April 21, 2010 § 2 Comments
I made a flying visit to Paris during our Fontainebleau-based week over the Easter holidays. It’s an easy train journey of just under an hour on the commuter service from Fontainebleau-Avon station to the magnificent Gare de Lyon.
One day I will make a proper visit to the Train Bleu bistro and restaurant within the station but for now I’m just content to look:
After taking in lunch and a visit to the Chopin exhibition at the Cité de la Musique way up in Paris’ north-eastern corner, I decided to hop off the metro 2 stops early and walk back to the Gare de Lyon in the hope of taking in some gastronomic sensory experiences along the way. Bizarrely, most of the district I chose to walk through seemed to be a mecca in shopping terms for either motorbike or DIY enthusiasts. I finally struck gastro-gold in the form of august Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau as I walked down the Boulevard Beaumarchais on the approach to the Place de la Bastille:
The classic French Opéra cakes in the window looked absolutely stunning – sleek, glossy dark chocolate squares with a discreet flash of gold leaf. Given the shop’s proximity to the Bastille opera house, home to the Paris opera since 1989, I just had to have one.
Inside, the shop has the hushed spare opulent feel of a designer jewelry store, complete with security guard and cashier’s office. While I waited for my precious cake to be taken from the window display and packaged in the covetable burgundy Dalloyau bag, my eye was caught by a display of, you guessed it, yet more macaroons:
Browsing the rather lovely Dalloyau spring collection brochure (it really is like couture) I see that Dalloyau claim to have their own 300 hundred year old secret macaroon recipe. That would suggest a date of 1710 which would, if strictly true, make their macaroons a century older than the Ladurée ones. There is clearly scope for some historical research here. The brochure also says that the special recipe is lower in sugar and higher in their own almond paste to give a more flavoursome macaroon. They also make a big deal about using only natural plant derived colours and also the ultra freshness of their macaroons. Also for the record, their permanent collection of flavours is as follows: chocolate, coffee, caramel, vanilla, pistachio, raspberry, earl grey tea, Cognac and lemon. Clearly I had to put Dalloyau’s macaroon claims to the test.
Here is the little box of macaroons I brought home with me. I chose raspberry, pistachio, chocolate and salted butter caramel flavours:
And here is my gorgeous Opéra cake:
A little research revealed that Dalloyau is a fair-sized business: there are 7 more branches in Paris as well as the one I visited. The business has a long history having been founded back in 1802 by a canny former baker to the royal court. Post-revolution, he correctly thought that the bourgeois populace of Paris would want to have a taste of what had previously been reserved for the aristocracy. He clearly took Marie-Antoinette’s dictum “let them eat cake” seriously. Not only that but Dalloyau was the inventor of the classic French opéra cake which my Larousse tells me is a “cake composed of biscuit Joconde (almond sponge) soaked in strong coffee syrup and layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. An Opéra, whether an individual or larger cake is always rectangular and 3 cm thick. The top is covered with icing decorated with gold leaf on which the word “Opéra” is written.”
Back home I noticed an article on the firm not in a food publication in Real Deals, a private equity magazine. Paris-based Perceva Group has just acquired 50% of the company which has been struggling financially lately. The following Financial Times article of 19 March 2010 is informative:
Who would have thought that a chance visit to a cake shop could provoke a history lesson and an insight into the world of economics!
Back to the real question, what did the stuff taste like? I didn’t expect to be bowled over by the macaroons but they really were a cut above – the pistachio ones were a much more delicate shade of green than the Cassel ones (see my previous post of 21 April 2010) and tasted fresh and intensely nutty. The same was true of the raspberry ones – they delivered a real fruit hit. From now on these are the benchmark.
As for the Opéra, served in dainty pieces, this was a divine after dinner morsel, an ultra-sophisticated version of the more rustic Italian Tiramisu.
The only remaining question is can a bunch of private equity investors really run a cake shop?
Dalloyau flagship store
101, rue du Faubourg St Honoré, 75008 Paris
00 33 (0)1 42 99 90 00
5, boulevard Beaumarchais, 75004 Paris
00 33 (0)1 48 87 89 88
September 22, 2009 § Leave a comment
My aunt’s 70th birthday bash on Saturday night was the raison d’être for my trip to Paris this weekend so I’d better say a few words about the main event. The party had been organised by Auntie Madge’s lovely group of friends who go under the name of the Golden Girls. They’d done her proud putting on a Wild West party (exactly why they chose this theme remains a mystery) complete with line dancing, a Clint Eastwood look-alike, friends and family from around the world, and of course lots of lovely things to eat and drink.
