Eating Good Things In Paris

I am, in fact, still writing my travel diaries, but adding pictures on this laptop is an absolute pain in the neck, and they still come out sideways half the time, so I probably won’t post any more of those updates until I’m in Australia again.  (And have dealt with the 16 ungrouped independents on the Senate ballot, aargh.)

But since tonight is my last night in Paris, I thought it was timely to write a post about the best meals I’ve had here, and also about the best patisserie I’ve had here.  I will add photographs at a later date, but good food information is always urgent, and now you will know why I will be radio silent until after the election, probably.

Excellent Meals In Paris

I have to admit, I have found some terrible meals in Paris.  I had quite the run of bad luck last week, culminating in CafePanorama in Monmartre, which managed the brilliant combination of really poor service and really terrible food (I didn’t know you could make steak that tough and dry), with the waiter then getting terribly offended that I didn’t stay for dessert, even though I’d paid for it.

But I have also had some amazing meals.

Le Gorgeon (42 Avenue Victor Hugo, 92100, just near the Bois de Boulogne, and on the Metro, so not really outside Paris) is a restaurant owned, I believe, by the father of Josephine.  I can see where she gets her subtle sense of flavour from.  I decided to go the full three courses here – artichokes vinaigrette, followed by duckling ‘avec deux pommes’, and a rhubarb and strawberry brulee.

It was all delicious – the artichokes were really wonderful, the vinegar present, but subtle, and not overwhelming the flavour, and the flakes of parmesan a nice complementary touch.  I think this is the best sense I’ve had of what artichoke really tastes like.   The duckling was tender and juicy and gorgeous, with roasted potatoes and apples, which cut the richness nicely – I’ve found that a lot of food one gets in cafes here is very rich, and I’m sure this was just as full of butter and cream as everything else, but I didn’t feel as though I had just eaten a dairy.  The rhubarb and strawberry brulee was nicely sharp and rounded the meal out well, but I have to say, I think Josephine makes better desserts (not surprising – they are her specialty!).

It wasn’t wildly expensive, either, though not precisely cheap.  I think I spent about 45 Euros for a three course meal, which I thought was good value for the quality.

I found Les Fous de l’Ile (33 Rue des Deux Ponts, 75004, Ile Saint Louis) on my first night in Paris, when I was feeling pretty dodgy, and I had their vegetarian platter.  It was really lovely, and exactly what I needed.  It’s apparently subject to seasonal change, and in this case, it was a pea puree, finely diced beetroot, carrots, and perhaps tomatoes, with more peas, grilled endives, which were amazing – I’ve always found them too bitter before, but these were lovely – and little fried potatoes which make everything better.  Just a perfect little meal, and nicely filling.  I had Berthillon ice cream for dessert which was good too, but not as good as the vegetable platter.  I believe this set me back 25 Euros or so, so quite good value.

L’Assiette aux Fromages (25 Rue Mouffetard, 75005, right in the middle of the Latin Quarter).  This specialises in dishes from the Savoie region, especially ones that are all about the cheesy cheesy goodness.  While the menu contains many lovely things, the centrepiece really is the fondue (they have the cheese, chocolate, and hot oil varieties) and the raclette.  For those who do not know, raclette is basically big thick slices of really amazing cheese, and you get a little tiny grill for your table, with little shovelly things that you put the cheese slices on to melt them.  And when they are melted, you pour the cheese all over boiled potatoes.  That’s it.  Traditionally, one also serves things like pickles and ham with this, but really, it’s about the cheesy cheesy melty happy potato goodness.  They gave me a salad, too, which helped.

The serving was enormous – I ate more than I should have and there was still plenty left.  Probably would be better split between two people (then you could have an entree, too!).

And then there was dessert, for which I chose the Calvados flambee tart.  This is basically a really nice French-style apple tart, over which the waiter pours an inordinate amount of Calvados before setting the whole thing on fire.  It tasted amazing.  It was also unbelievably alcoholic – Calvados is not a mild drink.  I felt it go straight to my head, via my flushed cheeks, and I was literally giggling while I ate it, because basically I’m a complete lightweight.  The waiter clearly thought I was a bit of a loon, and I was demoted from Madame to Mademoiselle, which should tell you all you need to know.

For 27 Euros, I was pretty happy with this.  Yes, the main meal is basically potatoes and cheese, and you have to cook the cheese yourself, but that’s most of the fun.  And that flambee tart was *amazing*.

