Hidden flavours of Paris
In this blog you are pointed in the direction of the French capital’s best steaks, freshest baguettes, its most welcoming bars and secret street markets.
The secret patisserie – Gérard Mulot
Gérard Mulot is a splendid patisserie and traiteur in St-Germain. You can’t miss it – just look for the white awnings and the imposing towers of macarons in the window – but you’ll smell it before you see it. The scent of melted butter wafts dwn the block. Inside, the first thing that hits you in colour, jewel-bright strawberries on fruit tarts and patisserie boxes in pistachio, lemon and Gérard Mulot’s signature pink. It’s not far from the Jardin du Luxembourg, so you can pick up all you need for a picnic. A sunny day in St-Germain with treats from Gérard Mulot – life doesn’t get any better.
The secret bar – La Cagnotte de Belleville
La Cagnotte de Belleville (13 Rue Jean-Baptiste Dumay, 75020) is extremely scruffy but perfectly Parisian. Open from 7am to 2am, La Cagnotte is a true neighbourhood bar. You get workmen grabbing a lightning-quick espresso and mums with prams in the mornings, and artists and musicians with all the time in the world eking out their café au lait, pastis or panaché (shandy)in the day. Later, the crowd gets very hip as people chatter, dream, smoke and drink to loud music – a lot of rock, and The Stones, The Smiths and The Velvet Underground. Over it all can be heard (owner) Charlie’s laughter; a huge bark that starts as quickly as it ends.
The secret cheese shop – Fromagerie Trotté
Fromagerie Trotté (97 Rue St Antoine, 75004) is a tiny little shop in the Marais. Two people can barely stand side by side in there, but thatj’s part of its quirky charm. The owner, Pascal Trotté, sells a very personal selection of artisan cheeses, stacked on shelves lining both sides of the narrow space. He specialises in goat’s cheese – the scent hits you the moment you open the door. You get lots of locals popping in for a small piece of cheese for lunch, as well as people from much further afield who come because they know about cheese. The shop may be tiny, but there’s a cellar on site: Trotté is an expert affineur (a specialist in maturing and ripening).
The secret restaurant – Benoit
I’ve been eating at Benoit for 25 years. It’s an old brasserie in Les Halles, open for nearly a century. The portions and the quality were, and still are, phenomenal. They always slap big hunks of pâté down on the table with the bread. The puddings at Benoit are classics (oeufs à la neige – meringues floating in vanilla custard – and crème brûlée): traditional, yes, but when they’re done properly, as they are at Benoit, they’re very hard to beat.
It’s a beautiful room – I love the intricate mosaic floor and brass rails. My last visit was in January this year. I still have the snails, and this time I followed them with a little ragoût of cockscombs, kidneys and veal sweetbreads: stunning.
The secret cafe – Café Cambronne
Café Cambronne (5 Place Cambronne, 75015) is a typical Parisian cafe. There are very few reservations – it’s not that kind of place. It’s mostly walk-ins and regulars. There are only ever two or three waiters serving the whole cafe, running around looking after everyone. I love the hectic feel, with clattering of pans and shouting emanating from the open kitchen. It’s quite a moody spot, with its dark green walls and burgundy leather seats. A long bar runs down one side of the cafe, where old men with their hats pulleddown sit, day in and day out, sipping their beer. I love the Toulouse sausages with lentils, the snails and the classic, well-dressed bistro salads. The steaks are outstanding, and a giant, well-aged rump steak with sauce au poivre is very good value. In the summer, the terrace is a great spot to sit in the evening, when the Place Cambronne is lit up with fairy lights.
The secret market – Rue Mouffetard
Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement is home to the best street market in Paris. If you’re looking for ‘old Paris’ – that romantic ideal of cobbled streets and bustling markets – this is the place to go. You know you’re on the right track when you start to smell roast chicken, as the scent filters through all the twisting little streets. When you get to the market, you realise why – the chicken guy has maybe 50 chickens roasting on his spits. It’s very working class, definitely not a destination market like le Rungis. You’ll see housewives and chefs from the nearby restaurants shopping for the day’s ingredients. It’s also very regional – farmers come to the city from all over and sell their produce on different stalls. There’s a little bar à vin on the street, called Le Verre à Pied, where you can stop for an apéritif and a piece of charcuterie.
Reproduced from the Lonely Planet website ww.lonelyplanet.com (c) 2011 Lonely Planet