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A Pocket Feast Paris

6 Aug

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Two summers ago, when a friend came to visit Paris. I was out of town but determined that she eat this, that and the other – that she dare not try an inferior macaron or miss out on the best Vietnamese fod in town. So I spent an afternoon in a coffee shop (Helmut Newcake) drawing all of my instructions into a notebook. Each page had something to eat and something vaguely cultural to do nearby.

I don’t know how many she followed. But the notebook was passed around, people ate things. Probably left a few buttery fingerprints on the pages, a good sign. Someone said, “but most of the cultural things are ALSO food things.” Which may have been a criticism but I took it as a compliment.

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One summer ago I bribed another friend into helping me make the notebook into a real book. She is both computer genius and wise editor. We sat in the garden in the south of France, dinking wine and brainstorming titles.

A Greedy Guide to Paris? Hungry Hippos Eat Paris?

I can’t remember when we thought of “A Pocket Feast” but it seemed appropriate, a nod to Hemingway’s Paris, a literal description of its size.

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One month ago the books arrived from the printer. Glossy and colourful, still with the hand-made, scribbled drawings from its initial conception. We are pretty proud of it. And of the website that Florence made: foodie recommendations based on the Paris book, but with tips for Berlin and Sydney as well. (More cities coming soon!)

Another friend made us beautiful wooden stands for the books: they are currently on display at Shakespeare and Company and La Cuisine Paris. Someone else is working on a very cute video advert. I am so so grateful for all of the support and help and love that went into A Pocket Feast. It took a whole family to make it real.

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If you would like to support us too: you can buy the guidebook A Pocket Feast Paris through our website – we ship worldwide. Buy one for yourself and one for presents – everyone comes to Paris evenutally! And you can like our Facebook page for more news and updates.

Thank-you a million – mille mercis! Et bon appétit!

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paris pâtisserie: chez bogato

14 Oct

chez bogato

After corridors of bones, a whimsical coloured café.

Chez Bogato is just around the corner from the Catacombs of Paris – hence the grotesque ‘Tarte Denfert’ above. Long twisting tunnels from an ancient quarry became an ossuary when the city pushed its limits; whole cemeteries of bones were uprooted and moved, eventually stacked into neat rows of femurs. I had read ‘Pure,’ a fictional account of the exhumation of Les Innocents – and was intrigued to see the real thing. Underground it was damp and oppressive. At one point my friend and I were alone, peering into a locked grate.

What’s that? she said.

Didn’t you learn anything from horror movies?! I replied.

Something shifted in the darkness, made a large thump. We jumped, squeaked and hurried on. There were displays of geological interest, fossils as well as bones and poems about death in Latin and French. After a while the walls of bones adorned with skulls in heart-shapes or crosses lost their morbid fascination and became simply sad. It was a relief to escape into bright sunlight – in a back street fully two metro stops from where we began.

We found refuge in the polar opposite – the display of colour and life and parties that is Chez Bogato. It is a baker’s paradise: full of edible glitter, dinosaur-shaped cake moulds and alphabet letter stamps. Everything you need for a children’s party, sweets hats, presents. They even do fantastical cakes on order – a diplodocus, a fairy castle –  a rarity in Paris which tends to stick to round fraisiers and square chocolate mousses on special occasions.

The tarts we tried were excellent. Beneath the marzipan skull, the ganache was smooth and bitter, almost melting. The pastry and nougatine had sesame seeds in them, a nice touch. The ‘Domino’ was a chocolate and walnut brownie, with a white chocolate mousse flecked with real vanilla seeds. All with an excellent cup of Kusmi tea at the coloured table. Otherwise they had a dessert that mimicked a tiny burger, a large flower macaron and various other ludic touches that are very original amid the mostly traditional patisseries in Paris. Full of imagination, and inspiration for the home baker. Pastry classes available for children and adults.

Chez Bogato – 7 rue Liancourt 75014, metro Denfert-Rochereau – closed Sun/Mon

Catacombs – 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy – open 10am-4pm

NB. There is normally an enormous queue of two hours or more at the Catacombs. It is worth arriving at 9am with a cup of coffee and a book to be the first ones in. It can be quite damp, so wear sensible shoes too.

paris pâtisseries: pierre hermé, or a eulogy for the macaron

10 Jun

pierre herme celeste millefeuille

Not a picture of a macaron. Because it is no more, or so it is said.

The beauty of the macaron, the good macaron, which Pierre Hermé understood straight away, is not only in their infinite variations of colour, their bijou collectible quality but in the intense shot of flavour suspended between two eggshell thin almond biscuits.

