Tag Archives: paris

next door

21 Sep

Five years as a pastry chef and I never learned how to poach an egg properly. It never came up. I liked crispy-fried eggs for my breakfast, when I wasn’t eating croissants at work.

And then I landed in a new place, a mixture of happenstance and good friends, and poached eggs were on the menu. On everything. My failure rate was high, in the beginning. I looked at every ‘easiest / best poached egg technique’ on the internet and I ate the disastrous ones for breakfast and lunch and snacks. I felt like Frances the badger when she is ‘Tired…of…jam.‘ And finally a friend, a French-trained chef, walked me through it. I had everything backwards. It was supposed to be the deepest pot in the kitchen, whole cups of vinegar and a light smattering of bubbles, like expensive fizzy water. The finished egg should feel like the fleshy part at the crease of a bent elbow. The chasm between reading about something and experiencing it is vast.

In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the sushi chef’s apprentice explains that it was ten years of prep work, massaging the octopus to make it tender, before he was allowed to make omelettes. And it was two hundred failed omelettes – failed in that they did not meet Jiro’s high standards – before he made one that was worthy of a nod of approval. The apprentice cried with relief, pride.

I haven’t signed up for any classes this autumn. Last year it was illustration, before that bread, and Japanese. I like the discomfort of the steep slope on a new learning curve. This year I am working on my eggs. I still mess a few up, and still eat those ones for lunch. The rest are good.

And I get the best coffee as a reward.

recipes of note

17 May

market, rhubarb, turnips, blood oranges

Pictured, from our Friday market: rhubarb stalks, limes, blood oranges, baby turnips and their leaves. Not pictured: cauliflower, kohlrabi, cooked beetroot, leeks, carrots, celery, and a bunch of coriander tossed in for free.

The leek tops went in the freezer for later on. Tender cauliflower leaves and turnip greens were sautéed with garlic and made into lunch with sriracha, lentils and a fried egg. The rhubarb I cut up and tossed with lemon juice and sugar, then let it sit in the fridge in its baking dish to release its juices and form a syrup, to be roasted later. It will make a beautifully sharp-sweet compote without turning to mush.

~~~

For the last couple of months, I have been helping out at Freegan Pony (silly name, great concept): a restaurant supplied by donations of fruit and veg from Paris’ central market, produce that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of day. Perfectly good food, that might be a little bruised, or have one brown leaf. A team of volunteers turns out a three course meal – vegetarian or vegan, for 80-100 people – in an abandoned warehouse space under the périphérique (Paris’ ring road). Filled with old sofas, mismatched chairs and tables, it feels like an enormous living room. It is a lot of fun, and a good lesson not to waste food. (They are currently being threatened with eviction – the petition to save the space is here if you’d like to add your name.)

In the morning, you receive the list of produce from that morning’s market and have a couple of hours to imagine a menu to make that afternoon. I find it a satisfying form of stress to come up with something balanced, colourful, mostly based on vegetables, easy to prepare for a crowd AND still delicious. Here are some of the recipes I have successfully borrowed:

  • Gjelina’s mojo de ajo – a garlicky citrus sauce that should be used to liven up any combination of vegetables, fresh or roasted (via 101 cookbooks)
  • Smitten Kitchen’s carrot, tahini and roast chickpea salad as well as her easy flatbread
  • Sprouted Kitchen’s crunchy tofu chopped salad (Adapted to use up some red cabbage, apple, carrot and celeriac. Even people that don’t like tofu couldn’t stop stealing pieces once it was fried in sesame oil.)
  • Aglaia Kremezi’s potato-caper dip (but patted into burger-sized cakes, coated in polenta and fried)
  • Ottolenghi’s rosewater malabi (milk pudding) made with coconut milk and topped with pomegranate seeds
  • A moist, spiced banana bread that is surprisingly vegan
  • …and a simple sliced fennel and orange salad with a mustardy vinaigrette (no recipe needed!)

Once I had scaled the recipes up to feed a hundred people, I packed my bag with some essential tools, condiments, ingredients to add some punch to vegetarian cooking:

  • a good zester (microplane) and lemons or limes
  • bunches of coriander, mint, parsley
  • sesame oil, rice vinegar, miso
  • harissa or sriracha
  • preserved lemons, capers
  • garlic, lots of garlic
  • mustard
  • stale breadcrumbs (the poor man’s parmesan – or a good substitute for toasted nuts)
  • coconut milk
  • toasted sesame seeds

a picnic fit for a prince

15 Aug

chantilly castle

Less than an hour away from Paris – 30 minutes on the train and a short walk – is the Chantilly castle with its enormous, pristine grounds. Designed by Le Nôtre, the landscape architect for Versailles, the place feels virtually empty in comparison. Perfect setting for a picnic. Or two picnics, for the truly serious outing/eating.

We had several cheeses, three kinds of bread, including my favourite nuage tressé (plaited sourdough with crème fraîche), salami, Tyrrells crisps, peaches, hummus with preserved lemon, aubergine dip, and roasted aubergines. Cubed and baked with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and whole coriander seeds, packed in more oil, they were silky and delicious piled onto baguettes with extra aubergine dip.

It was gloriously hot as we followed the shade around the ‘jardin anglais’ (the English section of the garden is supposed to be more wild, sauvage, than the manicured geometry of the French half). We said hi to the sheep and donkeys then cooled off in the château, admiring the gilt trimmings and the crooked nose of the prince that lived there, the duc d’Orléans. (The main castle is actually a reconstruction of the original destroyed in the French Revolution.)

Between us we polished off a dish of real chantilly cream – as I learned at pastry school, whipped cream sweetened with 10% sugar and flavoured naturally. And then, when tired of culture, we picnicked again in the hameau (not a hammock, sadly, but the hamlet that was the inspiration for Marie-Antoinette’s ‘little farm’), eating the leftover chocolate choux puffs and wondering lazily if the enclos de kangourous at the end of the park had real kangaroos in it, or if it was a euphemism. We took naps instead, under the loosely waving branches.