Le Quartier Rouge (52 Rue de Bagnolet, 75020 Paris) was a cafe I found by accident after getting totally lost in the Pere Lachaise cemetery.  It smelled great, so I went in.  They had some really nice prix fixe menus, but I was desperate for salad, so I started with their burrata and cherry tomato salad which was just incredible – the tomatoes tasted like tomatoes and the burrata was so soft and tender and milky and wonderful that I could eat it all week.

I was sufficiently impressed with this to risk the steak tartare (I knew I had a very long walk ahead of me), which was also very good and very tender and tart.  I’m always surprised at how mild and fresh steak tartare tastes – you would think it would be intensely meaty, but it really isn’t.  Having said that, it is ridiculously filling – I only ate about half – and the texture is still a bit weird for me.  I think I spent about 30 Euros on this meal.

And finally, an honorable mention must go to Cafe Le Petit Pont (1 Rue du Petit Pont, 75005, opposite Notre Dame), which really didn’t have particularly good food (though there was lots of it and it certainly wasn’t bad), but did have the most hilarious and exuberant bunch of waiters I have ever encountered.  They were, I think, in a celebratory and football-related mood (I deduced the cause by the fact that at least one of them was kicking a ball around and managed to break several glasses that way), and there was singing and dancing (nice hip moves!), juggling of wine bottles, adding sparklers to beer (which led to an accidental napkin fire that nobody seemed to worried about putting out), and then, since I evidently was not containing my amusement sufficiently, quite a bit of silly flirtation and offers of massages.  And I got a high five on the way out, possibly because this sort of thing is more fun when you have an audience / someone to show off for.  So yes, I don’t know if this is the standard show, but I can honestly say that this was one of the more enjoyable meals I had in Paris.

Excellent Chocolate and Sweets In Paris

You’ve been waiting for this, haven’t you?  Haven’t we all?  Don’t even ask how much money I’ve spent on chocolate in the last ten days.  The answer is embarrassing, even if most of today’s haul was gifts…

Jacques Genin (133 Rue de Turenne, 75003, near Republique).  You probably already know how I feel about Jacques Genin and his amazing chocolate and caramel and confectionery and patisserie, but I’m mentioning him first anyway, because I am still swooning over that lemon and basil tart, which was by far the best pastry I’ve tasted this year.  Sweet and tart and herbal and citrussy, and not too rich, with perfectly thin, crisp, pastry.  Oh yes.  Then, of course, there are his wonderful caramels, of which the passionfruit mango is still my favourite, but honestly, they are all wonderful.  There are pates de fruits (pectin jellies) and de legumes (pectin jellies based on vegetables).  The vegetable ones range from deeply weird (I am not convinced that capsicum is a good confectionery flavour) to unexpectedly excellent (the green tomato is wonderful, and the beetroot also delicious), but all have very true flavours.  Which only makes the weird ones weirder.

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Oh and the chocolates?  Um, I have to confess that while I did finally buy a box today, I haven’t actually opened it yet.  I’m all sugared out.  But with flavours like rosemary and basil, and Genin’s amazing ability to capture the flavour of fruits and herbs in their uncooked, fresh state, I feel confident that they will be amazing.  I still have fond memories of the mint chocolate of his that I tried two years ago.

A new chocolatier to me – and so conveniently located ten minutes from my B&B! – is Franck Kestener (7 Rue Gay-Lussac, 75005, opposite the Luxembourg Gardens). He is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, and I can absolutely see why – these are some of the best chocolates I’ve tasted.  His lemon and thyme chocolate, in particular, is wonderful and fresh, and his sunflower chocolate has a delightful crunch.  I really enjoyed the texture of his chocolates as much as the flavours, and I think for chocolates alone, he would be my favourite in Paris. 

I also had a really interesting chat with the patissier/chocolatier who runs the shop in the Quartier Latin – because there are other shops in France and in Germany, and they make different things.  In Germany, no surprises here, they specialise more in gateaux, whereas here the main patisserie is the macaron.  We bonded a little over the terrors of transporting elaborate gateaux to anywhere where you want them to arrive looking pristine…

It was necessary to visit Patrick Roger (45 Avenue Victor Hugo, 75016, just past the Arc de Triomphe), another MOF, who is known for making very dramatic chocolate sculptures.  The presentation of his chocolates is exceptional – they are like little jewels in individual boxes.  But this is something you definitely pay for – his chocolates were more than twice as expensive as any of the others I tried.  And while they were extremely good, especially the peach caramel and the pistachio marzipan, I honestly don’t think they were twice as good as all the rest, if you know what I mean.  These are chocolates I would buy to impress someone else, not for myself – though I would be extremely happy to receive them as a gift!

