Paris Days

Côte de boeuf, gratin dauphinois, marrow!

Most days it seems like it didn’t happen. It was an aeon ago and I was a different person then. So many things have changed now. I had grand schemes of coming home and writing up my adventures in luscious flowing prose that would transport you all to the exact cafe I was standing in when I ordered my first coffee, or to the crepe vendor who rolled my first real Parisian crepe. Picturing the look of intense fascination on my face as nimble hands carefully poured a thin layer of batter to the hot plate, smoothed it over, flipped it gently, and applied a generous helping of nutella before folding corner over corner and handing it to me without pomp or ceremony. Imparting the feeling that it was truly something special, not because it was the most amazing thing I’d ever eaten, but because for once I wasn’t living someone else’s experiences. It was me, and I was there.

Of course the natural thing happened. I came home, got back to the reality of work and life in Perth, and besides a few lazy uploads of photos, didn’t ever expand on the great time I had, the people I met, or the scenes of Parisian life I had acted out before me on a daily basis.

Which is indeed a great shame, because as short as my time was in Paris, I feel like I squeezed every little bit out of it that I possibly could. And I still think back very fondly of my time spent wandering aimlessly down Rue’s and Boulevards and trudging through Jardins… Being asked for directions by other hapless travellers and the occasional local, and being laughed at by old ladies who realised I was completely lost.

I could tell you about Berthillon ice cream and sorbet, drinking many a caraf of Provençal Rosé, street side crepe vendors of every description, duck confit, tart tartin, roasted Camembert drizzled with honey and slices of apple, steak tartare, bone marrow, cheap but expensive champagne at the top of the Eiffel tower (that I didn’t order), macarons, jamon sandwiches, foie gras shops, wild dogs, being bored out of my mind in the Louvre, loving the Pompidou. Being taken to dinner by famous food writers to 200 year old brasseries.

I could also go on about the providence and connective powers of the internet. How friends across the other side of the world put me in touch with lovely local dining companions, suggested restaurants for me to try, and showed me some of the hidden sights of this city that holds so much potential.

But really, the images can speak for themselves. So please have a look through my little slice of the life Parisien.

My First Night in Paris

Le Kokolion

I need to borrow 30c from some Canadian backpacker girls when I arrived at the Gare du Nord because the metro ticket machines wouldn’t accept my credit card, and don’t take notes. The wad of euros I’d conscientiously converted at the bureau de change before I left sat limp and impotent in my wallet, with not a tabac in sight to get some change.

After catching the first metro in the wrong direction for 10 minutes I eventually realise my mistake and switch lines. Excuse moi and pardon will become my most frequently used pieces of French vocabulary for the next few days.

It’s Saturday night in Paris. I arrive at my hostel Le Montclair Montmartre at 10pm. I sit in the foyer of the hostel while two German guys berate the night attendant for help at having “misplaced” their car. Turns out they’d parked it illegally for the better part of 3 days while they were on a drunken Parisian bender. I listened enviously as the attendant switched between French, German, and English while trying to understand what the hell these guys are on about.

I’ve been charged for last night because I was supposed to be there then and didn’t call to say I wouldn’t be, and my booking has actually been canceled. Luckily they still have room and can un-cancel the rest of the booking. I even manage to get an upgrade to a single room, not really willing to endure the boarding school-esque communal dorm situation after the day I’ve had.

I finally get my key and check in. The room is tiny but perfect. It has possibly the worlds smallest double bed and an ensuite bathroom. It’s heaven to a weary traveler. I take a shower, leaning back on the patented hostel push button hot water system to keep the flow of water going just long enough to make me feel human again.

Finally relaxed, the hunger pangs that I’ve been ignoring all day in the face of unspeakably horrible train / ferry food have risen to the surface. After a brief consultation of Clotilde’s lovely book I find a couple of likely restaurants in the area and settle on L’Homme Tranquille. Stepping past a couple of guys smoking out the front I wander in an empty but open restaurant, and stand around for a few minutes waiting to see if someone is going to appear. Shortly thereafter the guy smoking outside comes back inside, and it turns out he’s the owner, Antoine, and that unfortunately it’s been a quiet night so they’ve closed a bit earlier. However if I want some dinner he’s happy to recommend his friend around the corner at Le Kokolion, who will be open til much later.