~~~

To get to the castle: catch a train to Chantilly-Gouvieux from the Gare du Nord, then follow the signs to the Château, past the Hippodrome. About a 20 minute walk. You can buy tickets just for the grounds, or for the castle as well. (Includes Horse Museum, which we did not visit.) Highly recommended as a peaceful alternative to Versailles, as is Vaux-Le-Vicomte, at Melun on the RER D; or Chamarande on the RER C: less grand, but with beautiful grounds.

leftovers (08.12.2014)

8 Dec

octopus lisbon

Recent leftovers include:

Too many roast potatoes turned into soup with a whole roasted bulb of garlic and lots of coriander.

Tartines of onion jam, goat’s cheese and caramelised fennel at 5 o’clock in the morning. Perfect midnight feast food.

Thumbprint cookies made of scraps of buttery tart pastry from the salted caramel pecan tart, rolled into balls and covered in coconut. Pressed each ball firmly with a thumb, indent filled with raspberry-tangerine jam. Baked until golden.

Recently reading/writing:

Since Paris seems to be enjoying a second wave of japonisme I am  re-reading the first few chapters of The Hare with the Amber Eyes.

Both David Lebovitz and Tim Hayward in the FT magazine (free registration necessary to read) have been talking about travelling and the fine balance between wanting to find the “undiscovered” away from any other tourists, and of course, needing a guide. Which I thought about when I went to Lisbon last month with a friend: some places live up to the hype, are worth repeating, worth the queue. (The pasteis de Belem really were fantastic, although now I know the Paris version comes a pretty close second.) Some, selfishly, I did not want to spoil by sharing, like the fantastic octopus at Jeronimo.

This weekend I am off to Madrid. I will be packing an Everyman/Cartoville guide: my favouite guidebooks (apart from my own of course!) since they are simple and condensed with fold out maps for each area. This article about Hemingway’s Madrid. And a new sketchbook – I have been playing with watercolour, trying to do more rough sketches to capture the feel of a city, like the lovely Sketchbook from Southern France.

And totally un-related to food, for a diversion from work on a Friday afternoon, I look forward to Ann Friedman’s newsletter in my inbox. Full of links for recent funny, thought-provoking words around the web.

Bonne semaine!

