A recent trip to Paris was full of discoveries. It’s amazing how many new (and ancient) places I find, even after years of visiting. We flew around the city on bicycles, trying restaurants, finding galleries and shopping (food related of course!). A whirl around Paris that was exhausting but exhilarating, and here is my pick of the best:
This time I stayed with a friend in the 11th Arrondisement, which offered a view of the city I hadn’t seen before. Among the other great attributes of this trendy district, it is the location of some of the best ‘nouveau bistro’ restaurants, including Septime and Chateaubriand (see my previous post) and the most stylish ‘gluten free’ bakery, Chambelland, which sold loaves of bread that were so good, I had to haul some back to London.
Lunch at Aux Deux Amis:
The simple, cafe style decoration belies some of the most well executed ‘home cooking’ I’ve eaten recently. I knew they meant business when I spied violette aubergine and salted ricotta chalked on the board. The dishes were presented on small plates, you could share if you wanted to but most importantly, it meant that eating two courses didn’t collapse you with overfed fatigue for the rest of afternoon.
The queen of aubergines was served as a wedge, roasted whole with very little oil and all the sweetness and juiciness of the flesh contained inside. Scattered over it were some chopped olives, a chiffonade of parsley and some grated, salted ricotta. I chose veal breast to follow, which had a toothsome texture and oozed with flavour, served in a sauce of its own making which had the magic constituent tastes of browned meat and reduced stock thickened with French butter. It lay on top of some perfectly seasonal, fat green beans, which were properly cooked until yielding, rather than with a squeaky bite, and swathed in the luxurious sauce.
Aux Deux Amis, 45 Rue Oberkampf, 75011 Paris
Following lunch, we hopped onto Paris’ version of ‘Boris bikes’ and sped off to gather ingredients for dinner. Bottarga de mullet (cured roe of grey mullet) is one of my top five favourite things, so imagine my delight when my hostess not only suggested we cook it that night, but took me to the Palace of Bottarga to buy it. If you ever have the fortune to encounter such a rich seam of this fishy delicacy, here’s my favourite recipe for cooking with it.
The next stop was the Musée Picasso, reopened in 2014 after 5 years of renovation and housed in the magnificent Hôtel Salé (a mansion built in 1650 for a collector of the enormously profitable ‘salt tax’, hence its name). Picasso’s works which were donated to France on his death are displayed in a beautiful exhibition space which combines the original architecture and some sensitive modern improvement, making use of the entire building. Sculptures are placed on the landings of the grand stairway and converted attic rooms also contain works by Cezanne, Miro and Monet from Picasso’s own collection.
Musée Picasso, 5 Rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris
The botanical gardens and museum of natural history are not the first places one would think of visiting in a city whose reputation is for art. However, the extraordinary collections of both are definitely worth seeing, if only to admire the beautiful structure of the hot house and see the fossilised tree trunks, palms and ferns as an antidote to a cultural overload. We may have the impressive scale of dinosaurs in our Natural History museum in London, but Paris makes up for size with extraordinary displays of butterflies, birds and corals, all housed in a building which makes you feel you have entered Noa’s Arc both through its content and design.
Jardin des Plantes, 57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris
Museum National d’Histoire, 57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris
This busy tapas/wine bar is squeezed in front of Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir St Germain bistro. There’s standing room only at a long bar stretching the length of the room and tapas style dishes are advertised on small cards hanging from the ceiling. A strong emphasis on pork supports their motto ‘everything in the pig is good’. We chose croquettes of trotters, coated in crisp breadcrumbs and some fabulous charcuterie. Other dishes included salt cod brandade, chicken hearts a little bowl of reduced sauce; cheeses; eggs; artichokes and a superior tomato salad. Excellent wines came by the glass, poured by a knowledgeable sommelier and we filled any gaps with the best crusty, chewy sourdough I have eaten, slathered with proper French unsalted butter.
L’ Avant Comptoir, 3 Carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006
Musée de Cluny is a former town house of the Abbots of Cluny, rebuilt in the 15th Century. This exceptional building combines Renaissance and Gothic architecture and houses the famous tapestry collection of the Lady and the Unicorn cycle, woven from silk and Flanders wool in the 15th Century. I have never seen such exquisite examples of tapestry in my life. My pictures probably don’t do them justice so I can only recommend you go to see them for yourself.
Musée de Cluny (musée national du Moyen Âge), 6 Place Paul Painlevé, 75005 Paris
The Officine Universelle de Buly is a cosmetic emporium to rival the famous Santa Maris Novella in Florence. To enter the shop is like stepping back in time into an apothecary of 19th Century Paris. A wooden panelled room displays bottles of lotions, soaps, candles and tonics. Containing ingredients which provide healing qualities and fragrance such as Tuberose, Scottish Lichen and Damask Rose and no nasty additives, the products are formulated in French Laboratory to ancient principles but informed by the progress of modern cosmetics. Most importantly, they look, feel and smell like heaven.
Other places I always make time to return to:
Le Chateaubriand restaurant, if only just to eat the Tocino de cielo or Piece of Heaven. This traditional Spanish desert is an egg yolk, coated in caramelized sugar, sitting on nest of meringue. Wish I’d stolen the recipe for my Egg book!
Le Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier, 75011
Merci, the design and concept store which sells the best linen aprons, my current favourite is egg yolk yellow..
Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris
Cafe de Flore on Boulevard St Germain for a chocolat chaud and a moment’s rest.
172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris
Dehillerin, the nirvana of professional kitchen shops where I buy another copper implement that I’m convinced I need. You can never have enough.
18-20 Rue Coquillière, 75001 Paris.