My own contribution was a couple of very simple salads put together from my purchases at Joël Thiébault’s beautiful market stall earlier that day (see previous post). People often try too hard when asked to prepare something for a party – there are too many stars of the show – stunning terrines, tarts, three-bird roasts and the like and not enough simple salads. I decided to put this right and threw together very quickly at my aunt’s apartment before the party a simple potato salad dressed with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. What made it special was the purple potatoes I’d used plus generous quantities of herbs – chervil and chives. I also sliced up the motley bag of tomatoes I’d bought earlier, dressing them with olive oil, basil, salt and just a touch of lemon. I’m gratified to say that both salads disappeared pretty quickly.
Here is an attractive way of serving a dip with crudités for a party. That French sense of style just can’t be held back.
I mentioned that there were friends and family from all over the world. My cousins Pierre and Alain are married to Meryanti (Indonesian) and Yuko (Japanese) respectively. I have a great recipe for Beef Rendang from Mery (as she is usually known) which I will share one of these days. Yuko is a fabulous cook and I will certainly be asking for some of her recipes too.
Yuko had pushed the boat out for the party and had come with a tray of what the French call verrines. I was horrified at first thinking this might be something to do with earthworms. The root of the word is verre – glass, not ver – earthworm and it turns out that verrines are dinky little shot-type glasses of filled with artfully constructed layers of delicious things to eat. Yuko is both practical as well as talented so her verrines were in fact made of disposable plastic (plasticines perhaps?). She’d filled them with layers of chopped prawns, fromage frais mixed with herbs and diced tomato.
It transpires that verrines are all the rage in France. There are whole books, devoted to them and they can inspire flights of fancy leading to obsession. Just have a look here for starters:
and if that appeals, try this:
Enough of this aside on verrines. Not sure if they’ll catch on in the UK but if they do remember you read it first here!
My cousin’s wives Mery and Yuko really are from the far east (as opposed to Wild West) but stealing the show was second cousin Arthur who has reinvented himself as a Buddhist monk and now goes under the name Topgyal. The purple and saffron robes certainly look good at a party.
Sadly my sister Jane couldn’t make it over for the weekend but it was good to have the chance to catch up with my dad. Here we are both in matching cowboy check shirts, the cheat’s answer to fancy dress.
That’s the last of my Parisian posts – back home on Eurostar now with lots of new food ideas.
September 21, 2009 § Leave a comment
During my food-leaning weekend in Paris, I decided that I needed to burn a few calories as well as ingest them. My solution was to take an early morning run from my hotel in the Rue d’Arras on the Left Bank along the Seine then down through the Jardins de Luxembourg and back again through St Germain. This would make a pleasant change from my usual running route back home in Manchester when I swap the Seine for the Bridgewater canal and the Left Bank for Moss Side.
First stop was the Ile de la Cité and majestic Notre Dame thrillingly free of tourists at this early hour:
Just setting up on one of the Seine quais nearby was a Gascon food market filled with enticing looking goose-fat laden produce but sadly not yet open for business.
Crossing back onto the Left Bank I stumbled across the famous Maison Ladurée tearoom and pâtisserie in the Rue Bonaparte and couldn’t resist taking a picture of its over the top window display. Ladurée is quite an institution now, a marketing man’s dream as its website demonstrates http://www.laduree.fr/. I had a bit of a snigger at the whole section of the website devoted to the photos and life history of company President David Holder. That said, he and his father (who interestingly is the brains behind the Boulangerie Paul concept) have clearly built an impressive business on the basis of a single tearoom.
Returning along the Boulevard St Germain, now rather crowded with people looking at the bizarre sight of me, the lone female jogger dodging traffic and pedestrians, I spotted three famous gastronomic establishments. First, Brasserie Lipp, founded in 1880 by Léonard Lipp and now flagship restaurant of the Groupe Bertrand. How times change…
Just across the road are the Cafés Flore and Aux Deux Magots, both haunts of the existentialist and artistic crowd including Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Simone de Beauvoir. Thousands of tourists (self included) throng their now sampling the nostalgia and hoping a little of the stardust will rub off.
Just a little further along the Boulevard St Germain was an enticing collection of neighbourhood food shops: a fantastic looking butcher with ducks on display ready to take flight, a fishmonger with the freshest looking sea urchins for sale and cheese shop with an array of unusual regional cheeses:
How lucky to have such inspiring shopping on your doorstep – it beats the central Manchester offering of Tesco Metro or M&S food hall hands down!
