spring in paris

it has been far too long since we visited paris – over 7 years, shamefully. however, i think we made up for our absence during a trip last weekend. back in 2007 i learnt that i most enjoy paris if i take bite-sized pieces – focus on one or two areas rather than attempting to rush across the city, trying to fit in all of the places that i’ve decided are must-see, must-eat or must-drink. this time we focused on the east of the city – spending most of our time in the 11th (bastille) and 20th (belleville and ménilmontant) with excursions into parts of the latin quarter* and the marais.

it was a bit of a last minute trip, so taking this kind of focused approach worked really well as it meant i could make a list of local places to eat and drink and then we could just explore, stopping wherever caught our fancy. having said that i did also book a couple of evening meals.

we spent a lot of our time in the 11th, which is quite residential but has a few big bustling streets packed with cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as many quieter, semi-hidden gems. it also has a nice creative and entrepreneurial vibe. the paris kitchen blog has some great advice about places to try in this area.

our first breakfast stop was folks & sparrows, a café with a new york inspired décor (it’s owner returned to paris after 10 years in brooklyn) and a good selection of sandwiches, bagels and tarts plus homemade cakes and drinks. david’s chicken and salad sandwich was declared delicious and i enjoyed a tuna and olive tart. i also discovered goud sparkling apple juice and lemonade – delicious for being not too sweet.

fondation café is another good breakfast option but here the emphasis is very much on the coffee, which is delicious - i had a crème which was described being similar to a flat white (do ask if you’d like advice about what to order). make sure you try the cakes – we shared a wonderfully rich caramel and chocolate cupcake plus a dark, almost unsweetened chocolate slice with a light cream cheese icing.

lunch on the run included charcuterie at a corner bistro plus a stop at les nicois, a neighbourhood restaurant that specialises in all good things from the south coast. they have a hefty brunch option which includes a hot drink, fruit juice, tartines with jam, a savoury main course and a pudding but we stuck to the main courses - i enjoyed squid provençale (a lovely rich tomato and pepper sauce) while david’s spinach & ricotta tortellini with tomato sauce was delicious. if i was in the area on a sunday evening i’d be tempted to check out their nicoise-style bbq and maybe try my hand at pétanque in their basement games area.

one afternoon we stopped for a drink and a quiet moment at le square gardette, a former sewing shop that is now a quirky café with animal heads, art and books on the walls, plus plenty of nooks and crannies for a quiet moment. if you’re lucky the resident cat will be nearby and let you stroke his tummy while he sleeps.  apparently it’s also a good brunch spot.

my first evening in paris was spent alone as david was working. my explorations led me to la buvette, a tiny wine bar that used to be a cheese shop. this is a great place to start the evening, with a glass of natural wine and one or two plates of food. i chose a poultry liver terrine with apricots and pistachios plus a small smoked burrata. the terrine was obviously homemade and worked well with the thinly sliced house pickles and beautiful bread. i also really loved the creamy, gently-smoked cheese which had been drizzled with grassy olive oil. interestingly the wine bar is linked (i’m not sure how formally) to roseval, one of the restaurants we visited.

after la buvette i decided to pop round the corner to west country girl and indulge a sweet craving, with one of their salt-caramel buckwheat flour crepes. this was as excellent, as were the half-dozen oysters i couldn’t resist ordering beforehand!

onto evening meals proper. first we ate at roseval a modern bistro in ménilmontant which has a 55 euros menu plus an accompanying wine menu for 35 euros. the tasting menu has 5 courses, except that the first course is actually three dishes – scallop, mackerel and langoustine. the mackerel was my favourite – lightly charred fish served with brussel sprout leaves, ricotta and a watercress puree. the scallop was served with redcurrants and a beurre noisette, creating a very fresh tasting dish. the langoustine was a bit of a disaster, served with a smoked potato and ink purée - sadly the purée was barely warm and had the gluey texture of paste; it wasn’t a good showcase for what i presume was the variety of potato after which the restaurant is named.

