Paris Bars and Cafes

Paris is divided into different arrondissements that radiate out in circles from the centre. Each of these arrondissements is sub-divided into quartiers, each with its own distinct buzz. I don’t know Paris well enough to tell you definitively where “the best” bars are for an evening out, or “the best” cafes for a mid-morning coffee stop or an afternoon cake, but I can share with you the little gems that we’ve found during our weekend trips.

Canal Saint Martin

Le verre volé – Wine and small plates – I must confess I haven’t been here as the place was closed when we swung by at the weekend, but my husband has been previously and can vouch for its credentials.

Chez Prune – For casual weekend summer evenings facing the canal. If you’re here after dinner why not try a caipiriniha for 7.50 Euro, strong and thoughtfully served with a little spoon for muddling up the lime and sugar to get the best of the flavours.

Le Sardine – For apéretif in the Place Saint Marthe.

Rue Vielle du Temple and around (3rd Arrondissement)

In the heart of Le Marais, this street really comes to life in the evenings. This is just a tiny selection of the shopfront bars that abound in this district.

Les Philosophes

We actually ate here as well as having drinks. Whilst I wouldn’t rate the food sadly, this place is still a great spot for drinks, both pre-dinner or nightcap. Huge terrace facing out onto Rue Vielle du Temple ideal for watching the world go by. Real Parisian feel without the pretension.

Le petit fer à cheval

As the name suggests, a tiny room with a marble horseshoe-shaped bar to sit up to. Wines start at 3.50 Euro a glass (and are significantly more economical than water at 8 Euro a 330ml bottle, so don’t hold back!)

La Belle Hortense  Opposite the petit fer à cheval and equally as tiny. It looks like a bookshop from the front, but appears to be a cross between a wine bar and a library!

La Trinquette  Wine bar in La Rue des Gravilliers next door to Andy Wahloo (and a much easier bet for entrance on a weekend). Atmospheric, it was heaving the night we went with people spilling out onto the street. Zinc top bar and economical wines by the glass.

Andy Wahloo  Painfully cool, put on your best French accent and strike a pose to pass the door staff on a saturday night. As an aside “wahloo” means “I have nothing” in Arabic.

Ile de la cité

Au vieux Paris d’Arcole

For an afternoon pitchet de Rosé mere seconds from Notre Dame, but under the quiet creepers and hanging flower baskets out the front of this cute little place, it feels like a whole world away.

Saint Germain des Prés

Pères et Filles

On the Rue de Seine, a quiet side street away from the bustling heart of cafe culture in Saint Germain. Another place where we whiled away a pleasant hour with a verre du vin blanc in the sunshine. This bistro also serves food and gives off a typical Parisian vibe with its wooden exterior doors that roll back, chequered floors and ornate mirrors and chandeliers.

Les Deux Magots

In Place Saint Germain des Prés and famed for its illustrious clientele (such as Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Satre) and in every guide book going, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a real Parisian experience. Wonderful for a morning coffee or sinful hot chocolate (served in a pouring jug). Expect eye-watering prices.

Louvre and around the Rue de Rivoli (1st Arrondissement)

Le Fumoir (Rue de L’Amiral de Coligny)

A good place to catch you breadth after a trip around the Louvre. Serves food (I can recommend brunch on the weekends).

Angelina  (226 Rue de Rivoli)

Tea room in the belle époque style under the arches on Rue de Rivoli, amazing for hot chocolate on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Ladurée (Rue Royale)

Always a line out the front of this famous French tea room to get a table, but this branch tends to be significantly quieter (though it may not seem it) than the one on the Champs Elysées. If you’re a first timer to Paris, tea and macarons or an exquistely decorated tarte or gateâu is a quintessential Parisian experience. If you just want to buy macarons, pretty much every chocolate shop/bakery in Paris makes them and outlets that don’t have the Laduée branding are usually cheaper.

Saint Denis

Chez Jeanette (47 Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis)

In between Gare du Nord and Gare du L’est in the 10th, this is our pit-stop before we head up to Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar home. Faded grandeur and a little rough around the edges, this place serves up awesome charcuterie and cheese sharing platters together with reasonably priced pitchets of wine. Perfect for the last frenchie fix away from the frenetic tourist traps around the station.