A Pocket Feast Paris

6 Aug

0 - acover (1)

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.

08 - helmut newcake

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.

26 - les musees1

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.

37 - gontran cherrier2

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!

apple and cheese soufflés, and cheat’s ratatouille

10 Mar

apple cheese souffles 1

There is a magnificent sunset outside, swathes of pink on a clear, blue sky. From the bridge at the end of my road, it is criss-crossed with black wires hung over the train lines. I like the contrast. Walking back home, along a route I never take, I look up and see a classic silhouette behind a skyscraper, the dome and tower of the Sacré-Coeur. Normally I never go that way, normally I go inwards to the centre of Paris’ clock-face. But Paris extra-muros is being steadily smartened and I had been to visit the new Ciné-Cité on the outskirts, pristine and echoing still. I shouldn’t be surprised that there is more to discover, that a different road will yield such different results. The day before a long run took me past a British telephone box stranded in the Paris suburbs, fully functional with a dial tone and everything. It is a tiny city sometimes, and sometimes even after three and a half years I don’t know it at all.

Talk about leaving my comfort zone in increments. I curl up on the sofa with a pile of cookbooks the afternoon of the dinner party with the will to make something new… And what really leaps out out at me are the soufflés. The way I open a menu and instantly know I must have that  or I will be disappointed. But I already wrote about soufflés three posts ago. And I will make them with goat’s cheese, which has been so over-done the Guardian has been panicking about a desperate shortage of the stuff. What’s more, the recipe comes from my mother’s cookbook.

apple cheese souffles 3

What can I say? Everyone has food phases, cravings, repetitive habits – see also, the Croutons for Breakfast period circa 1998 – and though they may be a la mode, I can’t resist making more soufflés. Their craggy puff, their splendour as they arrive at the table – and above all, their relative ease. Granted, I can only make four at a time because of my little oven, but I only need ingredients lying around the kitchen – cheese, milk, butter, eggs and in this case, an apple – and a good whisk. As simple as an omelette, but more spectacular.

A couple of hours before dinner, I fried an apple in butter, then made a simple béchamel sauce. When it was thick and creamy, I added egg yolks, goat’s cheese and apple. That was it. The egg whites waited on one side for the last minute.

cheat's ratatouille 2

Meanwhile, the oven did all the work for the laziest (best) ratatouille I have ever tried. One large aubergine, one courgette and one red pepper were roasted whole until blackened and collapsing in on themselves. (The aubergine gave up the ghost first, the courgette was made of tougher stuff.) Once baked soft, they need all of ten seconds to chop roughly – can be done with kitchen scissors, even. All I had to do was gently saute a clove or two of garlic in some olive oil, add a tomato and done. Stir them all together, season. Best of all, no squeaky aubergine: too often ratatouille has cubes of polystyrene eggplant swimming in watery sauce because it takes so long to cook each vegetable to the proper consistency. This oven-roasted version was silky, meltingly tender and took less effort than reading this paragraph.

So after half an hour’s actual work, I was done. Wash up, go back to the sofa for more tea. Pretend to be the consummate hostess when my guests arrive. When they do, when they begin to look hungry despite the crisps and crackers, all that needs doing is preheating the oven, whisking the egg whites and gently folding in the rich béchamel. The soufflés were over enthusiastic, bursting from their dishes. Even better. Brown around the edges, fluffy in the middle, with the subtle tang of apple balancing the goat’s cheese: they were comforting and ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary. Just right for a Wednesday.

cheat's ratatouille 1

Apple and cheese soufflés

from Victoria O’Neill’s Seasonal Secrets –  she suggests using blue cheese (in which case omit the salt). Her version is also twice baked, which means you bake them, let them cool for 20 minutes then turn them out of the ramekins onto a baking tray and reheat for 10 minutes when needed. This reduces last minute preparation, and leads to a slightly more crisp texture – but I like the pomp of a freshly baked soufflé. Serve with salad and toasted walnuts for a starter, or with ratatouille, some steamed potatoes and bread for a filling main course.

makes 8 starter size or 4 main course size

100g butter, divided into 30/70g

1 large apple (160g)

50g plain flour

300ml milk

100g cheese – mild goat’s cheese or strong blue, according to taste

(3/4 tsp salt – omit if using blue cheese!)

pepper

4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites

You will need some ramekins or little straight-sided dishes so that the soufflés rise properly. For the small, starter size they should be about 8cm across, for the larger 11-12cm.