So I wander around the corner, admiring the sights and sounds and smells of Monmartre, the cobbled streets, the flickering neon lights, the array of people of all kinds both strange and enticing. Casually lounging in bars and cafes, making me wish I’d taken up smoking.

Le Kokolion looks like somewhere out of a dream I’d had once. A cliche of a French bistro trapped in a time gone past, but perfect in it’s simplicity. Painted in faded red with gold lettering, it felt like the right place for a first meal.

I entered and was greeted by the manager with a matter of fact “Bonjour Monsieur”. To which I stuttering replied “Bonjour. Une table pour un s’il vous plait”. Suddenly the reality of communicating in a foreign language became apparent and all my careful study went to crap as I realised I really had no clue what to do if the conversation didn’t follow the painfully basic routines I’d practiced.

Fortunately though my attempts were met with polite acceptance and a guiding arm led me through to a dimly lit enclave with candle lit tables and old movie posters on the wall. A menu was presented and then some space given so I could peruse in peace. My “menu French” finally having a moment to become useful I scanned for something I’d want to eat. Settling on the terrine du canard for entree, the onglet de boeuf for main, and a creme brulee for dessert.

The waiter returned and I dutifully gave him my order in as good a French accent as I could muster, pointing at the same time to make sure I didn’t leave any room for confusion. “Une carafe de vin rouge, s’il vous plait” was also met with understanding, and I soon had a small carafe of wine sitting in front of me like it was always meant to be there.

I pour a glass and sip casually, looking around in the dim light at tables filled with friends a lovers, talking close and laughing loud. Another table sports a single diner, carefully working his way through a bottle of wine, putting me at ease. My terrine arrives, a thick wedge of duck pate with other bits of liver and duck. It’s served with toast and a small salad. I take big slices of it and smear it over the toast, it’s rich and gamey and tastes like everything I’d imagined it should.

The beef came next. I’d ordered it ‘saignant’ and it was cooked to perfection. An onglet cut is basically a skirt or flank steak. A cheaper cut that can often be tough, but cooked rare this was beautifully tender. Served along with haricots verte and pommes frites it was the simple meal I wanted. The beans were presented in a neat little stack and crowned with a knob of butter that coated them in deliciousness.
The frites were actually thick pillows of potato deep fried to crunchy perfection. Giving both texture and flavour.

I looked up halfway through the course, realising I’d totally lost myself in it. The length of the day had faded away and the ordeal I’d had to go through to get here seemed so insignificant. The restaurant was now half full of people. I check my phone for the time, 12:00am. The table next to me had just arrived and ordered a bottle of wine and 3 courses. Unheard of in Perth at such an hour. I could get used to this very quickly I mused.

Finally the creme brulee arrived. The waiter pouring some alcohol (which may have been calvados) on top and setting it alight, and interesting take on the flame throwing technique of caramelsing the sugar on top. He looked at me wistfully as he placed it before me, still aflame, and said something that I can only assume meant “Wait til it goes out before you start eating or you’ll burn your face off”. I smiled knowingly at my translation of what he said and dutifully waited for the light blue flames to die down and the thin layer of caramelised sugar on top to fully form.

I then cracked through to the creamy goodness of the brulee. I melted a little as the first taste hit my tongue, smooth and rich and luscious, coating my mouth with caramel and taking my level of satisfaction to ludicrous levels that can only be attributed to a virgin Parisian dining experience.

Closed La Marmite

After a casual “l’addition s’il vous plait” I was presented with the bill. My attempts to convey just how much I appreciated the meal probably got lost in translation, so it was with a simple “Merci, Au revoir” that I left and wandered into the Paris night, sublimely satisfied at a great first meal.

I took a long way home, photographing every in sight. Walking up and over the hill around the Sacre Coeur and then back down the other side. Arriving back at my hostel at 2am, walking past a grocery store that was still open and selling wine, I knew this was somewhere I’d grow to love.

Dover to Calais

Not food *

Well at least the weather was nice. You may have been wondering exactly how I made it to Paris from London after Eurostar was shut down due to the fire in the tunnel the very day I was supposed to be boarding it ? (or you may not actually care at all). Well after a customary session of moping and cursing the world at my lack of luck, I gathered all my steely determination and guile about me for the long road ahead. I was going to Paris, I would be in Paris… I was destined for Paris. Also I had a non-refundable hostel booking that I didn’t want to pay for.