DIY Picnics

Paris is an epicurean dream – a city where there is a bakery on every corner and a cheese shop on every second corner, not to mention huge open air food markets (Bastille has a great one on sundays 9am -2.30pm). I love nothing better than buying a bottle of wine, a couple of cheeses and a baguette and heading to Jardin du Luxembourg to watch the children’s sailboats on the boating lake and tuck in.


Brunch in Paris

Les Bonnes Soeurs, 8 Rue du Pas de La Mule (3rd Arrondissement)
Ok so Brunch is not a French concept, but that doesn’t mean Paris shouldn’t be on the brunch scene. Les Bonnes Soeurs has got its formula spot on and the brunch trend has evidently caught on in Paris – expect lines out the door for this place’s weekend brunch (served 11am – 4pm Saturdays and 12 noon – 4pm Sundays and bank holidays).

There are two options at Les Bonnes Soeurs: ordering a la carte (prices range from around 8 Euro for yogurt and museli to 15 Euro for the Eggs Benedict) or you can order the belt busting “Formule”, which appeared to be the default order of the day when we went.

Being the glutton that I am, I obviously went for the Formule, which comprised a hot drink of your choice and freshly squeezed juice, a basket of brioches and breads together with jams (apricot and raspberry) and nutella, a choice of scrambled or fried eggs with cheese, bacon or smoked salmon (served with green salad and fries), followed by a choice of American style pancakes and maple syrup or home baked patisserie. My brunching companions who evidently aren’t as gluttonous as me opted for a la carte, ordering Eggs Norwegian and Eggs Benedict respectively. This all turned out perfectly, since portions are so generous we were able to share the brioche basket and pancakes (with plenty left over)!

We universally agreed that the eggs were delicious. The hollandaise was perfectly whipped into a pale yellow sauce with the lightness of air and the eggs were poached brilliantly, the yolks bright orange with just the right amount of runniness.

And now onto my scrambled eggs – again another lesson in the art of cooking the perfect eggs – not too wet and not too dry, seasoned with fresh black pepper and chives, topped with a generous helping of smoked salmon. Lip-smackingly good.

And finally the pancakes – whoever thought you couldn’t get perfect fluffy pancakes outside of America (and least of all in France, where the crêpe rules) was wrong. They were awesome and the serve yourself syrup was a bonus too.

The overall verdict? Well, my husband who is an ardent brunch fan and uses the Eggs Benedict as a barometer of the credentials of any new brunch venture proclaimed them to be “the best Eggs Benedict” he’s had this year (and he eats them a lot).  In fact his only criticisms of Les Bonnes Soeurs were that he couldn’t find enough room to finish off my pancakes and they didn’t serve chocolate milkshake (really, why would they?! I am embarrassed to say that this is a man who doesn’t like coffee – a concept as unfamiliar in France as vegetarianism.)
For me, one of the biggest gripes I usually have with brunch places is not being able to have the best of both worlds – yet the formule at Les Bonne Soeurs is perfect, since you get both sweet AND savoury doses of yumminess, even if eating the lot means that you are likely to have consumed a week’s worth of calories in one sitting.
The only downside? The wait – as with popular no-reservation brunch places in London and New York, we waited about 45 minutes for our table.  But trust me, the wait at this place is worth it – nothing sets you up for a big day of Paris sight seeing better.

Epicurean Wrap-Up

Brunch for three: Formule, Eggs Benedict, Eggs Norwegian, Coffee – 53 Euro
Value Barometer: 6/10 – a bit pricey, but hey, you won’t have to eat for the rest of the day!
Ambiance: Weekend catch-up with friends/recovery from the night before
Food: French patisserie meets global brunch favourites
Go if: Breakfast is your favourite meal of the day
Don’t go if: You aren’t prepared to stretch your stomach
Getting there: Metro – Bastille or Chemin Vert
Also in the area: Pretty Place des Vosges – lay in the grass for a post-brunch nap if you need some recovery time
You may also like: Le Fumoir – Formule Brunch 25 Euro, Reservations required (review to follow)

An Epicurean Feast in Paris

Le Galopin, 34 Rue Saint Marthe (10th Arrondissement)

My husband and I went to Paris for the long weekend. I’ve been to Paris a number of times in the past and whilst the French are famed for their food, it always surprises me just how many mediocre restaurants there are in Paris.  This time I decided to do some research before we went, using my favourite Paris food blog, Paris by Mouth.   Armed with my research and recommendations from several close friends who have had recent stints in the city, we decided to plan to spend Saturday night in the 10th Arrondissement, in the vicinity of Canal Saint Martin (in the midst of resurgent popularity thanks to the movie Amélie).