Who was it that said that the first bite is the most important? That subsequent mouthfuls are all ever-decreasing in intensity and novelty? The macaron is only one mouthful, two if you are sharing unwillingly, and so you have continued bursts of different flavours: acidic yoghurt and raspberry, concentrated freshness with cucumber, mint, apple and rocket.

The charming Italian and I tried to pin down the secret to the macaron’s success, concluding that it provides a perfect moment in all its transience, especially because it is fleeting. That Jardin du Potager macaron was like a beautiful gin and cucumber cocktail, a summer’s evening  on an otherwise grey day. More than its diminuitive size belied, it promised a few seconds of relaxation, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the sound of icecubes and the happy anticipation of supper in the garden – without the fading sunburn and impending mosquitos that stalk even the most tranquil holidays. The macaron skips the disappointment of the real experience because it is over so quickly: it goes straight from anticipation to rosy nostalgia. (Can you tell I have been reading Alain de Botton’s ‘The Art of Travel’ recently? That book thoroughly improved the early morning metro ride for me, left me travelling in my own everyday.)

So our discussion of the four coin-sized sweets in front of us was much longer than the few seconds it took for the sugar to dissolve in our mouths, and happily had all the pretention of the amateur philospher-gourmet, or of our old boss at the Louvre with his flights of exaggerated rhetoric:

“But of course the macaron is dead, it is passé! The éclair is king! We are eating an exercise in medievality!” (He often told us not only that was Paris over, buried long since, but that Warsaw was already the new Berlin. And why weren’t we over there forming an artist collective, a publishing house and an avant-garde theatre all at once?)

The macaron may well have been squashed in its delicate shell by the more substantial éclair (there was a brief interlude where the cupcake was a pretender to the crown but the French refused to take it seriously – the choux puff tried but was too similar in shape to its usurped cousin). Indeed, I had tired of the soft yielding sweetness of the macaron and of its exorbitant prices and strayed from its cult worship, seduced by greed for a longer, larger éclair. People, at least Parisians, have moved on, bored of the endless sub-par macarons in every corner bakery. A bad one is sweet, cloying, all food colouring and no essence. But it is impossible for me to pass one of Hermé’s ebony box boutiques without entering, for which I am thankful to no longer be living in the Latin quarter but in the less chic 19th arrondissement, less macarons and more kebabs.

We lingered on the way back from the Tuileries, took our time choosing the perfect parfumsHe really knows how to play with the palate, does our Pierre. Not always to everyone’s taste: some adventures in wasabi were apparently short-lived, while the idea of his Christmas editions of foie gras and fig, or white truffle and hazelnut can sound bizarre although they taste divine. (A visiting friend tried the latter and claimed, “Now I can die happy. Really.”) He dreams up his new featured dessert or fétiche range like the recent ‘Céleste’ (passionfruit, rhubarb and strawberry, pictured above) and his team of designers and pastry architects will do the experiments to produce a new capsule collection of haute pâtisserie: a macaron, a millefeuille, an émotion (a layered dessert in a glass verrine). He need only be the ideas man, and the clever business man who has made his name a global empire. He knows how to leave you desperate for more, coming back for that surprised first bite over and over.

Pierre Hermé is certainly my explanation in vivid colour of why I do what I do. I like to take people to his shop on rue  Bonaparte and just point. And if I haven’t written a straight review, if I got distracted with a post-mortem of the macaron (that will certainly be a very robust ghost for many years to come) it is because I cannot compress my words to a paragraph the same way Hermé knows how to compress flavour and delight into the smallest treat. Hyperbole maybe. I am not the only guilty party; on leaving the Italian at her office, her last words were;

