Chanoy Honeymoon: Paris, September 2015

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

I don’t think I have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to describe Paris. It’s everything that all the books and movies make it out to be – the city of love, the city of lights. Every street you walk down in this city absolutely teems with history and culture, and can be quite overwhelming to the senses. How do you even react to the colossal and elaborately decorative structures built over 500 years ago when they surround you on all sides?

Some days, we ended up taking refuge in some of the smaller neighbourhoods of Paris, to give our senses a break from the overwhelming palaces and formal buildings. Taking time to wander through quainter and smaller neighbourhoods like Le Marais on our DIY Picnic Lunch day meant ducking our heads into smaller boutiques and smelling baguettes fresh out of the oven in boulangeries – and that I think, is what makes the quintessential Parisian experience.

We stayed in a very old tiny sixth-floor Airbnb studio apartment in the north of the city near the metro station Barbes-Rochechouart, a highly multicultural part of the city. While it was a little bit further out, it meant that our stay seemed to be that little bit more of a genuine Parisian experience – having to hike up six floors on a rickety wooden spiral staircase that’s been worn away in parts through decades of use, smelling the fragrant aromas of home cooking with each floor that you passed. That’s not something you get when staying in a sterile hotel room in the centre of town.

So, how did we spend our days in Paris?

One day was spent in Disneyland Paris – K and I absolutely love theme parks and try to visit the best ones on most of our holidays. Unfortunately Disneyland Paris was a little bit disappointing as a few areas of the park were closed on the day that we visited. Some of my favourite old-school rides such as ‘It’s A Small World’ were closed, as well as the roller-coaster ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril’. It didn’t feel quite like a true Disneyland experience without some time spent with the creepy singing animatronic figures of ‘It’s A Small World’. For the record, I’d also recommend purchasing your park tickets online rather than at the door – you can save up to $20 Euro per person!

We spent another full day at the Louvre Museum. I’d visited once before when I’d gone to Paris for a few days with my friend Maren, but I’d somehow forgotten about the sheer scope of the museum and its works. Suffice to say that if you’re in any way mildly interested in art, one day is not enough to take in even half of what the museum has to offer. K and I have promised each other to plan a future trip to Paris in years to come, with at least a week dedicated to museums alone…after all, we didn’t even get the chance to go to the Musee d’Orsay or the L’Orangerie.

Other days were spent simply wandering around the different neighbourhoods. The day we spent picnicking and in Le Marais as I mentioned, as well as the day we spent dining at Laduree and wandering around the Champs-Elysees and the Tuileries. We had a fancy meal at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon one day as well, and did the typical night-time jaunt up the illuminated Eiffel Tower.

The thing about Paris is that you always leave feeling as though you haven’t done everything you could do. There’s a million museums we didn’t visit and a number of neighbourhoods we didn’t walk through. There’s restaurants we didn’t visit, and we certainly didn’t spend enough time just sitting at a street-side cafe with a hot drink for hours, just watching the world go by. And honestly, can you really say that eating a baguette a day is sufficient? I certainly didn’t eat enough pastries, tarts, cakes, brioche, cheese, pate…there’s a whole food world in Paris which we barely skimmed the surface of.

Paris, I love you. Farewell for now, but not forever.

Review: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Saint-Germain, Paris

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that Joel Robuchon is known as one of the leading luminaries of the international culinary world. With restaurants located in top cities around the world, it’s become a feather in the cap for many people to be able to say that they’ve eaten at a Joel Robuchon restaurant in Paris, Hong Kong, London, Las Vegas, Tokyo… We joined that elite group when we were in Paris, with lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Saint-Germain. I had originally thought about booking for L’Atelier in Etoile instead as its website listed a budget-friendly set lunch menu, but after advice to book for Saint-Germain instead, I decided to bite the bullet.

Truth be told with hindsight, I do wish that I had booked for Etoile instead – a $43 Euro per person set lunch (amuse-bouche, entree, main, cheese or dessert) would have been a lot more budget-friendly than the $271 Euro ($400 AUD!) we ended up paying for lunch for two people. Providing that it’s a similar menu and of a similar standard, I would advise the budget-friendly amongst us to consider booking for L’Atelier Etoile instead of L’Atelier Saint-Germain in the future.

As you enter the restaurant, you’re shown to your seat. While there are some normal tables in the back of the restaurant, all guests for the lunchtime service are seated around the high bar that goes around the whole restaurant. There are some benefits to this seating arrangement, with the key one being the ability to see into the open kitchen and see the chefs at work. At the same time though, you lose some intimacy as a special occasion lunch with your loved one becomes a shared experience with the ten other people seated around the bar.

The first disappointment of the meal came with the drinks. Wine is easy to order in France, even if the extensive wine menu at L’Atelier made it hard for K to narrow down his choice. Non-alcoholic beverages are a lot harder to order in restaurants though, and the main offerings are soft drinks or juices. Unlike Tetsuya’s or Sepia who offer a tea pairing, or Fat Duck who offer a juice/tea pairing, the bar staff at L’Atelier simply offered me an orange/grapefruit juice mix. Not quite the five star experience I was hoping for!