Melt 30g butter in a small saucepan; peel and finely chop the apple. Cook the apple in butter, covered, for 5 minutes or until soft and golden. Tip into a bowl. In the same saucepan, melt the rest of the butter. Using a pastry brush, thoroughly coat the inside of your ramekins with butter. Dust them with a little flour, rolling them around so the flour covers the sides and bottom. Set aside.

Add the flour to the melted butter and stir well to make a roux. Let it cook for a minute or two until it smells slightly nutty, so that the flour loses its raw taste. Off the heat, add the milk a little at a time, whisking in between to remove lumps. Return to the heat and cook until thick and creamy and just starts to bubble. Decant into the bowl with the apples. Crumble in the cheese, add salt (if using) and pepper and finally the egg yolks. Stir. Clingfilm the surface so it doesn’t form a skin. Have the egg whites in a separate, large, clean bowl – also with clingfilm over it to stop any contamination. Whites whisk best at room temperature.

(All of the above can be prepared in advance. If it is more than a couple of hours beforehand, refrigerate the béchamel and whites and bring to room temperature before using. Alternatively, bake the soufflés straightaway as below. Then when they have cooled – 20 minutes or so – ease them out of their ramekins with a palette knife and turn onto a baking tray. Reheat when needed.)

Preheat the oven to 200C and whisk the whites to stiff peaks. Stir a quarter into the béchamel sauce to lighten it, then tip it all into the whites and fold together, careful not to lose the air. Fill ramekins to the brim, smooth the tops. Run a knife around the edge to help them rise up evenly. Turn the oven down to 180C and bake for 25 minutes, until they have puffed up, turned golden-brown and feel reasonably firm to the touch.

Serve immediately.

apple cheese souffles 2

Cheat’s Ratatouille

serves 4 as a side dish

1 large aubergine

1 large red pepper

1 large or 2 small courgettes

1 large or 2 small tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

Heat oven to 250C. Line a baking tray with foil. Stab the aubergine and pepper several times with a fork. If using a large courgette, slice in half, otherwise leave everything whole. Bake for 20 minutes or so until the vegetables have collapsed and, for the pepper, blackened around the edges. Remove any vegetables that cook quicker – my courgette needed an extra ten minutes to really soften. Meanwhile, peel and smash the garlic cloves with the back of a knife; cook in the olive oil until soft but not brown. Roughly chop the tomato and sauté for a couple of minutes until it breaks down. Chop the roasted vegetables with knife or kitchen scissors (remove stalk and seeds from pepper) and pour away any liquid that seeps out. Add to tomato, garlic, and heat through. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Serve.

blueberry, chocolate and coconut soufflés

23 Jan

souffle 3

(The day I remembered I loved Paris, for future reference when the city seems cold and shrill once again.)

Woken by the sun and the commotion of traffic, earlier than a holiday, already three hours later than my workday, I pulled on a blue dress to walk to the corner bakery for breakfast. On the way back I snapped off the point of the baguette to test; at home I knocked over the clothes rack and woke you. We had our croissants dipped in coffee and apricots plump with juice.

Late as ever we caught the metro to the Opera Garnier, to be tourists for the morning. The guide asked the children in our tour group who might have designed the palatial structure: not a trick question. Charles Garnier was not long left the Beaux Arts, winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome when he was asked to design a new opera house for Napoleon III. A rainbow of marble, intricate Italian mosaics and real gold leaf plastered everywhere lead into the main auditorium where we tipped our heads back to admire the scandalously modern Chagall ceiling, seven tonne chandelier and ring of soft globe lights, Garnier’s “pearl necklace.” We laughed to hear that the best seats had been designed to be seen, not to see the stage. On the roof there are beehives (honey sold at Fauchon down the street), while underneath in the reservoir that served for fire safety as well as acoustics, firemen fish for carp. We looked out over the main avenue, marvelled at the sheer scale and detail of the building. I learned things, for even after three years living here my list of sights is still unfinished. We worked up an appetite for our next eating, a short walk away.

