. As with any of these types of gastronomic galleries you soon learn that things cost significantly more here than at, say, a regular neighbourhood market.
As we leave the gourmet paradise and step outside I couldn’t help but hear something over the street noise; that familiar hiss from an espresso machine. As we walk past this little coffee truck I stopped to watch the guy as he worked the machine. I’m sure the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. This guy looked like he knew what he was doing and when I first saw that golden crema and the way he steamed and poured the milk into the coffee, I knew this was what we were looking for.
A little sign inside the cart proudly states that there’s a French barista in the house, someone that made finalist at the World Barista Competition in 2009. We order an espresso macchiato and watch as he lovingly pours the milk like a master. There’s actually nowhere to sit so we stand by the cart and take the first sip. Oh good lord I’m in nirvana. I actually wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower and scream to all of the hopeless coffee-makers in France to come and watch how this master makes his coffee.
Note to coffee-lovers everywhere: If you ever go to Paris make sure you get to Alto Café at Galeries Lafayette. There are two coffee carts either side of the Homme building. You will not be disappointed.
We could easily have hung about Alto Café all afternoon but it was time to press on and slowly make our way back to the apartment. Heading back towards where we began we end up in the jumble of pedestrianised streets of Les Halles, in particular Rue Montorgueil. This so far is one of the best food streets I’ve seen in Paris and spoils anybody with the multiple choices of boulangeries, pâtisseries, butchers, wine merchants and fromageries, cafés and restaurants.
One place that took my attention was Maison Collet, or rather what was sitting in the window, beckoning. A row of delightful little pigs sat staring at passers by and I just couldn’t resist, especially when I didn’t try one back in Trèbes on our Canal du Midi journey. This artisan boulanger has a beautiful selection of pastries and breads and word has it that they once supplied Louis XIV with bread and Marie Antoinette also loved to come here. Whatever the story may be, I was more interested in my cochon (€3.3 suckling pig) a baguette and some stinky ashed cendré from a nearby fromagerie and headed back to the apartment for a little snack. The cheese was delicious and that little pig had me in raptures with its incredibly moist, truffle-like almond sponge inside the sweet pink icing skin.
With daylight nearing its end a walk around Hôtel de Ville and across to Ile de la Cité to the Notre Dame as it glowed in the last rays of sunshine finished off a great day of exploration. The days final installment was dinner at Le Bouledogue, a small dimly-lit neighbourhood café-bar-brasserie a mere stones-throw from the Pompidou.
The name of the eatery comes simply from the bulldog that belongs to the owners and hosts. The décor has your typical brasserie feel with lots of mirrors, padded bench seats, wood panelling, beer on tap, white table cloths and very friendly service. Even to the foreigners that struggle with the language.
We took a seat outside at one of the tiny round tables and started off with a cold affligem (€4.20) before diving straight into main courses. My selection of three fish (€18 salmon, cod & tuna) were cooked in seaweed steam and served up with a lotus parcel containing rice flecked with aniseed. The fish was a little bland and over-cooked but the rice was quite tasty with the aniseed and aromatic from the lotus leaf. Mr K’s pan-fried saddle of cod (€23.5) was divine and perfectly cooked, crisp skin and all. A warming mound of Rouseval potatoes with olive oil, lemon and parsley was a simple yet tasty gesture to complement the beautiful fish.
Dessert was a lovely tarte tatin with crème fraiche (€9) and a chocolate fondant (€8.5) like none I’ve had before. This was a thick slice of firm ganache-like chocolate sitting in a pool of heavenly crème anglaise. I adored every dark chocolate mouthful swilled down with vanilla anglaise and dark chocolate sprinkles. The sprig of rosemary was a nice touch as well.
Ok kids, the day is over. I reckon we hit the markets tomorrow …..