What did the actual meal look? We opted away from the degustation menu (couldn’t justify close to $200 Euro per person with drinks!), and ordered a few individual dishes instead.

  • Shared Tapas-style small plates / Entrees
    • L’Aubergine – confite en mille-feuille a la mozzarella et au basilic ($26 euro)
    • Le Jambon “Iberico de Bellota” – escorte de pain toaste a la tomate ($29 euro)
    • Le Pigeon – en supreme au chou et au foie gras ($43 euro)
  • Mains
    • La Morue – fraiche en imprime d’herbs aux sucs de legumes et basilic ($49 euro)
    • Le Foie de Veau – aux rouelles d’oignon croustillantes et son jus acidule ($49 euro)
  • Dessert
    • La Sphere – en chocolat aux fruit de la passion ($19 euro)

The language-adept amongst us will no doubt be looking at that second listed main dish and marvelling at our bravery in ordering veal liver. Readers, all I can say is that I played no part in that decision, and K ended up kicking himself for not picking up the fact that ‘foie’ meant liver. Neither of us are big fans of offal – while we can stomach it (ha ha!), it’ll never be our first choice. K gallantly offered to eat the whole rare liver by himself so that I wouldn’t have to, and painfully ate bite after bite until it was finished. At $49 euro for the dish, he couldn’t bear to let it go to waste even though he wasn’t enjoying it!

The other dishes of our lunch were much more satisfying. K loved the salty savoury Iberico jamon (a nice precursor to the time we would spend in Spain!) with its little palate cleanser of a tomato salsa on toast. He particularly liked watching the chefs  in the open kitchen carving our slices straight from the giant leg of jamon which must be worth at least $4000 AUD!

I was a little disappointed in my first choice of the aubergine for entree – although it was a fantastically tasty dish with lovely fresh mozzarella and smokey grilled veggies, I didn’t feel as though it warranted the price tag. The pigeon was a much better choice – although pricier, the presentation of the dish was just stunning, and it was particularly helpful that the kitchen divided the single serve onto two plates so that K and I could share the entree more easily.

What really sold me was the small serve of the house specialty mashed potato which was presented to us initially for the pigeon, with a second serve offered for the main course as well. It’s ridiculously buttery, creamy and more-ish, so much so that I would even venture to say that there’s more butter and cream in the dish than potato. Needless to say, I scooped up every last mouthful of this delicious mashed potato!

I loved the presentation of my morue, or cod fillet, with the printed dumpling skin on top to dress it up as a springtime dish. It was really flavourful and more-ish as I started eating it, however the intensity of the broth increased dramatically with every mouthful, meaning that the latter half of the dish was far too salty. I have found that though with many restaurants that we’ve visited while in Europe, where the salt shaker seems to have been used far more liberally than in Australia.

By far the stand-out dish of the whole meal was the dessert, which drew oohs and aahs from our fellow diners as it was brought out to us and finished off at the table. The white chocolate and passionfruit sphere had the mist of liquid nitrogen billowing around it, which was further enhanced when hot passionfruit syrup was poured over the whole dish, melting the chocolate and creating a delicious little island of tropical chocolate dessert. Absolutely stunning!

Overall even though we loved the dessert, I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t amazed or blown away by our dining experience at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Some bad menu choices may have contributed, but I don’t feel as though it was value for money. If we had gone in 2012 when the AUD was strong against the Euro, the exchange rate may have made it a more worthwhile meal – as it was, I think we had better meals for a much lower price, with even De Jonge Dikkert in Amsterdam being a better meal.

DIY Picnic Lunch in Beautiful Paris

What does your ideal day in Paris look like? Some might talk about shopping along the Champs-Elysees, or a visit to Disneyland, or spending the day absorbed by history, art and architecture in the Louvre. While I enjoy all of those things, I think the best day that K and I spent in Paris was one where we didn’t have much planned at all, and just took some time enjoying some fantastic culinary treats by creating a DIY picnic lunch.

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We started off by getting off the Paris Metro at the stop Saint-Placide. As soon as we exited the station, we saw two fantastic little shops in front of us – one of them was a boucherie charcuterie called Maison Verot, by Gilles Verot. We were drawn in by the glossy terrines in the front window, and further captivated by the blocks of pate and rows of cured meats in the shop. We had to buy something for lunch, and their offerings seemed as good as any – so $20 Euro later, we walked away with a hefty chunk of Pate de Campagne and Confit Provencal.  We didn’t eat it all for lunch though, saving the $13 Euro worth of Confit for dinners and lunches later in the week!

Maison Verot is located at 3 Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, Paris.