“Ho ancora la bocca in giubilio.”

~~~

Pierre Hermé – to be found all over the world. Five main boutiques and several concessions in Paris alone. My favourite is on the rue Bonaparte near St-Sulpice, but the rue Vaugirard boutique has much less of a queue on weekends. Store locations and opening times (as well as unfairly appetising pictures).

 

paris pâtisseries: l’éclair de génie

6 Feb

les eclairs de genie

The cupcake is dead, long live the cupcake. Everyone is looking for the next trend, that one simple item that can be customised in a million ways and sold for a fortune.

The man behind L’Éclair de Génie  may indeed be a genius. After the multi-coloured macarons, the American cupcakes, on the heels of Popelini’s range of cute choux puffs, comes the éclair in infinite flavours. Christophe Adam knows what he is doing – not least because he made the éclair into a luxury item at Fauchon back in 2003 – because he now has a designer boutique in the Marais, that sells only éclairs and truffles. Even at 4.50-5€ each, it is apparently doing so well after only six weeks he plans to open another shop straightaway.

I had to see what all the fuss was about – and to see, more importantly if his éclairs could beat the neighbouring pasteis de nata. Those custard tarts are my favourite example of one quality product, made fresh and perfect every day.

The boutique is egg-yellow and white, with elegant vendeuses wearing sleek black gloves. The line of éclairs stretches almost the length of the shop, a rainbow selection adorned with rose petals, striped icing and the Christophe Adam classic: arty transfers that make the pastry into a Louvre-worthy painting. I paid €14 (somewhat begrudgingly) for three small eclairs and carried the box home as if it contained delicate jewels.

The choux pastry seemed just right – not too tough nor too flimsy. The cream inside was liquid silk. Pistachio and orange was more subtle than I expected, the crème de pistache the palest green with just a touch of bitter orange. The Madagascan vanilla covered with a rubble of toasted pecans was a nice contrast of textures – with enough real vanilla seeds to pop between your teeth if you listened carefully. While the lemon and yuzu was rich and lovely, the extra-bitter twist that should have been the yuzu flavour – another ingredient à la mode at the moment – was a little lost. But that is the only criticism I can find; they were excellent eclairs. Well, that and the cost. Half the size of a boulangerie éclair, and twice the price. But they are special enough to rival even my beloved custard tarts. L’Éclair de Génie is inspired.

l'eclair de genie box

~~~

L’Éclair de Génie – 14 rue Pavée, 75004 Paris, métro St Paul – closed Mondays

*The name means ‘a flash of inspiration.’

paris patisseries: comme à lisbonne

20 Aug

Just that, just custard tarts. Ever since reading about the famous pasteis de Belem, I have wanted to go to Lisbon to try them. (I hear the city itself is quite nice too.) Now the pocket-sized Comme à Lisbonne is open in the Marais, I bypass my once beloved falafel, walk straight past the long queue for Pozzetto and order one tart. Then I keep walking, partly because there is only room for two at the tiny counter, partly because it is almost impossible not to order another straightaway.

That’s all they make – a layered and incredibly buttery pastry shell that holds a barely set custard. They are always still warm, right from the oven. They make up to a thousand a day. No other flavours, but the option of a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. They do one thing and they do it superlatively well.

Never thought I’d say but for me, the pasteis de nata beats the macaron hands down…

Comme à Lisbonne37 rue roi de Sicile, 75004 – Metro St Paul (Closed Mondays)

paris patisseries: hugo et victor

12 Jul

It doesn’t look like a cake shop. Single examples of each dessert are enclosed in glass cases. Spherical glossy chocolate in rainbow colours come presented in a little book. Each sweet thing is treated with the reverence usually reserved for diamonds.

In fact, just peering at each creation has a Holly Golightly effect on me –  admiring the colours and shapes, the seasonal themes can make any mean reds disappear, can remind me why I spend such long hours learning patisserie.

Hugo et Victor is famous for their individual tarts, beautiful thin slivers encased in pastry. Unadorned grapefruit slices glistened, tempting. The strawberry tart even has a red strawberry flavoured pate sablee. They also come in icecream versions, an elegant triangular wedge sandwiched with fine layers of chocolate and biscuit.

But we fell for the seasonal fetish. (Following Pierre Herme, avant gard pastry shops like to spotlight certain flavours or forms for a limited run, call it a “fetiche”.) They had rose, apricot and verveine (lemon verbena) the latter of which we had never tasted before apart from in a tisane. Being pastry nerds recently diplomaed, we spent a good ten minutes choosing. I plumped for the verveine religieuse, and she a very sleek verbena mousse with a lemon centre.

They were both very delicate, light and faintly herby. The religieuse was creamy and simple, just a sprinkle of sugar and dried verveine on a ganache-like icing. The mousse was much more classically beautiful, with a powdery green velvet coating (that I now know comes from an airbrush gun). Its lemon (or was it lemongrass?) heart was indeed juicy and delicious.

My only complaint: such high end patisseries often refuse to give out forks. One is supposed to return home and have the butler neatly plate and serve the desserts on the best silver. Luckily I always have a spoon in my handbag for emergency sugar situations!