First I checked for airfares. Finding out after a brief search that the cheapest airfare I could get at short notice would be around £400 (!!). My next option was the ferry, which sounded like it could be a great way to go. £14 pounds for a ticket from Dover to Calais, and a leisurely cruise across the channel full of wonderful sights. Nautical adventures ahoy !

So the adventure began at 9am on Saturday morning, after a rather boisterous Friday night I boarded the tube to London Bridge a little worse for wear, and got an overland train from London Bridge to Dover. 2 hours later I arrive at the Dover train station, then wait for a bus to take me to the Dover ferry terminal.

Another hour and a half wait at the ferry terminal before the ferry left and I was fortunate enough to enjoy the company of what must have been the angriest man in Britain, working behind the counter of Cafe Ritazza. I didn’t want a coffee, nothing on earth could have made order a coffee from him. I was however macabrely intrigued by his ability to dump the portafilter basket into a bin full of coffee grinds every single time he knocked the spent coffee out. In fact making it more and more filthy each time as he never bothered to wipe it.

Quite frankly put, it was the dirtiest most disgusting coffee machine I’ve ever seen. If the look of it wasn’t enough to scare you off, then the guy swearing audibly each time someone ordered a coffee was a pretty clear indication that it wasn’t going to be good.

Being that I was starving, and had yet to each anything since I woke up, I figured I’d try my luck with a sandwich from the pre-prepared supply behind the cafe counter.

“What type of roll is that one ?” I asked, pointing to a rather nondescript item wrapped in foil.

“No idea, but it’s all we got left” was the gruntingly abrupt response.

“Well I guess I’ll have that one then” I surmised.

He then proceeded to manhandle what I had now determined was a “sub” of some description out of it’s foil and throw it onto a sandwich press. All the while swearing and muttering to himself, cursing all and sundry for putting him in the unenviable position of having to serve people food, a job he was clearly not cut out for.

A few minutes go by, and he slides the now partially warmed “sub” into a bag and flings it across the counter to me. Shortly after this point I made a note in my little food travel diary.

“Cafe Ritazza disgusting coffee machine, angry man, filthy sausage roll type thing. Trying luck with vending machine next time”

I doubt truer words have never been spoken about that establishment.

So finally we board the ferry. Well actually we board a bus to take us to the ferry. The ferry ride was pleasant enough. Although they aren’t entirely equipped to deal with people who don’t have cars. As such there is nowhere to leave your luggage. Which meant I was dragging my bags around for a good 2 1/2 hours, or however long it took to get there.

Time began to stand still somewhere in the middle of the channel. Suddenly the realisation came upon me that I would actually be in country where English was not the common language, and I now began to regret fast forwarding through most of the “French Foundations” CD’s my good friend Alex had lent me to study up on, and hoping my year 10 French lessons would all come flooding back to me.

The scene at Calais ferry port was straight out of Lost in Translations. Hundreds of confused, angry, and disoriented tourists trying to make some sense of where they were, and how they were supposed to get to Paris from here.

I was of the school of thought that everything would work itself out in due course. So whilst American tourists screamed staccato broken French into mobile phones to secure train tickets and hotel transfers. I just sat on the bus and followed the signs. It seemed to give them a sense of empowerment to know that they had some control over what was happening, but in reality, we were all on the same boat, all catching the same bus, the same trains, and arriving at the same time in Paris.

So I secured a ticket to Paris on the train, which would go via Lille, running because everyone else was and then realising it didn’t leave for another 20 minutes. The train was pretty nice, and I somehow managed to “accidentally” end up in first class by not reading my ticket properly. It also didn’t help that the train was 30 carriages long, and I really couldn’t be bothered walking to the one I was meant to be in. The ticket inspector however, was happy to point out my mistake and direct me ten carriages forward to where I was supposed to be.

Arriving at Gare du Nord at 9pm on Saturday night was a little shock to the system. It felt like I’d arrived in the ghetto, as a group of young guys walked past yelling at people with giant muzzled alsatians on chains at their sides. No signs of foie gras or caviar in this enclave.