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Right next door to Maison Verot was the third best patisserie in France and Paris…as demonstrated by the signage out the front! While the pastries and tarts at Boulangerie Thevenin were very tempting, I had other plans for our dessert and so we just stopped in to buy a fresh warm-from-the-oven Ancienne Baguette for only about $1.50 Euro.

Boulangerie Thevenin is located at 5 Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, Paris.

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As a big fan of matcha and green tea in all its forms, I’d long had it on my list to visit Sadaharu Aoki while we were in Paris, and so we walked ten minutes up the street from Saint-Placide station to their store. They’ve made a name for themselves as specialists in matcha desserts and chocolates, and I found it difficult to choose just the one treat to try! At approximately $5 Euro per individual dessert (cheaper for some pastries, and up to $50 Euro for some boxes of chocolates), we bought just a few treats for our lunch – photos later!

Sadaharu Aoki is located at 35 Rue de Vaugirard, Paris.

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Ten minutes walk away from Sadaharu Aoki is the beautiful Jardin de Luxembourg. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon when we arrived, and many local Parisian families were out in force enjoying the sunshine from the hundreds of deck chairs that are located around the pond in front of the Luxembourg palace. Young kids had their sailboats out on the water, and the whole scene was one of laughter and happiness. It was here that we found some space to sit down and assemble our picnic lunch.

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First we unwrapped the thick slice of Pate de Campagne that we had purchased from Maison Verot. You could smell the meatiness and spices of the pate as soon as we unwrapped the greaseproof paper, and it was difficult to resist simply biting into the slice of pate by itself!

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The wonderful thing about baguettes (particularly the harder/crunchier ancienne-style baguettes) is that they actually taste better when you rip into them with your bare hands, rather than going through the rigmarole of cutting slices of it with a bread knife. That makes it all the better for constructing a DIY picnic lunch. So, we tore the baguette into two pieces for the both of us, gingerly tore up the pate into pieces, and constructed our own Pate de Campagne Sandwiches. The crunchy and sour baguette really helped to enhance the softer meatier pate (especially as we’d bought such a thick slice!), and I scoffed down every last piece of my sandwich with delight.

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After virtually inhaling my pate sandwich in less than five minutes, I took some time to allow my stomach to rest before turning my mind to dessert and the treats we’d bought at Sadaharu Aoki. The first, a matcha almond croissant. The matcha baked into the croissant was very subtle, and it was really only the powder sprinkled on top that gave it a stronger tea kick. This probably makes it more palatable for most people as the sweeter almond dominates the croissant, but I would have personally preferred a stronger matcha flavour throughout the pastry.

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Two more desserts from Sadaharu Aoki, shared between K and I. He’s a big fan of yuzu and so chose the lemon yuzu tart, and I chose a matcha and dark chocolate layered cake called the ‘bamboo cake’. The yuzu tart had just the right amount of alcoholic booziness, with a crumbly sweet shortcrust pastry that helped to sweeten the tartness of the citrus. I was a big fan of the bamboo cake as well, with just the right amount of subtle strong matcha and sweetness in the dark chocolate.

After a short break in the Jardin de Luxembourg, K and I walked on to Notre Dame Cathedral. With a long line of people waiting to get into the cathedral, we decided to skip touring the interior and walked on to the Marais district of Paris. It’s a busy district full of shops, and many Parisians were out that day doing their weekly shopping, having a coffee at the café, or simply window-shopping in one of the many boutiques.

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We joined them, wandering the streets for a few hours and ducking into shops to browse through some interesting items by local designers. I felt the need for a treat before long though, and we happened across L’Eclair de Genie by Christophe Adam, a little patisserie specialising in eclairs and chocolate truffles.

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While I was sorely tempted by some of the chocolates on display, and many of the other take-home items as well (who doesn’t need yet another jar of chocolate spread for brioche?), I knew that we had already over-indulged in sweets that morning at Sadaharu Aoki…so I restricted myself to just the one eclair.

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I chose the fig éclair – available only when figs are in season. K chose a hazelnut/praline éclair, very fancy with its thin sheets of chocolate and meringues on top. I have to say that of the two, I preferred mine as a lighter and fresher éclair as K’s éclair left a heavier creamier aftertaste on the palate. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite up to the standards of the Pierre Marcolini eclairs that we had in Brussels!

L’éclair de Genie by Christophe Adam is located at 14 rue Pavée, Paris.

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Of course, we didn’t eat our eclairs like common plebeians on the side of the street. Paris is full of beautiful old buildings, reinvented as public spaces. There are hundreds of little landscaped courtyards around the city which are open to the public for them to stroll in, take a seat, and enjoy a picnic treat. We had our eclairs at the Musee des Archives Nationales, but there were many other places around the Le Marais neighbourhood that we could have visited.

And there you have it – my idea of a perfect day in Paris. It’s all about indulging in some house-made specialities in a range of boucheries, boulangeries and patisseries, and enjoying the fruits of your shopping in one of Paris’s many beautiful public spaces.