I was on the home straight now as I turned into the Rue Monge but I stopped to photograph one final entrancing shop window, that of Le Bonbon au Palais, the sweetshop of your dreams:
Inside, there were tantalising glimpses of crystallised violets and rose petals and other goodies, all displayed in gorgeous glass jars. Not a branded plastic package in sight. A little bit of internet research reveals, pleasingly, that Le Bonbon au Palais is an independent shop which has delighted bloggers the world over. The website gives you a flavour of what to expect http://www.bonbonsaupalais.fr/.
Run over, it’s time for a well-earned breakfast.
September 21, 2009 § Leave a comment
Well almost… Clotilde Dusoulier is the woman behind www.chocolateandzucchini.com which began as a cult food blog describing her adventures in a Parisian kitchen. Clotilde is now very much mainstream with a book deal and international press recognition the end result.
I’d read one of Clotilde’s articles describing a food lover’s tour of Paris in a copy of “Delicious” magazine two years ago. I cut out and kept that article thinking it might well come in handy and so it finally did. My aunt, who lives in Paris, chose to celebrate her 70th birthday this weekend with a Wild West party (more of this later). This was the opportunity I needed to hop on the Eurostar and spend a day in Paris with Clotilde at my side.
I was staying on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard St Germain so Clotilde’s suggestion of a visit to Bread & Roses for breakfast fitted the bill nicely. Bread & Roses is a bustling, bright bakery with a small café situated on a corner of the Rue Madame near the Jardin du Luxembourg. I took a seat amongst the morning joggers, breakfast meeting businessmen and chic post-school run Parisian mothers and ordered breakfast.
I chose freshly-squeezed orange juice, Darjeeling tea rather than coffee (24 hours after leaving home I was longing for a decent cup of tea) and a whole Brioche a L’Ancienne. What a wonderful breakfast! Everything just perfect: the juice freshly squeezed in front of me, the tea freshly brewed from leaves rather than a bag far superior to anything I’ve had in the UK for ages, and the brioche to die for – pillowy soft and buttery. I couldn’t finish it as you are given a whole loaf – it’s really designed for two people or more to share. I ended up giving my other half to a tramp on the Boulevard St Michel.
Set up for the day, it was time to visit a Parisian market. Clotilde’s suggestion of the market on Avenue Président Wilson meant I could take in the Eiffel Tower:
The market itself was more like an outdoor art installation rather than a place to buy food. Fish, meat, cheese, charcuterie and fruit and vegetable stalls were lined up for a kilometre or so along the centre of the Avenue Président Wilson, all a feast for the eye. I was arrested first of all by a magnificent swordfish:
I was next stopped in my tracks by Joel Thiébault’s astounding vegetable stall. Thiébault is France’s first celebrity greengrocer, a Gallic Greg Wallace if you can imagine that and I was pleased to see he was there in person sweet-talking customers. Acres of greenery, rainbow chard, carrots in four different colours, all of them shouting Buy Me! So I did – I bought a kilo of mixed tomatoes – no ordinary tomatoes but green ones, red ones, yellow ones, large, small, melon shape – some weird-looking purple potatoes and bunches of basil, chives and chervil. I was banking on having the chance to throw together a couple of salads as my contribution to the Wild West party later that evening.
Reluctantly I left the market – after all I was on a tight schedule today – and headed back on the métro in a southerly direction heading for food shop Beau et Bon which describes itself as “l’épicerie folle”. Intriguing. Walking along the rue des Volontaires heading for the rue Lecourbe I couldn’t help but notice that there are food shops everywhere in Paris. Here is a cosy looking Alsatian deli, Tempé, on the corner of Volontaires and Vaugirard:
And a little further down the street I was seduced by the foie gras and wild mushrooms on display at Le Comptoir Corrézien:
Whilst on the corner I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the cubist cake displays at prestigious urban pâtisserie Lenôtre:
I finally made it to Beau et Bon on rue Lecourbe. The shop is tiny with shabby chic appeal and is crammed full of interesting things to eat. Owner Valérie Gentil’s (perfect name!) unique selling point is that she puts on sale the fruits of her gastronomic “Tour de France” each year. You will find within Beau et Bon not the standard cheeses, pâtés and biscuits you might pick up at Charles de Gaulle airport but lovely, unusual and sometimes frankly wacky items. I picked up a dinky bottle of deep green pistachio oil destined for a special salad dressing, two bars of nougat flavoured with green olives and chestnuts respectively, some gorgeous edible pearls for sprinkling over special cupcakes, and a jar of Breton kéramel for spreading on warm toast for breakfast. I couldn’t carry any more!