So finally I find a metro map, get a ticket, and haul my bags on board. Disembarking at Jules Joffrin metro stop, the closest to Le Montclair Monmartre, my hostel of choice for the stay. All I can say is that a tiny crappy room with a bed in it had never looked so good after the day I’d had. Still I hadn’t eaten. After leaving at 9am from London and arriving in Paris at 9pm, It had been a long day, but it wasn’t yet over. The Paris air (which does not smell half as bad as anyone tells you) was full of life and energy. 10pm would see every restaurant in Perth closed for the night, but in Paris, things were just starting to happen.

Borough Market

Salted beef heaven Jarlsberg perhaps

If you run a food blog, or have even a passing interest in food, and live in or near London, then you will well and truly know what Borough Markets are all about.

They are essentially the food lovers markets of choice for all things different, fancy, organic, local, and artisan, in the area of bread, cheese, meat, charcuterie, hams, seafood, wines, beers, ciders, chocolate, truffles… You name it, someone is probably selling it at Borough Markets.

Anything I have to say about the markets has probably been said before on lots of other sites, but I will say my favourite stand out of all of them was perhaps one of the simplest. Selling nothing other than salted beef (which I guess is the same as corned beef) sandwiches with lettuce and mustard. I ordered one of these and then sat watching the guy heap mountains of delicious beef inside a fresh roll, until I was sure it could fit no more, and then keep going. Pure joy for 4 pounds.

Here’s a few photos of the rest of the markets.

Borough Market
http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/

The Eagle, Farringdon

*

Sometimes things don’t always go as planned. Actually no, that’s not entirely fair. Sometimes there is no plan, but somewhere deep down you have a feeling that everything is going to work out exactly the way you want it to because the universe just likes you… and then it doesn’t.

It had been a long day. Walking the streets of London, popping up at tube stops all over the map all day and taking a great many photos that will never see the light of day for all of your sakes.

After meeting up with my good friend Sam, he and Amanda and I had then slowly meandered our way back through Soho, down over the Thames past the Eye, and then on towards a road called “The Cut” near Southwark. We had tried to get into two restaurants that looked very promising, the Anchor & Hope, and Mason Don Filipe. Sadly both were completed packed and had 2 hour waits for tables… which at 8:30pm wasn’t really cutting it for my exercise ravaged hunger.

We then made a daring attempt to swing a no notice table at St Johns. Black Cabbing it over to Smithfield, however it was all to no avail. The dining Gods were not smiling on us that night.

So the next place down my list was The Eagle on Farringdon Road. Another short walk down the road though, so we figured we’d chance it there before trying Moro in Exmouth Markets and at last ditch, any kebab shop that still happened to be open.

As luck would have it though, the Eagle was indeed open, and although we couldn’t get a table inside, we did manage to squeeze our way onto someone elses table outside while they weren’t looking… and did a tricky little “oh, you didn’t need all these seats did you ? No ?.. cheers” routine.

Thinking back though, I’m not sure how fortunate we were to get that spot. After Amanda almost had a drink spilled over her, and a few cheery patrons who were a tad more interested in the pub than the gastro had a short but charming conversation with her, it wasn’t looking like the most welcoming of venues for our weary legs.

The Eagle is often referred to as the original gastropub, as it’s first owners David Eyre and Mike Belben coined the term in 1991 when they opened it. The concept of the gastropub is simple. Good food, good beers, good wines, in a pub environment. Sadly, what we found at The Eagle wasn’t quite any of those things.

Walking in you’re greeted with the kind of shabby chic mismatched furniture, things thrown everywhere kind of layout that can be cool when the vibe is right. But what it felt like was a pub, well and truly sans gastro.

I hung about watching the chefs in the open kitchen throwing pots and pans around for a bit and then got depressed at how the food was looking, so lingered down the end of the bar in amongst pissed patrons waiting to be able to order.

I ended up going with a tomato, basil, and bread soup with chunks of parmesan through it, which I have to say was actually very tasty, thick and rustic and full of homely flavours. It almost made the stale basket of bread we were given palatable. Amanda also had the soup and Sam ordered the clam chowder, which looked the part as well.

For mains Amanada ordered a chilli pasta with crab, Sam went for lentils with pork, and I went for a Hereford rump with horseradish and roast potatoes. To say I was underwhelmed by the rump would be the understatement of the century. I ordered it rare, it came out dehydrated. Resembling something more like beef jerky than any steak I’ve ever been served and eaten before.