Hugo et Victor40 boulevard Raspail 75007 – metro Sevres-Babylon

paris patisseries: jacques genin

27 Jun

Once upon a time, when I had guests at the rue Dauphine, I would always take them for breakfast in the same spot. Just for the hot chocolate. Poured from a slim white jug, so rich it needed a carafe of water to wash it down, it was a special occasion.

However, I have now been reliably informed (pastry contacts) that cockroaches roam the fridges under the elegant tearoom, that mice come out to play in the evenings. So I can’t recommend it anymore. Sorry, loves.

My new visiting spot – where I have seen the spotless laboratories with my own eyes – is an achingly chic boutique in the Marais. Jacques Genin. Just a monogram in the windows, inside an enormous space with rough brick walls, square beige armchairs. The same hushed politeness and spiked flower arrangements as in an expensive hotel lobby.

Best of all, it has a real hot chocolate, the kind that is whisked together simply with milk and pure melted chocolate. The kind that comes with a glass of water and a few squares of the house bonbons to try – dark ganache or sweet praline – as if you needed anything else. It sticks to your ribs, fills in all the gaps, leaves you replete but not sickened with sugar. It is not sweet at all.

It tastes even better iced: a tall tumbler and a straw, a thick foam on top.

The patisseries are not by the by either. Classics revisited for a sleeker shape and an intense flavour. Try the honey-caramel and walnut tart or the lemon tart garnished with a few scrapings of lime zest. I was sorely tempted by the “Ephemere” – with what looked like a lighter than light bar of chocolate mousse and a stripe of passionfruit mousse on top. Or the millefeuille, made to order so it is perfectly crisp, with vanilla or chocolate or fresh raspberries.

Genin is famous for his Paris-Brest as well. A ring of choux pastry sprinkled with nuts, jacked up with impossible skyscraper swirls of hazelnut praline cream.

The apple tart won out, as a benchmark, a rigorous test. It passed. Feather thin slices layered over a caramelised puff pastry base. (When we went up the spiral staircase later to peek in the sunny workshop, I saw a woman meticulously assembling just one apple tart. She had a ruler to make sure it reached four or five centimetres high.) A last touch of caramel to add a little crack to the soft buttery apples. Just right.

Jacques Genin – 133 rue Turenne – closed Mondays

Expect to pay about € 6-8 for a patisserie and € 5-10 for a drink

paris patisseries: yamazaki

23 Mar

If I tell my Japanese colleagues I have been out to eat Japanese food in Paris, they normally tut, laugh and recommend me somewhere better. Then they go off on a tangent and talk about the best ramen in Tokyo. (I know just enough food vocabulary to understand at least this.) The fact is, the Japanese know about eating. They appreciated high art in culinary design long before we did; consequently they have amassed more Michelin stars than France (for shame).

So, I know that Naritake has the best ramen (as long as you ask for extra broth to dilute the powerful miso.) Jipangue has shabu-shabu to die for: thin strips of marbled beef to wave through a pot of stock until just cooked, then dipped in lemon-soy dressing. What about desserts? For a start there is Yamazaki, an international name.

There are branches all over the world: Tokyo, Malaysia, Paris. Here the shop is an odd mix of high art and the local lunch spot. They have standard sandwiches and packets of financiers, but also bottles of champagne and the ubiquitous coloured rows of macarons. It’s not a cosy tea room: stark lit, functional, with bold red and grey lilies stencilled on the walls.

I tried something different amid the classics, a champagne dessert: a translucid gold bubble, a fine circle of orange-brushed chocolate perched on top, a touch of gold leaf. Break through the bubble and my first thought was Christmas. The delightful headiness of alchol-soaked fruit, envelopped in a light champagne and apricot mousse, hiding a pistachio biscuit and the drunken prunes. Surprisingly, it works: a subtle mix of flavours, different layers of colour.

Worth a visit: though yuzu and matcha are everywhere these days, Yamazaki Aoki carries off the mix of Japanese and French patisserie with aplomb.

Around 5 euros for a small individual dessert, 2 euros for a chou puff.

Yamazaki – 6 Chaussée Muette, 75016 – metro La Muette – open every day

paris patisseries: sebastien gaudard vs. cyril lignac

11 Mar

Sooner or later, everyone wants their name up in lights.

Or on cake boxes.

At pastry school, our art lessons consist of squiggly letters, geometric Christmas trees and three dimensional roses. All for decorating cakes. And of course, designing our own monograms for the lucky few that will make it big.

In Paris, most of the new and exciting patisseries are also just names. You have the king, Pierre Herme, the chocolatiers Jacques Genin and Jean-Paul Hevin, and Carl Marletti south of the Seine.