Le Galopin is a tiny little restaurant on the corner of Place Saint Marthe, there can’t be more than 10 tables squeezed into the room, together with a corner bar and semi-open kitchen. It couldn’t seat more than 20 people at a push. There has been a bit of a buzz around this restaurant ever since it opened last year, headed by France Top Chef 2010 Winner Romain Tischenko (the French equivalent of Master Chef).

The concept at Le Galopin is a 7 course set menu that changes daily. The menu is scrawled on a page ripped from a school exercise book and tacked up by the door. For the princely sum of 44 Euro you are treated to an explosion of 7 fresh and inventive courses – 2 amuse bouches, 1 entrée, 2 plats (mains) and 2 desserts. Wines are also reasonably priced – I had a glass of pouilly fumé for 5.50 Euro and my husband had a Pinot Noir for 4.50 Euro and we then had a Corsican Muscat with dessert for 5 Euro a glass (this being France of course, wine is literally often cheaper than water and therefore it would be rude not to indulge!)

Our meal started with Bulots.  In English I think the translation is “Whelks” (which I’ve not ever heard about anyone eating except my Grandmother when she was a kid, but there you go – you should try everything once). The bulots were delicately seasoned resting on a base of pureed cresson and topped with a foamy  mi-mollette (a type of cheese) mousse. Even for a non shellfish fan, it was a  tasty and novel start to our menu.

Next up was a mini Gazpacho-style cold summer soup, topped with fried crunchy spring onions and celery, each mouthful bursting with fish roe, which made for an inventive and surprising edge to the dish. (Note – the picture below is of my half eaten soup – it was so delicious I dived in before taking a snap and so you can’t see the crunchy topping any more – apologies!)

For our entrée we were presented with a fillet of Cod, perfectly seasoned with rock salt and freshly milled black pepper, accompanied by creamy burrata, crunchy radishes and silvers of crisp fresh cucumber and apple, pulled together in a vinaigrette that complemented the delicate flavour of the fish exquisitely.

Continuing with the fish theme, our first plat was a perfectly cooked fillet of Brill (a white-fleshed fish, similar to Turbot), beautifully seasoned and accompanied by sauce vierge (literally “virgin sauce”, but actually a sublime combination of olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato and basil), mini squash and a zingy herb salad. The whole thing came together to create a beautifully fresh summer flavour. The kitchen here has certainly perfected the knack of cooking fish.

Our second main was a fillet of veal, cooked pink and accompanied by peppery rocket, mild spinach, mini girolles mushrooms and cresson puree. The veal was a clever choice to complement the fish – satisfying and flavourful, yet not overpowering so as to detract from the delicate freshness of the fish courses.

Any restaurant which serves two desserts must get a thumbs up and Le Galopin certainly didn’t disappoint. First up was a chestnut cake, served with raspberry and lemon sorbets and a foamy cream. This was essentially a playful twist on a traditional sponge pudding and ice-cream that worked well – sticking to a tried and tested concept, but with unusual flavours – the rich caremelly flavour of chestnut paired well with the freshness of the fruit sorbets.

Hot on its heels came the final course and perhaps the most clever of flavour pairings in my opinion- coffee granita, cocoa granita and a slice of coconut terrine, scattered with crushed meringue-style biscuits and popcorn. Individually these components all felt somewhat at sea, but if you heaped a little bit of each one together on a spoon, the melange of flavours was divine – sweetness from the chocolatey granita, with a rich slightly bitter, yet salty kick from the coffee and popcorn, together with the crunch of the biscuits – yum! The honeyed apricot taste of the Muscat slipped down a treat with this.
Finishing up with a très French esprèss and I was a very satisfied little Plum.

Epicurean Wrap-Up

Dinner for two: 7 course set menu, 4 glasses of wine and 1 coffee – 112 Euro
Value Barometer: 7/10
Ambiance: Date night that’s a bit hip and rough around the edges
Food: Creative and playful twist on modern bistro fare
Go if: You want to feel like a local in the know
Don’t go if: You’re a picky eater
Getting there: Metro Colonel Fabien (line 2)
Phone: +33 1 42 06 05 03 (reservations recommended)
Also in the area: Arrive early for an apéritif at Le Sardine to watch the local hipsters socialise in picture perfect Place Saint Marthe
You may also like: Le Gaigne and L’Accolade (reviews to follow)