* *

I should have just sent it back straight away, but the service was virtually non-existent at that point of the night, and I knew if I did I would seriously be risking not eating at all, which wasn’t an option. So I bravely ventured forth into a land of sorrow, and mouthfuls of gray tasteless meat. I actually think I became a vegetarian for a minute halfway through that steak, wondering what that poor cow could have done to deserve such a dismal send off.

Sam’s and Amanda’s meals did look and taste better than mine, so perhaps it was just a case of sour grapes and poor menu choice, but the overall feeling coming away from The Eagle was that they just really couldn’t give a crap. They seemed to be doing a roaring trade over the bar, if the amount of people stumbling out the doors in a near paralytic stupor was anything to go by, so perhaps the food has taken a bit of back seat.

One positive thing that came out of it all though, was that after verifying for me just how bad my steak was, one of the drunken patrons nearby our table also mentioned that there had been a fire in the Eurotunnel. The very tunnel that my Eurostar train was due to drive through in the morning on my journey to Paris. Alerted, alarmed, and disappointed with my first London dining experience, I headed home and confirmed that it indeed was all true. There would be no trains to Paris the next day.

Which just goes to show that you should never ignore the ramblings of drunk pub patrons, and that you should always send back bad food.

Le Pain Quotidien – and more of London

You *are* being watched *

And so we walked… and walked…. and walked. I guess that’s what you do on holidays when you actually want to see some of the city. In London it’s pretty easy to get into a rat like mentality. Using the tube system it’s pretty easy to stay underground all day and only pop up in a few places. Super convenient once you get used to where to change lines and how not to get your arm caught in the doors, but not the best way to see the sites.

So we strolled through town, down Regent Street, and Oxford St, though we did not pass go, and did not collect $200 (and there is no such thing as free parking). Then down past the horse guards and over the bridge to the London Eye. Being one of the touristy things I figured I should do, we bit the bullet and got in line. 30 minutes and a couple of cavity searches later we were at the top. Surveying the shabby historic beauty that is London.

Le Pain Quotidien Swirly

With a fierce hunger now brewing but no idea where good food was to be found in Southbank we did a little divining and ended up at Le Pain Quotidien, which looked like a chain, but an up market one. Turns out they are a chain, and in fact have stores in most of the known world… including Australia.

The basic premise at Le Pain Quotidien is quality bread, made on the premises from organic flour, and shareable plates of organic charcuterie and other tastiness. Founder Alain Coumont was apparently a Belgian chef dissatisfied with his choice of bread to serve in his restaurant, so he ended up developing his own loaf and then opening a bakery. From humble beginnings it’s now spread to 10 countries and many stores.

So I went for a simple charcuterie plate loaded with hams, prosciutto, sausage, bread, sun dried tomatoes, pickled veges, and olive. Just what I was after, and a lovely way to relax after a long walk, with a delicious glass of Château Couronneau Bordeaux to wash it all down.

Probably highly presumptuous, but this may have been my most enjoyable experience in a franchised establishment to date… which normally exude a cold sterile vibe that makes me want to wash myself with steel wool.

Le Pain Quotidien
Royal Festival Hall
Festival Terrace, Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Tel.: 0207 486 6154

Our next destinations were more snapshots of the city. We went to Camden and checked out the infinite row of piercing places and enjoyed the parade of Camden Leisure Pirates swaggering about. A peak through Camden Markets unveiled rows and rows of crap, and then even more crap hidden behind that crap. I did particularly like the “Chinese Food All Mixed Together” sign hanging above a particularly fine example of salmonella fodder, but yes was strong enough to resist the lure of cheap greasy nasty looking food.

We then hopped back on the tube and jumped off at Covent Garden. I forget why, but Amanda said there were some nice places there. Though the only one we actually ended up going into was the Australian Shop, so Amanda could buy twisties… which apparently are no readily available in the UK (the horror).

More walking and now it’s getting late and we pick up another Perth ex-pat, my friend Sam, who proceeds to lead us on another merry dance through the streets once more. Giving the seedy Soho by night tour that every tourist really wants but doesn’t know how to ask for.

A chance to see the London Eye by night as we cross back over the bridge, and then meander our way towards The Cut near Southwark to try our luck with some of Davy’s recommendations. Sadly we couldn’t get in to most of the places on the street as they were completely packed on a Thursday night and not taking bookings meant we were out of luck.

So then, we made our way via Black Cab to Farringdon Road to check out The Eagle, the original gastropub… which is where the story will continue shortly…