There are so many reasons to visit Paris; so many reasons to enjoy the city and – most pertinently – the food. Lacking the resources to hop from one name-restaurant to another (to be honest, places like L’Arpège, L’Atelier du Joël Robuchon, Alain Ducasse and so on aren’t likely to be my preferred eating experience anyway), it seemed much better to wander through markets, browse the shops, and pour money into chocolate, pâtisserie and macarons while staying in a 2-star establishment somewhere for EUR 50 (A$82) per night!
I’ve been to Paris more than a handful of times and have gradually become more careful in choosing the markets to visit, the restaurants I’ll eat at and the pâtisseries worth revisiting. What I haven’t achieved is regular access to a kitchen and the time to exploit that properly. In fact, staying in a simple apartment (EUR 65 (A$107) per night) with a basic kitchen (two hotplates, a fridge, a microwave, some useful pots and enough space to twirl a dishcloth) was only made possible this year.
I’d love to tell you that I cooked up a storm every night. I didn’t. But I did stuff the fridge fulllll of cheese, olives, cakes, charcuterie and butter! And mushrooms and cumquats. And Normandy cider.
I could wax lyrical about the olives…
The two most impressive épiceries (loosely: foodhalls, strictly: grocers) in Paris are at Bon Marché and Lafayette (click on the ‘Gourmet’ link in the French version). The former is a cavernous supermarket-like space (without the tacky supermarket feel), part of a department store. The latter is more like the foodhalls of Harrods or David Jones, with numerous delicatessen counters, ready-to-eat meals, café counters and more. Where Bon Marché feels relatively calm and stylish, Lafayette maintains some style whilst drowning in a novel mélange of old ladies who do all their grocery shopping there, Japanese tourists and German schoolgirls. (Both the Japanese and Germans – and presumably numerous other groups – descend like wasps on the impressive chocolate aisles.)
At last I made it to Dehillerin and Mora, the two most renowned cookware shops in Paris. Dehillerin is particularly famous because it’s, well, rather reminiscent of an old, old hardware shop with poky aisles of bits and bobs and men in sensible coats (the people who serve you, not flashers). It was all a little overwhelming, and you can hear hordes of American tourists salivating over the copper pots. Me, I just salivated over the copper bordelais (canelés bordelaises, sometimes spelt cannelé) moulds. As delish as canelés are (and there are long long discussions over at eGullet), I don’t feel quite the same foolish enthusiasm for them as I do for other pâtisserie items, so I decided not to splurge EUR 8 (A$14) per little mould (consider that one mould doesn’t get you far, and four moulds is still a little meagre) and will just leave it for when I’m rich (assuming mortality doesn’t intervene). By the way, if it’s good chocolate moulds you’re after, Mora seems to be the place to go.
The Librairie Gourmande moved to a new location (90 rue Montmartre) near métro Sentier in the 2nd arrondissement earlier this year. It is now on two floors, so has considerably more space than the old location in the 6th. It felt a little chaotic when I was there, hopefully as a result of the recent move. It’s hard to find a really good selection of gastronomic literature in Paris and I hope this shop picks up. I’ve written previously about Librairie Badiane in Lyon, where the shop and their website were a good deal more with-it than Librairie Gourmande when I visited. (Note that the second best shop in Paris for gastronomic literature (primarily cookbooks) is probably Gilbert Joseph on Bd. Saint Michel, followed by Gilbert Jeune on Place Saint Michel.)
This year I made it to the markets on Boulevard Richard Lenoir (Oberkampf, 11th arrondissement), sometimes called the Marché Popincourt, which is my ‘local’ if I dare be so pretentious. A long way further down Bd. Richard Lenoir is the Marché Bastille. And a little to the east is the market at Place d’Aligre. The first of these three has changed from being strongly local to increasingly having tourists in the mix and merchants who know it. The Bastille market is a bit larger, but apart from some nicknacks and a Portuguese bloke selling (primarily) Italian wares (but real chouriço too!), it didn’t feel that much better than the first. The Marché d’Aligre, including the fixed covered market known as Marché Beauvau, is a much more down-to-earth affair. Some of the produce is crap. There’s a bit of a flea market. The covered market is small but has a range of meat and other produce stalls – I almost bought some horse fillet to try, but chickened out (so to speak) for fear of the opprobrium which certain Parisian friends might have directed at me. Nay, it was to be cumquats and comté rather than cheval and chèvre.
I bought lots of cumquats. Well, I asked for not so many. I got a lot. And paid for a lot. But it gave me an excuse to practise making cumquat tea. Cumquat tea? Yep. It’s quite delicious, and I had converted quite a few Parisians to it by the time I left. I would include a recipe here, but that would be a little distracting, so I shall post again once the weather is warmer in Melbourne and someone deigns to donate a bushell of cumquats to the cause.
Bon Marché (see beginning) has one more attraction: a café called Delicabar, nestled in the women’s fashion department on the first floor. Not my usual place to tarry, but well worth the exception. I first visited Delicabar after reading early mentions of it on eGullet back in 2004. The novelty? An interesting approach to desserts and pastry, and a blurring of lines between sweet and savoury. Jellies, mousses, fine pastry, vegetables, fresh flavours all find expression in ways which were, at first, novel and unexpected: a glass of spiced fruits in a jelly; a ‘bubble’ (dome) of carrot mousse; sablés (shortbreads) flavoured with olive oil or rosemary; chocolate soup; green tea tartelettes… you get the picture.
The setting was cool and bright – natural light, white walls, and curvaceous bright pink or yellow banquettes, stools and islands. Staff dressed in black. Delicabar lived up to its tagline: snack chic.
A year or two after opening, Delicabar was extended to include an open-air courtyard that is delightful in warmer weather, successfully extending the simple, naturally lit ambience of the venue.
Alas, the experience has begun to undermine the style. Last year and this, we found staff less and less engaging (they were never effusive, but stylish hauteur seems to have become unmotivated and a little tatty). Last year I found my millefeuille pastry was overcooked. This year, the previously stunning sablés tasted less fresh than usual. And the coffee had declined.
Five visits in four years might not be enough to give an accurate reflection of change – maybe I was unlucky on my last two visits – but my bar chic companions shared my view. Nonetheless, the food at Delicabar can still be special and, more interestingly, you should come back to syrupandtang in about a month’s time for more detail about the food and the chef.
After pigging out on cakes and croques monsieurs (if you feel tempted to pronounce that Crock Mon-Sewers, then please use ‘French toasted ham and cheese sandwich thingo’ instead!), cumquat tea and chouriço, tomme de brebis (a ewe’s milk version of Tomme de Savoie, I believe) and cidre, it was necessary to dine a little more upmarket. Two lovely discoveries were Le P’tit Manger (11th) on Rue Richard Lenoir, near Rue Parmentier (métro Voltaire), serving pretty good Liègeois cuisine at quite reasonable prices. Excellent confit de canard and good chips! Another place was the Corsican Restaurant Alivi at 27, Rue du Roi de Sicile in the Marais (4th). Can’t remember my main dish (veal?) but did have a delightful honey cake, a recipe for which I must go a-searching.
I’m going to separate the account of cakes and chocolate into a separate post, so stay tuned for that one.