however, from there on everything was delicious – hake with roasted trevisse (you did need to like bitter flavours with this menu!) and bone marrow, a wonderful lamb dish followed by the cheese course. oh, what a fabulous cheese course - brillat savarin served with clementine pieces and mustard leaves that were coated with a lovely sharp dressing; this was a perfectly balanced dish. two fabulous puddings followed – a pre-desert pannacotta with a jammy orange garnish followed by a chocolate, orange and mascarpone cream topped with a crisp buttery pastry square. all of this was accompanied by a range of interesting wines, mostly red (the starters were the only dishes served with a white) including a red sparkling wine to accompany the cheese!

our other supper was at chatomat, also located in ménilmontant. again a tasting menu was on offer (40 euros for 3 courses plus an amuse bouche and mignardise). we both opted for this as we could choose all dishes from the à la carte menu, but partway through i realised that i was too full and thankfully they happily adjusted things accordingly.

we kicked off with a delicately flavoured cod salad with quail egg. my starter was excellent – mussels with a turnip velouté, thinly sliced discs of turnip and two wonderfully punchy garnishes – a lemon confit and dried black olives. the other starter was squid with pak choy and a citrus-scented chicken and soy broth. my main course was grilled mackerel with a caramelised wedge of roasted celeriac, wild garlic puree and grapefruit – a rich dish with contrasting sweet and sharp flavours. as i was feeling full i barely tried david’s braised veal with black cardamom, semolina, baby vegetables and herbs, but he loved it. sadly pudding was a bit nondescript, although the bay ice-cream had a lovely flavour and freshness.

the reason for my fullness at chatomat was a late lunch at la crèmerie. we stopped at this wine bar for a snack – some mackerel (third time lucky!) and compotée de canard a la tomate – plus a couple of glasses of wine. the food here is mostly from deli jars and tins rather than being homemade, but is still delicious – if this approach puts you off, stick to the cheese & charcuterie. also, ask what wine is open/recommended rather than rely on the list of those available by the glass, as you’ll be offered a much wider range. you can also choose a bottle from the shop shelves and pay a 10 euro corkage charge. 

the final aspect of our trip was visiting a couple of cocktail bars. we had a pre-dinner drink at le perchoir, a rooftop bar that serves a range of cocktails and has a restaurant attached - the non-signposted bar is accessed through the courtyard of a residential building – check the address, trust that you’re in the right place, take the lift to the top of the building and all should be fine. the open fire and 360 degree views across paris (pictured at the top of this post) were being enjoyed by a relaxed crowd. part of the space is under cover in case of showers.

a more buzzy late night experience was had at bespoke, a cocktail bar that also serves food. it’s known for its adventurous drinks (a take on the italian tricolore salad was recommended, with rum, tomato, basil and balsamic vinegar) but having had a disastrous experience with a beetroot and whisky cocktail in gothenberg earlier this year i decided to stick to one of the plainer options, choosing a combination of gin, campari, blueberry and bitters. having said that, the blueberry was provided via a tarragon and blueberry shrub (a vinegar drink) so the flavour was anything but simple. interesting to observe were beers being served in cut crystal glasses.

and that’s it. three days of exploring, lots of good food and drink plus lovely blossom and sunshine to welcome spring and remind us that paris really shouldn’t be neglected.

* our time in the latin quarter wasn’t very food focused apart from when we explored the small market and many food shops along rue mouffetard, which is well worth an hour of your time if you’re in the area.

address book:

folks & sparrows - 14 rue saint-sébastien

fondation café - 16 rue dupetit thouars

les niçois - 7 rue lacharrière

le square gardette - 24, rue saint ambroise

la buvette - 67, rue saint-maur

west country girl - 6, passage st-ambroisie

roseval - 1 rue d'eupatoria 

chatomat – 6 rue victor letalle 

la crèmerie - 9 rue des quatre vents

le perchoir - 14, rue crespin du gast

bespoke- 3 rue oberkampf