On the menu were soufflés, savoury and sweet. An unassuming restaurant behind the fancy hotels that flank the Tuileries that offers a lunchtime menu of soufflé and green salad followed by soufflé and coffee. Brought with due pomp and circumstance, they did not risk falling; they were very stable but still light and airy inside. Rich with cheese and egg, really just an omelette dolled up for the opera in a hoop skirt, they are extremely satisfying to eat. Their colours decorated the plain dining room: craggy mountain green for spinach and goat’s cheese, tutu pink for raspberry. Chocolate has its own sauceboat. The Grand Marnier comes with a whole bottle to souse as liberally as you wish. Though some of the flavours veered on artificial (peach and apricot was too much like perfumed soap for me) overall the airy creatures were delicious, they were fun.

Blinking at the glare from the sun, we crossed the Tuileries for some lèche-vitrine in St-Germain. Literally “window-licking”, but we were too full even for Pierre Herme macarons. You suggested we see the Chagall expo in the Luxembourg gardens, inspired by the ceiling, a pathway through exile, love and grief all in primary colours. We had time for a swim, the cool water open to the air. You spotted the twins, a pair of identical seventy-year-old sisters in matching cap and costume (later, the same trousers and cardigans) that we had seen at a different Parisian pool years before.

Enough time to traipse home, less sticky and hot, to change for the opera. We were happily over-dressed for an under-done building – it wasn’t the morning’s gilt edifice but the rather more intimate Bouffes du Nord, discovered by Peter Brook in the 70s and left in its charmingly dilapidated state. The paint peels off the rusty-red walls, the front row is directly on the stage. Props comprised only some upright bamboo poles, to serve as palace and jungle and sword.  The whole surroundings left space for the ethereal music, The Magic Flute, sung in German, enough to give you chills; and the quick banter, mostly in French. It was short, an hour and a half of suspended time, breath held. Afterwards it took us a while to shake off the wonder, despite the prosaic metro ride home. You bought some mint from the Indian shop down the road; we sat on the balcony just big enough for two and ate salad. At 11pm, the traffic was still buzzing, the neon-clashing lights of the internet shop below still lit. We gazed at the tree above, talked about nothing and finally went to bed.

souffle 1

Tours at the Opera Garnier (in English at 11.30am and 2.30pm, Wed/Sat/Sun or every day in holidays and July/August)

Lunch at Le Soufflé, (€26 menu, best to book, tel: +33 142602719)

Swim at Piscine Georges Hermant (outdoor pool only in summer)

Opera, theatre, concerts at Les Bouffes du Nord

…and if we hadn’t been so tired, it would have been supper at the best (vegetarian) Indian in Paris, Krishna Bhavan.

~~

Since then, I thought soufflés a little intimidating to make at home, especially in my small oven. Rowley Leigh rescued me with his detailed and clear instructions that took up more of his column than usual. His soufflé Vendôme – a cheese one with a poached egg in the middle that miraculously stays runny – with tomato sauce is just right, rich and fluffy with the contrasting tang of tomato. Again for emphasis: it has a poached egg suspended in a cloud of cheese. Wondrous. So good in fact that I will do it no justice by paraphrasing, so here is the link: Rowley Leigh’s Soufflé Vendôme. He makes six starters, but for a main course you can make the same amount of mixture, only three poached eggs and bake in larger dishes (10cm).

Here is a dessert instead, one that worked first time and would be infinitely adaptable. It has a fruit base, with little pockets of melted chocolate and coconut for texture, and it rose like a dream. The blueberries did turn the egg whites an alarming shade of grey-blue but were delicious nonetheless. You can use frozen fruit since it is then cooked down into a jammy mixture, to recreate the summer, until it is time for dresses and pools again.

souffle 2

Blueberry,chocolate and coconut soufflés

From Australian Gourmet Traveller, December 2013

Makes 6 – Works with cherries, raspberries or other soft fruit. Try to find shredded coconut rather than desiccated, it is chunkier and juicier.