Matthieu Bijou (28 rue Charlot 75003, near all the museums in the 3rd, but especially Picasso and the museum of Jewish Art and History) is a chocolatier I found entirely by accident while lurking in the Marais.  I think he might be a bit more of an up-and-coming type than some of the other chocolatiers above, because he is much, much cheaper than any of the others.  I really liked his flavours, especially the Bali, which contained something that was very like Yuzu, but I think was a different citrus, and Seville, which contained orange and cumin, which really worked.  There was one really odd one which tasted to my palate like blue cheese, but I’m going to assume that the problem was with me, not with the chocolate, because everything else was excellent.  Also, bonus points for a very enthusiastic and charming assistant who talked me into buying so much more chocolate than I intended to, because I am very susceptible to attractive and charming young men offering me free tastes of chocolate.  My moral fibre, it does not see the necessity for resistance in this context.

Another delicious and unexpected find, is Pierre Marcolini (235 Rue St. Honore, 75001), who I also found by accident, and who absolutely wins the prize for having the most  delightful and helpful shop assistant – he was the one who was telling me all about the origins of the various chocolates, the different layers of flavour, and illustrating the differences between different origins with taste tests.  And then he was super helpful again today (he also gets some points for remembering me, though he can’t have that many purple-haired Australian customers who speak quite good French with a dubious accent, so not absolutely huge points!), in recommending three dark chocolates with very different flavour profiles. And offering me more chocolate to taste.

Marcolini makes very good individual chocolates, but I think where he truly shines is with the blocks of single-farm-origin chocolates.  (Or perhaps I was just infected by the enthusiasm of the lovely and extremely knowledgeable shop assistant?) The fact that you can really taste the differences in flavour depending on where the bean is grown and what kind of bean it is is astonishing to me, and I love that the chocolate comes with a booklet explaining this further.  I think this is a shop for people who are really *interested* in chocolate, though there is plenty there for you if you just enjoy eating the stuff…

On the non-chocolate side of things, Gelati d’Alberto (45 Rue Mouffetard, 75005, near all the cool shops on the Rue Mouffetard) was recommended to me by the lovely Laura Florand (who writes romances about Paris and chocolate, and also sent me in the direction of some, but not all, of the chocolateries above).  This really is lovely gelati, and I like the gimmick of shaping the ice cream in cones to look like roses.  There was a truly amazing violet gelato, and I also enjoyed the tarte tatin and lemon tart flavours.  (Hey, it was hot.  I went a few times.)

I have a thing for petits choux, so I could not resist a visit to Popelini (44 Rue des Martyrs, 75009, not too far from Sacre Coeur and Monmartre, and the only good thing about that afternoon as far as I was concerned!).  The choux are not all that petit, but I’m not going to complain when the fillings are that delightful.  I really loved the raspberry and the lemon flavours, but really, everything I tried was excellent, so go with whatever you like best.

Right.  I think that should keep you busy for a while in Paris.  This is far from a complete list of places I ate, or even places where I tried out the chocolates – it’s just a Best Of.  As you can see, I had better success with sweets than with savouries, possibly because I did better research up front.

I’m going to pack now, though a little part of me is tempted to run out and find somewhere to watch the Eiffel Tower doing its late-night sparkle thing.  But I think not – the rain seems to be setting in, and is said to be continuing tomorrow, when I leave.

Apres moi, la deluge, as they say…

(I will add pictures to this once I’m back in Melbourne.  In the meantime, you will have to imagine and drool accordingly.)

 

 

Travel Post – Bath, and back to London!

OK, I should probably take a pause from revelling in Paris to write about Bath and the rest of my trip to England.  But before I do so, I do need to update you on the important question of vegetable pectin jellies.  I have not yet tried them all, but the fennel and tomato ones are lovely (the tomato ones taste like stone fruit), and the capsicum one is *deeply* weird.  It tastes like a sweet capsicum jelly.  Which is what it is, of course  But I’m not at all sure that capsicum was ever meant to be a dessert flavour, even if Jacques Genin says so.

So.  Bath.  Which is already nearly a week ago, how did that happen?  My friend E organised the entire Bath trip, which was awesome, because both of us, alas, had the plague – I was still beginning my plague, and E was at the long, drawn-out, endless coughing stage of hers.  This was good in some ways, because we were both entirely in agreement about not overdoing things, and it was amusing in other ways, because at any given moment, one of us would be completely spaced out on cold drugs.  Fun times!

The train down was an exercise in two people who really shouldn’t be using their voices chattering incessantly.  Oops.  But we don’t see each other often, you see…

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We got to Bath, and went in search of our B&B, which turned to be uphill from the train station. Continue reading

Travel Post – Paris with chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate

I was going to be good and write about Bath today, and I still might, but first, I must tell you about the absolutely excellent day I spent in Paris.