Here are my Beau et Bon and Comptoir Corrézien goodies safely book at home. Breton kéramel already consumed I’m afraid!
Thank you Clotilde for the tour of Paris – I’m now inspired to start work recommending a food tour of my home city of Manchester..
Bread & Roses
62, Rue Madame
01 42 22 06 06
Marché Avenue Président Wilson
From Place d’Iéna to Alma Marceau
Wednesdays and Saturdays
Tempé Specialités Alsaciennes
196 Rue Vaugirard
01 45 66 87 38
8 rue des Volontaires
01 47 83 52 97
61 rue Lecourbe
01 42 73 20 97
Beau et Bon
81 rue Lecourbe
01 43 06 06 53
M° Volontaires ou Sèvres Lecourbe
September 20, 2009 § 2 Comments
My aunt who lives in Paris, Marjorie, was celebrating her 70th birthday with a Wild West party on Saturday 19 September and I decided to make a long weekend of it and take the opportunity to explore Paris.
I travelled to Paris in leisurely comfort taking the train all the way from our front door. It takes longer than the plane but is a comfortable and relaxing way to travel. I hopped onto the metro, breathing in the distinctive smell it has and positively enjoying the bustle and excitement of Paris. I checked into my cheap (for Paris..) and cheerful hotel, the Vendôme on the Rue d’Arras on the Left Bank and was very touched to find that husband Tim had thoughtfully sent a bouquet of flowers to the room.
There was just time to unpack, bathe and change before setting out to that evening’s destination, Restaurant Hélène Darroze on the Rue D’Assas, also on the Left Bank, a couple of metro stops away. You may have guessed that I thought my hotel was on the same street as the restaurant but I didn’t check carefully before booking and confused rr with ss. Never mind, I was approximately in the vicinity and the exercise did me good.
I was amused to catch on the TV in my room a few minutes of “Un Dîner Presque Parfait” (an almost perfect dinner) a reality TV show which is evidently the French equivalent of “Come Dine With Me”. The French contestants had taken the whole thing a lot more seriously than we do in the UK: in this week’s episode filmed in the lakeside mountain town of Annecy, hostess with the mostest Carole had recreated an alpine meadow by turfing over her dining table with real grass onto which were dotted toy animals and artificial flowers. You can check out the latest episode of the show here: http://undinerpresqueparfait.m6.fr
Suitably refreshed and in the mood for dinner after watching the lovely Carole prepare foie gras for her guests, I set out for Restaurant Hélène Darroze which is located on the discreetly affluent Rue d’Assas just off the bustling Boulevard Raspail.
It felt good walking in through the sleekly dark doorway and being shown in the Salon, the less formal (and less expensive) way to sample to cooking here. It had been surprisingly easy to book a table – I had phoned and booked in the main restaurant just 10 days’ earlier without any difficulty. A sign of the recession perhaps. Plan A, dinner for two (me and Auntie Madge) in the restaurant, changed to Plan B, dinner for three in the salon when we realised Cousin Eileen was in town. Eileen, like many members of my extended family has led a colourful life and is now married to a Turkish Cypriot and runs a beachside bar, The Soho Lounge, in a resort not far from Kyrenia.
As I was a little early and was the first to arrive, I settled down in the boudoir-like salon with a glass of Laurent Perrier rosé and took in the delicious sounding “Menu Tapas” realising with pleasure that there were no difficult decisions to make as all of these dishes would be served up during the course of the evening. The salon décor is a mix of funky minimalism (citrus green walls and dinky dark wood dining tables) and Arabian nights glamour (screen of butterfly wings and jewel-coloured silk cushions).
The Tapas menu is shown in the photograph below, along with the mildly eye-watering price of Euro 88 per head (in fact not unreasonable for Paris given the number of different dishes and sheer quantity of skilful cooking involved – to put this into context, a single main course of sea bass at the Restaurant Jules Verne on the Eiffel Tower is also coincidentally Euro 88, a spotted on the menu during next day’s sightseeing)
My fellow guests arrived and joined me in a glass of pink champagne. The waiters (all good looking sharp suited young men) were gently flirtatious and were happy to take our picture. Cousin Eileen is on the left, Auntie Madge in the middle and me on the right.
