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, incidentally.
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 rather disappointing).
Basically, I got to spend a really quite significant portion of the day discussing chocolate, in French. With attractive men. Who were offering me free chocolate to taste. And they were really good chocolates.
I’m sure there are other reasons people go to Paris, but this is a *very good one*.
(I am also aware that I am a walking cliche at this point, but I honestly don’t care. Today was so much fun. And I have so much chocolate. At some point, I will regret this, but I have not reached that point. Not by a long shot.)
The weather forecast today was for a fine morning followed by thunderstorms, so I decided to shelve my original plans and spend the morning in the Tuileries gardens, before heading off to hide in nice, dry museums.
And maybe visit a couple of chocolatiers on the way.
The Tuileries are lovely, by the way. The day, while only 24C, allegedly, was quite hot and muggy, but there was plenty of shade to sit in, and fountains and statues to admire.
Also goats. Presumably kept there to mow the lawn? I did not enquire.
My Endless List of Chocolate informed me that I was not far from one of the salons of Jean-Paul Hévin, so I headed off in that direction, and quickly found myself in a Laduree store, where they were playing a selection of every well-known opera aria ever, to my amusement. I was unable to resist a little box of chocolate shards flavoured with rose, violet or jasmine – floral flavours are fun (oh dear, sorry about the alliteration).
But I was looking for Jean-Paul Hévin, so I continued on. I turned the corner, and found myself in a lovely little salon which was not Jean-Paul Hévin at all, but was where he used to be. This was the salon of Pierre Marcolini, and I was the only customer. It’s fun being the only customer, because the shop assistant decided to start telling me all about Marcolini’s chocolates and offered me two to taste. Marcolini is interesting because he takes single origin to the ultimate level, sourcing his cacao from individual farms, so that the flavour is very specific to the terroir. This also means that he can be assured of the conditions of the workers – I now know how to say fair trade in French (commerce équitable), and we had an interesting conversation about flavour profiles of different cacao beans. Apparently, chocolates, like wine, have top notes, middle notes, and more lingering after-traces.
I tried one from Cuba, which is a very strongly flavoured bean that allegedly has traces of tobacco in the taste – I noticed salt (which was there), and also felt that it had an almost Vegemite-like profile in a weird sort of way, but I was having such a lovely conversation with the (rather handsome and very charming) shop assistant that I didn’t want to spoil it by self-stereotyping! I then tried a chocolate from the Equatorial region (I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the origin), which was much milder, and more floral.
I bought a handful of chocolates for later – still attempting moderation – and left, with every intention of returning next week. I then returned to my search for Hévin, who has evidently moved to a salon in the Marais, not far from the Museum of Jewish History and Art.
I passed a Pierre Herme on my way, but did not enter. I mention this because it was the one instance of self-control in an otherwise entirely gourmandising day.
Over near Arts et Metiers Metro Station – which is the most magnificently steampunk Metro station in existence, incidentally – I wandered around a little, feeling rather hot, and decided to have lunch at a cafe called Petit Absinthe. After my sugary morning, I was rather drawn to a millefeuille of eggplant, zucchini, tomato and buffalo mozzarella for lunch. It was OK, but there was way too much olive oil (and I say that as someone who cooks like an Italian).
I then dropped in on Jean-Paul Hévin, which was a bit of an anticlimax after Pierre Marcolini! Hévin also does single origin chocolates, and macarons using single origin chocolate, which I decided was the way to go. The macarons I tried were good, but I didn’t particularly notice the different flavour profiles. I don’t think my palate is sophisticated enough for some of these French chocolatiers.
Then I decided I should be a bit cultured, and went to the Museum of Jewish History and Art. This is located in a 17th century townhouse, if I recall correctly, and had rather a strong military presence (at least from the perspective of someone who isn’t used to seeing soldiers with very large guns on the street).
Part of the military presence was having its lunch in the courtyard, so it’s possibly just somewhere people like to go at lunchtime – I saw a few people reading.
The museum itself is a mix of historical items (some are copies) such as Torah scrolls and cultic items (lamp holders and menorahs and circumcision chairs and decorations for the Torah scrolls) and artwork, including a collection of Purim puppets, and traditional dress from various areas of the diaspora.
There was a large collection of replica tombstones which I found touching and interesting – I’d not known that ‘gone to Eden’ was a traditional way of speaking of the dead.
There was also a fair bit of artwork depicting Jewish life through the ages. In particular, there was an exhibition of the work of an artist, Édouard Moyse, who specialised in painting scenes of Jewish private and public life, both as portraits and as illustrations for newspapers who wanted to make Judaism more comprehensible to the reading public.