Which is still quite underwater, by the way.

Which is still quite underwater, by the way.

There are those who feel that I have an idealised view of Paris, and they are probably quite right, but honestly, today lived up to and beyond my wildest chocolate-related Paris fantasies, and this post might be a little incoherent because I am very full of chocolate right now (and not of much else, since it must be confessed that my essays into healthy, non-chocolate related food today were disappointing).

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Basically, I got to spend a really quite significant portion of the day being offered free chocolates by attractive men.  While discussing chocolate in French.  And they were really good chocolates. Continue reading

Travel Post! Shakespeare’s Globe, and a Preview of Paris!

Up until now, I’ve been virtuously writing up events in the order they happen, but I really do have to start with Paris today and go backwards.  You see, I’m sitting right now at a beautiful, old-fashioned, fold-out desk like my grandmother used to have, with the fireplace on my right and the open window on my left, through which I can see a courtyard garden and hear what I suspect is a blackbird singing.

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My bedroom has wallpaper with little sprigs of flowers, and antique-looking furniture and a rug on the floor, and is basically the most idyllic possible place to be writing.  I might never leave.

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This is my room in Paris. Continue reading

Travel Post! Todmorden, York again, and a little of London with the Ritz and Cote

OK, I have reached London, and am staying with my lovely friend N, which is a good thing for many reasons, not least of these being that I have a nasty cold *and* cramps, and the weather is uninspiring, so it’s a good day for staying inside and catching up with my travel journalling!  And there has been much to journal!

On Sunday, I went to the 11am Mass, at St Mary’s Todmorden, celebrated by my friend J.

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It was a really lovely service, with a sermon that made me think, which is always a fine thing (also, apparently, completely unintentional subliminal pro-EU propaganda in the form of hymn tune choices. Who knew this was even possible?).

Gallipoli window in St Mary's, Todmorden - I hadn't realised that Lancashire sent a lot of troops to Gallipoli too.

Gallipoli window in St Mary’s, Todmorden – I hadn’t realised that Lancashire sent a lot of troops to Gallipoli too.

I do wish J lived within reasonable churchgoing range of me, but while Todmorden is many lovely things, convenient to Melbourne is not one of them.  Also, I was amused to find that I did, in fact, know all the hymn tunes – Alistair at Wesley was raised Scottish Presbyterian, as was J, so perhaps this isn’t surprising! Continue reading

Travel Post! Newcastle, Wallsend, York, and the Blackbird Bar, Todmorden

I’m having a domestic sort of day today, and the friend I’m staying with is busy writing her sermons for tomorrow so I thought I’d pop in with a quick update on my trip so far, my English Food Experiences, and a review of the bar we went to last night.

I reached Newcastle on Wednesday, and was greeted by my friend T, who I have known online for more than a decade, but have never previously met in person.  She drove me back to her house for a much-needed nap, and then pointed me in the direction of a walk in the countryside of Blaydon on Tyne, to stretch my legs, and help convince my body that it was on UK time.

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Blaydon Burn is extremely pretty – I’ve never been to England in spring before, and so I derived an unreasonable amount of pleasure from things like hawthorn blossoms and buttercups.

IMG_9857Also from spinning around on the buttercup field pretending to be Kate Bush singing about Heathcliff.

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Show Off Post: Hamlet!

Squeezing in one last post before I go, in between madly writing about tiny political parties and finishing my last Paris story before I actually go there…

As I think I mentioned earlier, I recently turned 40, and also Shakespeare recently turned 400 years of deceased, and since these events were a mere week apart, I thought I would take the opportunity to get our reading group together again after a long hiatus and read the last Shakespeare play left to us – Hamlet!

I apologise in advance for these photos – the timing meant that we did our reading in the late afternoon / early evening, and so the light was not auspicious for recording all the food.  But I do want to keep some record of the event, so here goes…

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Brief update, with Eurovision and Blogiversary

Hello!  I’m not really back, but since Eurovision was this morning (so early this morning), and Eurovision has always counted as a Food Blog Anniversary for me, it seemed timely to give you an update.