Cocoa + soft butter for moulds

200g (frozen) blueberries

110g caster sugar, divided in half

15g cornflour

150g egg whites (5 eggs)

60g dark chocolate (70%)

40g shredded coconut + extra for sprinkling

Grease six small ramekins (or oven-proof coffee cups with straight sides) with the soft butter. Then tip in a teaspoon of cocoa and roll ramekin around until the sides are totally coated. Tip excess into next ramekin, repeat. Refrigerate.

Defrost blueberries and blend them roughly, leaving a few chunky bits. In a small saucepan, heat puree with half the caster sugar (55g) until it dissolves. Pour a little into a small bowl with the cornflour and mix well to remove lumps. Tip it back into the saucepan with the rest and simmer, stirring every now and then, for 10 minutes or so until thick like jam. Let cool.

Measure out the egg whites and remaining 55g caster in separate bowls. Chop the chocolate finely, weigh the coconut. Stop at this point, if you are not ready to eat dessert. Egg whites whip better at room temperature anyway. (Alternatively, make up the soufflés and refrigerate for 1 hour before baking.)

While serving the main course, heat the oven to 190C. When main course is over, boil the kettle. Then beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, adding the sugar gradually as it becomes opaque. Stir a spoonful of whites into the blueberries. Carefully fold everything together without losing the volume. Spoon into the six ramekins and smooth the tops. Run a knife around the edge to help it rise. Sprinkle a little coconut on each. Place in a deep baking tray or roasting tin and fill it with the boiling water, halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 11-12 minutes. The soufflés should have browned and risen a couple of centimetres and feel firm to touch. Insert a skewer to check: it should have a bit of melted chocolate on it but not drippy mixture. Place each ramekin on a small plate and serve immediately.

paris apéros: le baron rouge

21 Nov

oysters

Around the corner from the place d’Aligre (and the best market in Paris) is the convivial wine-bar Le Baron Rouge. Lean on an old wine barrel, for it is often busy, standing room only, and enjoy a plate of rich charcuterie: salami, ham and rillettes. Ask for a recommendation for the wine, as they really know their stuff. Don’t be afraid to taste and reject either: the first suggestion was too sharp for both us, the second just right. They sell bottles as well as wine by the litre from enormous barrels. Outside, there are crates of oysters from Normandy or Brittany cracked in front of you and served with brown bread and butter. An picturesquely gruff French man was waiting for the servers to crack a dozen so he could take them home for his dinner.

My friends persuaded me to try the slippery things – a dreadful lacuna in my food education – or at least, two of them did. The third swore blind that they were horrid, salty, gross. We poured cold water on her by inventing a new idiom: she was oystering our experience. Later that same night there was a tipsy argument as to the true signification of said phrase: whether it meant to deliberately sabotage or just to be a pessimist about X. Eventually we agreed to accept meanings one and two in our imaginary modern compendium of food phraseology. Common usage: don’t oyster my idea!

All of which is besides the point: my first oyster was simply lemony and refreshing. The brown bread and butter was a perfect accompaniment, the bar lively and the wine delightful.

Le Baron Rouge: 1 Rue Théophile Roussel, 75012, metro: Ledru-Rollin – closed Monday

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 apéros : l’antipode

30 Sep

canal de l'ourcq, da cruz graffiti

On my run along the canal the other day, I noticed a few novelties sprung up since the summer holidays. There were a group of teenagers slacklining between the trees (like tightrope walking, close to the ground). Someone had hung up four or five birdcages in another tree, each full of coloured parakeets for sale. There was some new street art: someone had cemented green tile mosaic frogs (not pixellated like Space Invaders but realist) low down near the playground, and a blue dog by the bridge. My beloved canal, the centre of my quartier, the 19th arrondissment is becoming more and more cool – no sign more obvious than the new frozen yoghurt stand near the MK2 cinemas. And the hipster with a ponytail and a ukelele case, giant teddybear in his bikebasket.