The history component did not tell me a lot I wasn’t aware of already, which is a pity – I’m wondering if I missed a section, because the museum was a little hard to follow, not least because of special exhibitions disrupting the normal flow of the tour. But it was interesting nonetheless. And strange to see that liturgical / religious art of a certain era looks basically the same no matter whether it is Christian or Jewish – the Rabbi preaching in the Synagogue could have been a painting of Jesus preaching, right down to the gestures. I wonder who borrowed from whom (art-wise, that is. Obviously, the Jews got there first scripture-wise), or whether it was parallel evolution?
I then decided that it was 4:30 and thus a good time to visit Jacques Genin for some afternoon tea. I visited Jacques Genin on my previous trip but made the terrible and tragic mistake of not actually tasting his amazing caramels until just before I was due to leave Paris, when it was too late to return for more! My German penfriend posted me some a year ago, but they did not travel well (unsurprisingly), so this was high on my priority list for this week!
But what should I find on my way to Jacques Genin than another chocolate shop, Matthieu Bijou? It was small and deserted so I just poked my head in and was promptly in a lot of trouble, because Bijou seems to specialise in the sorts of flavours I love – fruity, with interesting spices and flowers added. The shop assistant promptly took advantage of my weakness by offering me a Bali chocolate, which contained some kind of amazing citrus with a heady floral profile – not Yuzu, but in that general genre. It was incredible. My self control went straight out the window.
We had a lovely chat about different flavours and about the difficulty of choosing, and the shop assistant offered me an amazing passionfruit praline chocolate, which was NOT HELPFUL but who am I to resist a handsome man talking French and offering me chocolate? Some things are not reasonable to expect. And so I wound up buying an entire box, because it was discounted, and that way I could try fresh raspberry, and orange with cumin, and jasmine tea, and chestnut honey with saffron, and fresh mint, and… well, you see my problem. Really, even without the handsomeness and the Frenchness, I was never going to be leaving that shop without a lot of chocolate.
I was in two minds about visiting Jacques Genin at this point, since I did not strictly require any more chocolate, but I really did not want a repeat of last time, and also the weather was still hot and muggy (the storm never did arrive), and my feet were sore, and I knew his salon would be cool, and would have chairs.
I was instantly seduced into buying some caramels – ginger, raspberry, chocolate, and that incredible mango and passionfruit, and then I asked to wait to be seated in the salon for afternoon tea.
The salon really is precisely as described in Laura Florand’s book, The Chocolate Touch, and the menu is short, but excellent. One can have a degustation platter of pâtés de fruits or chocolates or caramels (aaargh, accents on this computer!), or one can have one of the four or five pastries of the day. And there is tea or coffee or hot chocolate.
My advice to you is this: if you are at Jacques Genin and the day’s pastries include the lemon and basil tart, this is what you must choose. It is simply perfect. It is a beautiful, tangy lemon curd, with a distinct, fresh basil flavour, and the thinnest, crispest crust, and it is really wonderful and light, despite being undoubtedly composed largely of butter and eggs and probably also cream.
I also had a hot chocolate, which had the flavour and texture of a light chocolate ganache – slightly less overwhelming than drinking melted chocolate from a tub, but only slightly. This came with a glass of water and two complimentary chocolates, which were lovely, but not a patch on the tart or the caramels.
You would think this would be enough and more than enough, and it really was, but as I was leaving, I went to look at the pates des fruits and I saw a sign ‘pâtés de légumes’. Which is to say, pectin jellies made with vegetables.
You know me better than to think I could walk past that.
The jellies in question were rhubarb (ok, fairly normal), fennel (plausible), beetroot (maybe), green tomato (umm…), and capsicum (are you sure this is a good idea?).
The lady behind the counter asked if I’d like to try a green tomato jelly, and I couldn’t turn down a challenge like that. It was lovely, but I have no idea what it tasted like – peach? apricot? apple? There was certainly something stone-fruity about it. I bought one of each of the weird jellies to take home. I have no idea when I’m going to eat all of this, but I do have some big walking days planned, so maybe then. Especially as I seem to have covered most of my patisserie destinations in a single day. Plus a few extras.
And then I came home, and attempted a sensible dinner of roast chicken with tomato salad from a local café which turned out to be terrible – the salad was drowning in mayonnaise and the chicken and chips were kind of greasy. But then, what can one expect from a restaurant that translates ‘coq au vin’ as ‘wine cock’. (Which, well, yes, sort of, but that’s really not how I’d phrase it myself…)
I think I’ll stick to chocolate tonight.
And maybe write about Bath another day.