Why did I choose Restaurant Hélène Darroze? Because she’d appeared as an example of a top-class Michelin-starred chef on BBC’s Masterchef last year and had stuck in my mind as being quietly competent and observing the highest standards in the kitchen. I toyed with the idea of trying out Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant but in the end thought I’d like to visit a restaurant run by a female chef. She is now in her early 40s, at the top of her game and, like Angela Hartnett before her, has taken over the running of the restaurant of London’s flagship Connaught Hotel.
I knew next to nothing about Darroze’s style of cooking before visiting the restaurant so this was all a new discovery. I now know that she is a native of Landes in South West France and this certainly showed in the cooking on the menu this evening.
The first course of 3 “tapas” comprised, transcribing from the photographed menu above:
Foie gras de canard confit au naturel, chutney de figue de chez ‘Pierre Bau’, réduction Mas Amiel
Haricots maïs du Béarn, homard bleu, olives Taggiashe, roquette
Ris d’agneau et kokotxas de morue en fricasseé aux noisettes fraîches, velouté d’artichauts bretons
Here’s what the dishes looked like when they arrived at the table:
As you can see, all the dishes were served in tiny portions, just right for a greedy person like me. I tend to like my plates and bowls round, finding the various square receptacles, wooden boards, jars and the like that modern chefs feel compelled to employ rather faddish. The delicate little shell shaped bowls that were used here were however rather lovely and suited the dainty nature of the food and portion sizes. Wine glasses I recognised as Riedel and felt good in the hand. We chose a Beaujolais (a Fleurie I think) as a cost effective and versatile wine which lasted all through the meal.
The course which stood out for me was the lamb sweetbreads – these were tiny morsels packed with flavour and were served with what the waiter informed us were the lower cheeks of a salt cod! Obscure this ingredient may the cheek too were dainty and delicious and worked incredibly well with the lamb and the velvety artichoke purée.
Next up were:
Riz acquarello noir et crémeux, chipirons, chorizo et tomates confites
Maigre de ligne, déclinaison de fenouil, moules de Bouchot et palourdes au jus d’herbes
Effiloché de poularde jaune des Landes, cèpes, espouma de pommes de terre
These dishes are in the next photograph:
The rice dish was a refined take on the traditional Catalan black rice dish found on Barcelona restaurant menus, though Darroze prefers to use a type of Carnaroli rice from Italy as the waiter knowledgeably informed us. Chipirons turned out to be baby squid. The waiter was also helpful in explaining what maigre was – a fish native to the Atlantic Charentes Maritime coast, a little like a sea bass. Whilst chatting to us, he also solved the mystery of what bar and loup de mer are – both sea bass but the former is the name used for fish from the Atlantic coast and the latter the name used for Mediterranean fish.
On returning home, I looked up maigre in my trusty Jane Grigson Fish Book and was delighted to find that it was in there – just a couple of sentences but there nevertheless – she is a woman you can count on. Apparently this fish is known in English as a meagre or a croaker and is a bit like a gurnard. Hats off to Darroze for using something unusual and from her home region rather than the more obvious turbot or sole.
The menu French was getting a little up itself at this point – I mean, a declension of fennel! This turned out to be fennel three ways with the purée turning out to be a revelation – I made a mental note to try this it at home. And effiloché of chicken? This seems to have something to do with knitting or crocheting but turned out to be a delectable miniature chicken shepherd’s pie with the espouma or cheffy foam of potato being the lightest mash imaginable.
Finally, on to the puddings. These were:
Madeleine a l’huile d’olive, sorbet fromage blanc, salade de mûres et myrtilles, meringue au cassis
Crème au chocolat carapuno du Vénézuela, praline d’amandes fait maison et écume de thym citron
Both pretty as a picture and as good to eat as to look at. Sorry to be a pedant (actually I’m not sorry really) but I think the menu should actually describe the chocolate as Carupano rather than carapuno. Arthur Knapp in his 2008 book “Cocoa and Chocolate” describes the criollo beans from this part of Venezuela as “the finest in the world”. Nothing but the best for Darroze and they certainly made a heavenly mousse. I was not sure about the combination of lemon thyme (in another of those modish foams) with chocolate but both Madge and Eileen enjoyed the contrasting tastes. All this sounds positively gushing but it really was very good. Searching round for something negative to say, the sound of heavy duty machinery from the open plan kitchen, probably employed in whipping up those foams, was perhaps the only (slightly) jarring note during the evening.
The dinky little madeleine was served with the most amazing mini blackcurrant meringues that exploded in the mouth like a refresher. I would guess that they were not concocted from the usual egg white but from blackcurrant foam. A touch of the Heston Blumenthal, and a little culinary magic to end the meal.