Every now and then an English magazine will run a story about the Canal St Martin as the lastest hip spot in Paris – in wide-eyed wonder, almost, they let you in on this secret area beyond the Marais, way beyond the Latin quarter and miles from the Eiffel Tower. It has bars by the water, boutiques, plenty of space for picnics and a little park. Rarely do they go up as far as MY canal, actually the same one further north, with a different name: the Canal de l’Ourcq. When I moved here three years ago I didn’t know the area at all well except as between Montmartre and Belleville, about five past two on the Parisian clockface. It had that cinema festival which seemed so far from the centre (all of 25 minutes on the metro).

I came to see the apartment, already paid for, on a cold January morning. Our street had a drab pizzeria, a miscellaneous Asian restaurant, a kebaberie and a large bakery on the corner. The apartment was large and light with two small balconies, so I approved the Italian’s choice. We celebrated with pizzas and Peronis amongst our suitcases. Over the next few weeks, we found that the surroundings streets contained Indian, African, Chinese and kosher supermarkets.

What seemed to be an unprepossessing area, inbetween, plain, turned out to be a godsend. First we discovered the 104, the old state morgue, now a centre for art and community, with a bookshop, junkshop, cafe and a sort of indoor village square where mothers share sandwiches and breakdancers practice all hours of the day. Then there are the two best parks in Paris in the 19th: the Buttes Chamont up the hill on my own street, and the enormous Villette where they have that film festival, a concert hall and the science museum. When I run past there is always something going on. Once I got to see the soundcheck for De La Soul. My run was cut short, as I watched in wonder, audience of one.

canal de l'ourcq, bar ourcq

Between the Villette and the square at Stalingrad there are numerous bars. There is the newly renovated rotonda that now hosts brunches and parties. There are the bars at the two cinemas that reflect neon rainbows of colour into the water at night. There is the Bar Ourcq where you can get wine, beer, a killer homemade ginger juice and best of all, you can help yourself to balls for pétanque. Throughout the spring, summer, autumn there will be groups of people with crisps and beers lazily throwing those metal balls at their target, whooping when they knock their friends out of the way. There are table tennis tables too: bring a bat and ball for a match with a friend or a cheap date.

My favourite though is the Antipode, a bar on a boat, one of those large, long péniches. On the same stretch of water there is also a cinema péniche, one for opera and one that is a floating cave à vins. Stop by on the way home from work for a recommendation on the right bottle to match your lamb stew. Everything is better for the novelty of being on a boat. (Similar to the wider phenomenon of living in the Disneyland of a foreign culture, everything is an Adventure.) The Antipode will sell you a glass of wine at €2, a plate of tapas or a selection of cheeses that you can take up onto the deck and sit right on the water, watching the reflections. It is cosy, relaxed enough to allow you to bring in a birthday cake to accompany your pints (staff bribed with a slice of course). They have plays and concerts in the belly of the boat too.

When the boat disappeared over the summer, I was panicked that it wouldn’t return. It had moved out of the way of the Paris Plages, now including the Canal de l’Ourcq not just the Seine. But I found it on another run, 3km further along by the abandoned factory with incredible graffiti. And in September it came back to its usual spot, half way up, just past the footbridge that bounces.

canal de l'ourcq, peniche antipode

There is so much I love about this area, now, now that I have traced most of it on endless runs. I love the graffiti art from Da Cruz and Marko 93 that form whole murals on condemned walls. This summer photos from JR, of the project and film ‘Women are Heroes‘, with his classic black and white, expressive faces were pasted along the bridges. As the area becomes more gentrified, buildings are being knocked down and made into high-rises. Which means, sadly, the graffiti is disappearing. I learned the word for this: embourgeoisement. Bourgeoisification? There is an organic supermarket and the aforementioned frozen yoghurt stand. The pair of bistros (one red, one blue) near the Antipode are always packed with locals, so if you get too cold in the boat you can escape inside for aubergine-parmesan crumble, a large gigot d’agneau and a slab of pear tart.

While it is still warm, I will making the most of the canal, walking back from the cinema at night, watching the grey mist over the rooftops from my breakfast coffee in the corner bar and huddling around a rickety table in the convivial atmosphere of the Antipode. Anyone up for an apéro?

La Péniche Antipode – 55 quai de Seine, 75019 – metro: Riquet, line 7

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