I’m actually feeling a lot less depressed about cooking since I last wrote here.  This is mostly because my wrist is behaving a lot better, and baking is more feasible.  But I’m still run off my feet – I’m heading to Europe in nine days, and an Election has been called for three days after I get back, so I’m currently trying to madly update my politics blog before I go, with profiles of all the new parties.  And after that, I’ll be overseas, so realistically, you aren’t likely to hear a lot from me before July.  I’ll see how I’m feeling about regular blog posts then – it’s actually rather relaxing to cook without photographing everything and writing it down…

I do plan one more update between now and then, because we finally finished the Shakespeare project on April 23rd (the 400th anniversary of his death), which means I have cooked up my last Shakespeare feast, at least for the foreseeable future, and this must be recorded for posterity.

But this is Eurovision Sunday, so it’s time for a brief Eurovision post – along with a photograph or two of The Eurovision Biscuits That Took All Day.

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Hiatus

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been around here much lately.  I’ve been feeling pretty bad about that, to be honest.  It wasn’t my intention to abandon this blog without a word.

As you know, last year was pretty full on at work, and my break over Christmas was pretty much the opposite of relaxing.  I went from that into one of the more intense grant seasons I’ve dealt with in some years, and to tell the truth, I still feel about as exhausted as I did at Christmas (in fact, I keep having to remind myself that it isn’t January).  And then in January, I developed tendonitis in my left wrist, which made both typing and cooking both difficult and painful.  Because it’s virtually impossible to rest the wrist that you do everything with, especially during a busy season at work, it’s really only been in the last few weeks that I’ve reached a point where I can type with relative impunity. Chopping vegetables is still intermittently a problem for me, and the actions associated with baking (whisking, mixing things) aggravate the tendonitis pretty badly.

In fact, as I realised a few days ago, the reason I haven’t been writing here is quite simply that I’m really not enjoying cooking at the moment.  It’s become another chore at the end of the day, and one that I have had to negotiate around my wrist issues – and in general, the really fun sorts of cooking have been beyond my capacity.

While a love of cooking is not something that everybody needs to have, it’s kind of a prerequisite for writing a food blog, hence my absence.

Before I depress you (and myself) utterly, I will add that I expect things to improve, hopefully even soon.  I’ve been doing a lot of physio for my wrist, and I did manage to spend most of Easter Saturday making chocolates and cupcakes without having significant wrist issues afterwards (I suspect I had extra capacity because I hadn’t been typing a lot at work that week, and had spent all my evenings singing rather than doing anything that required my hands).  And I am now reaching the point in my work year where things are settling down and becoming almost relaxed (only almost…), so I’m cautiously optimistic that I will one day reach a point where I don’t want to spend every weekend napping.

In other words, my current lack of interest in cooking is unlikely to be permanent, and hopefully I’ll figure out ways to handle baking without wiping out my ability to do anything else with my wrist that day – though I suspect my days of making cakes using only a fork are behind me.

But in the meantime, I’m officially putting this blog on hold.  I may do the odd post here and there if something inspires me, and I will try to update the indexes over the next few weeks, but I’m not going to attempt to keep to any sort of posting schedule.   (Guilt-tripping myself about my blog is not, as it turns out, helping me to like cooking more right now!)

I started this blog because cooking was a joy to me, and I wanted to share that joy.

I’ll be back when cooking is a joy again.

Thank you for reading.

Recipe: Saffron and Cardamon Yoghurt (Shrikhand)

I originally encountered this recipe in a pack from the glorious (and sadly, now on hold) Curry Delights startup.  It is a beautiful, pale-yellow-tinted, cooling yoghurt dessert flavoured with cardamom and the honey-like scent of saffron, and I absolutely loved it – so much that I made it two nights running, in fact. 

Ambika and Vikram’s version of this dish was super-easy and very quick, but relied on a couple of products that I was unable to source in Australia, so once I ran out (i.e., about four days after first encountering the recipe), I was out of luck.  I did have recipes for Shrikhand in other books, but none of them looked quite right (though I *highly* approve of the one that suggests adding popping candy, and I will be doing this at the first opportunity), and most of them, being more traditional, required a longer preparation time, as the recipes relied on drained yoghurt.

But I was really craving those lovely, cooling flavours again this week, so I decided that it was time to see if I could cross the various recipes, modified slightly to my tastes, and make a version that was feasible here.

Short version?  I did, and it was glorious, and I’m writing it up right now, so that I don’t forget the quantities…

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Your Shopping List

saffron strands – a big pinch, crumbled between your fingers into a little bowl
250 g light cream cheese
1/3 cup icing sugar (slightly heaped, to be honest)
1/4 tsp cardamom powder, also heaped
350 g low fat Greek Yoghurt (nothing wrong with full fat, but the low fat Black Swan one is nicer than the full fat anyway, and frankly, this dessert does not need to be any richer than it is)
200g raspberries, to serve.  Trust me, you want something fresh and acidic. Continue reading