Regular visitors to the Blog will know that central to my love of all things France is an ongoing obsession with the beautiful city of Paris, its restaurants, history, and gorgeous views (you can read about my last trip here, during which The Boy rather romantically proposed). It was therefore the perfect starting point for my recent trip to France, planned with the sole purpose of eating and drinking my way through some of the most celebrated gastronomic locations. There are two things I like doing when visiting cities like Paris: successfully pretending I'm not a tourist, and discovering a hidden gem so far untouched by guidebooks. And on this trip, I found the perfect places to do both.
Whilst we enjoyed many fantastic restaurants and typically Parisian establishments, a highlight was visiting the Bar à Chocolat at the swish yet friendly Hôtel du Cadran on the rue du Champ de Mars close to the Eiffel Tower. I had heard great things about the decadent and unusual flavoured macarons, chocolate pots and, perhaps the most sought after quality by British visitors to a Paris eatery, the fabulous customer service!
Served on a kitsch tray on brightly coloured melamine plates and dishes, the Parisian version of afternoon tea at the Bar à Chocolat was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds and brought a relaxed and fun element to the serious business of chocolate and macaron creation, an art honed to perfection by the Bar's chef Christophe Roussel.
At this welcoming little cafe nestling in the foyer of the hip hotel, there are almost too many flavours of macarons to choose from, all incredibly intriguing and decadent, and even the hot chocolate comes in five or six different flavours. I went for orange hot chocolate and found it creamy, smooth and delicious - just rich enough for my tastes without being too sweet. My favourite macaron flavours included salted caramel, morello cherry with pink peppercorns, orange and tarragon and, the old classic, framboise chocolat. The best thing about them was the perfect combination of a light crunch to the outer shell and a soft, whipped filling sandwiched between the two pieces (I told you I was a macaron geek).
I loved the macarons so much I asked the lovely waitress to help me choose a few more to take away in a gift bag, which didn't last long, and then spent a few final moments admiring the beautiful gift boxes and displays of handmade chocolate. The relaxed, contemporary interior was the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist traps and Paris traffic; and with sweet treats to die for, the Bar is now firmly on my to-do list for every future visit to Paris.
Another absolute gem, discovered entirely by accident, was a charming little wine cave tucked away on a side street close to our hotel in the 11ème arrondissement. One evening we decided to seek out a nice bar for a quick aperitif before dinner. Instead of striding straight out from our hotel and heading south to the Place de la Bastille and towards the river or the rue de rivoli and the centre of Paris, we ambled around the side streets to the east of the Bastille, which form a complex little web of coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and now and again suddenly emerge on a big, main street like the bustling, retail-dominated rue de la Roquette. It was here, on rue Sedaine, that we stumbled upon La Cave, à la Bastille - not quite hitting the cave à manger trend (wine shops where you can also eat) so popular in Paris over the last few years but definitely living up to it's byline of vins et plus (wines and more).
A busy street terrace and simple chalkboard menus at the entrance advertised the wines and small plates (petit restauration) on offer inside. We browsed the impressive wine and spirits stock in the shop and asked the very welcoming and friendly proprietor about trying some wine by the glass with some meats, cheeses and bread. We discussed our wine preferences and food appetite, with fantastic advice from the proprietor about the different "house wines" on offer on the menu, and settled down on wooden stools at mismatching tables at the back of the shop to sample a red Cotes de Provence wine from Domaine Turenne (Bastien 2011, named after the producers' son). Deliciously zingy with a full-bodied depth well-suited to our plates of charcuterie et fromage, the wine (and it's good price) tempted us to stock up on a couple of bottles to take home with us.
The assiette froides - just 12 euros for a large plate with a basket of bread - included four or five different types of cheese, some cured meats, and some fantastic coarse pâtés. The relaxed interior and friendly service made us feel at home (or at least in familiar surroundings, like our local Cambridge Wine Merchants) and it was a great place to indulge in a spot of people-watching. I particularly enjoyed chilling out amongst the locals; a couple reading the newspaper whilst sipping an early evening glass of wine; a group of friends sampling a few glasses of wine and laughing and chatting with the staff; and listening to the expert advice being given to browsing customers. La Cave, à la Bastille is well worth seeking out, popping into, and, best of all, pretending it's your local wine shop. Another firm favourite to add to my Paris itinerary!
10, rue du Champ de Mars
6, rue Sedaine