My previous post, London, where I shared my opinion on the exclusive Chotto-Matte, may lead some readers to believe I will be critiquing high end restaurants around Europe. If that is the case, then I am afraid you will be disappointed. My evening in London was special, a celebration of my university career and a toast to future adventures. From this point on, my guide to French and Spanish eating will be just as enthralling, but without the grandeur. I am a recent graduate after all.
After a turbulent start to our morning departure, my editor finally arrived having battled with London’s rush hour traffic. By 9.30am we were speeding to France from St. Pancras. The promise of a Parisian lunch soon quelled our exceedingly high stress levels, as our locomotive hurled closer to the channel all cares were left behind.
Just after noon we arrived in Paris. Wasting no time we made haste for a sunbathed eatery at the foot of Sacré-Coeur. Being our first meal together on the continent we order as typical a French lunch one could dream up. My croque-monsieur was vast. A slice of rye bread, baked that day, housed nutty Emmental and thick-cut smoked ham, the whole structure spanned the width of my plate. I did not complain. I ate it all. My editor ordered with similar gusto. Her onion soup had a richness of its own which was enhanced by the Gruyère that slowly melted into the broth. All of this, accompanied by a carafe of Côte-du-Rhône. We were quickly beginning to understand the true meaning of the ‘laissez-faire’ attitude.
Embracing our new-found Parisian identities, a typical bistro supper felt only natural. We opened our account with a shared plate of escargots; the garlicy blast delivered in each mouthful was tremendous. Next came beef tartare and confit duck. The tartare was just as it should be, bound tight by a fresh egg and with just enough capers to add a salty hit. The duck was clearly well marinated and well cooked, the crisp, salty skin hid tender meat which fell away from the bone with the lightest prod of a fork. It was accompanied by sautéed potatoes rather than the more traditional flageolet beans, however, we had little reason to complain. With wine, the meal came to €60. Very reasonable.
On the following morning, stuffed and glutted from our first day of unremitting eating, we decided to feed our cultural appetite instead. With a morning mist still lingering in the air we took a brisk stroll around Père Lachaise Cemetery in search of Oscar Wilde’s grave, which we found encased in glass to prevent literary groupies from touching it. We were disappointed by the soulless, sandstone, shrine. Frustrated, we ventured to central Paris, desperate for salvation.
When we emerged from Étienne Marcel station, it appeared our prayers had been answered. Rising from the cobbled street, dramatic iron gates marked the beginning of Rue Montorgueil, a street we dubbed the Holy Grail of our Parisian pilgrimage. Flower vendors and fruit stalls stood vibrantly side-by-side, pouring from their shopfronts and onto the street, a kaleidoscope of colour that hypnotised passers-by. Careful presentation of fresh fruit and vegetables demonstrated the passion Parisians have for their food, more artistry than mere selling. When presented with the opportunity one must visit Palais du Fruit. We bought some deliciously ripe figs to accompany our Crottin goat’s cheese, acquired from the fromagerie just next door, where the proprietors were more than happy to guide us through their eclectic collection and let us try some new cheeses. The further we wandered down Rue Montorgueil, the more absorbed we become by the energy. At lunchtime the restaurants are a hive of activity, shop owners proudly announce what is fresh and what is good on that particular day while people queue out of shops to get their hands on some of Paris’ finest fare. Unsurprisingly, the only establishment that wasn’t bustling that warm autumn lunchtime was the supermarket on Rue Montorgueil. But why would Parisians, and tourists alike, even contemplate convenience when quality is just outside? Both history and flavour seep from every crevice of this street, but these two themes marry at number 51 Rue Montorgueil. Patisserie Stohrer, founded in 1730, has been serving up canelés and Baba au Rhum for nearly three centuries. Having stood the test of time, this establishment is a testament to the quality and tradition available on this exquisite street.
During our walk from Les Halles to St Paul, afternoon sunshine rapidly gave way to a chilly eve. To escape the biting cold we hurried into a creperie, recommended by an old school friend, for sweet galettes and cidre served in mugs to warm our souls. The low lighting and close proximity of tables at Le Cidrerie du Marais added to the warm atmosphere that oozed from the cosy setting. My crepe Suzette, flambéed in front of me, was delicious. The peaches, soaked in Grand Marnier, which topped my buck-wheat galette, although very alcoholic were sweet and delicious. My editor opted for a sweet nougat ice cream and tart raspberry coulis topping which balanced beautifully. As crepes in Paris go, Le Cidrerie du Marais is up there with the best.
48 hours is definitely not enough time to sample Paris’ many culinary delights, however, we were relentless with our eating and we left very satisfied with what we found. Like so many great artists and writers before us, Paris was very difficult to leave, however, for the sake of our waistline’s it is probably a good job we did.