Sooner or later, everyone wants their initials decorating their shiny shop windows, their signature on chocolate tarts.

Two of the latest – and best – of the bunch are Sebastien Gaudard and Cyril Lignac. Both have eponymous patisseries (the latter called “La Patisserie by Cyril Lignac”) in chic quartiers, both sell a subtle twist on the traditional. Both sell quality products on which they can be proud to put their names.

First up, Sebastien, “le petit prince de la patisserie”:

Gaudard’s shop has elbowed its way into a quintessially Parisian crowd: the butcher, the baker, the organic olive oil and specialty jam shops. In Montmartre, with an obligatory glimpse of the Sacre Coeur as you head up the rue des Martyrs. The shopfront is sober – none of the bells and whistles of the local artisan – just dark green, gold letters.

Inside, the antique mirrors and bare marble slabs reflect a neat row of patisseries, all in shades of cream and gold and mahogany. There are cream puffs and eclairs, rum babas and dark forest cakes. An individual dessert wrapped in paper-thin chocolate like a present. The lemon tart is perfectly glossy, with a faint wisp, an imprint of a lemon slice. The chocolate mendiant tart in the window also looks tempting.

Right in the centre is another glass display case, antique or slightly battered. Gazing down at the large raspberry dome inside, it feels like evaluating fine jewellery. Everything is beautiful. Even the handsome chef himself is there, easily spotted from his book covers behind him, to politely wrap your croissant.

I tried the apple tart: a classic with infinite variations. The puff pastry was good, the apples just right. But it was a little underwhelming, especially at 4 euros for a teeny slice. I wished I had picked something more adventurous to better judge.

Next day: La Patisserie by Cyril Lignac

A little further east, not far from Bastille, this new patisserie also picked a prime location on the rue Paul Bert, cosying up to one of my favourite places, Bistrot Paul Bert, and the cute cookbookery shop La Cocotte. It is a smaller shop, less grand perhaps, but still stripped bare in a consciously designed way. Where Gaudard sold chocolates alongside, Lignac has baguettes neatly lined up. And a line of impatient customers, including the ever-exacting neighbourhood Granny, a good sign.

Strikingly enough, both Lignac and Gaudard go for the same colour palette: all caramel, chocolate, lemon, vanilla. They both propose infinitely shiny versions of childhood favourites. No artificial neon inventions, no macarons even. Lignac’s deviation from the norm is to make his individual tart in crisp-cornered squares – and his signature Equinoxe dessert in a startling grey, just bright red circles for decoration. Rather admirable in fact, that there are no strawberries out of season, no hothouse pineapples or fake pistachio colouring. Just slivers of vanilla bean to decorate.

Here, I tried a millefeuille: only two layers of puff pastry instead of the usual three, enclosing a silky pastry cream, topped with a neat wave of vanilla-speckled chantilly. It was beautiful, and tasted beautiful. Just right.

In fact, used to bright colours and an abundance of kitsch, or intimidating designer boutiques, I was rather impressed to see both chefs attempt – and succeed at – the perfection of their craft before the shock of invention. Both stayed with seasonal treats (it will be interesting to see what summer brings) and made smaller, more elegant versions of the classics. No cheaper for being small, of course: count on 4-5 euros per dessert, which is still less than Laduree et al.

My final verdict? Gaudard’s shop was prettier, a temple to patisserie, but Lignac just edged him out on taste. However more extensive testing is definitely required!

Sebastien Gaudard – 22 rue des Martyrs, Paris 75009 – closed on Mondays

La Patisserie by Cyril Lignac –  24 rue Paul Bert Paris 75011 – also closed Mondays

paris patisseries: sugarplum cake shop

8 Feb

To start, a bakery that is the opposite of Parisian.

A cheery voice sings out, “hey how are ya?”. Kids work on their super slim laptops around a big wooden table. There is a purple sofa. The cakes are four tiers high, carrot and mocha and lemon. Of course, there are cupcakes.

Have you guessed what it is yet?

It’s an intelligently cute American cafe, with speciality teas and homemade lemonade brewed with real vanilla beans. You get all the sincere cheeriness (of which English English people are very suspicious) and the knowhow of the modern American coffee shop, but in the Latin Quarter instead of Brooklyn.

Order a triangular cheese and chive scone or a cookie and settle down peacefully for the afternoon (when you’re sick of the French, naturally). Don’t forget to check out their towering celebration cakes: butterflies and ribbons and even Superman!

Sugarplum Cake Shop – 68 rue Cardinal Lemoine, Paris 75006

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