Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Literary, chocolatey Paris

I arrived in Paris ready to pounce on all that gorgeousness....I sort of surprised myself by taking off in the midst of the summer (unheard of thus far in the Choc Star story!) but when I read about the writing course being run out of Shakespeare & Co by Faber & Faber, everything inside of me just went BOOM!

I booked the course and the train on the same day and kept my tickets and course info tucked away in my desk, occasionally pulling it out to glance over and delight in the prospect of my future Parisienne adventure.

Did I ever mention that I love adventures? The idea of extracting oneself from the homestead and reaching out into unknown places to engage in whatever happens to come your way - oh, the luxury!

Off I sped on my EuroStar train to a chorus of 'Have a good journey, Miss' from all the terribly English ticket collectors (so Brief Encounter!), a couple of hours later I was harpooned straight into a baking Paris afternoon.

And there the holiday really got going...beginning with an immediate attempt at the Hemingway Bar in the Ritz.

'Sorry Mademoiselle but eet eez a leetle urly for ze bar' the dashing doorman warned me - but was kind enough to whisk my luggage odd somewhere safe while I hit the streets instead...and stumbled very quickly upon La Maison du Chocolat.

A Caracas chocolat froid and deep, rich Entremet were soon in my reach, the Rue St Honore but moments away and a whole week of chocolate treats, lunchtime glasses of wine and literary ramblings to indulge in.

This is the view from the appartment I stayed in - my brother's friend Dhiarmid tossed me the keys as he made off for a hike across Utah leaving me his Bonsais to tend to and a whole world of music to get me in the mood - it was Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg and MC Solaar for me from the get-go...

I walked and walked - at first, optimistically in heels then, way more realistically, in flats - taking in the full stretch of endless Rues and Boulevards. From the austere enormity of the Arc de Triomphe to the dusty, lounger studded Jardin de Luxembourg. I covered so much distance that I went through almost a whole box of plasters.

And when it got too much there was the wonderful Arthouse atmosphere of the Metro. I don't know what it is about that bunch of trains all burroughing through their different tunnels, but I love those almost sterile metallics and not quite crystaline strip lights, the retro orange of the plastic seats, the wheeze, hiss and belch of the doors slamming open and barking shut.

And so quick! Delivering me into the centre for the discovered, tourist flooded must-sees, but then out to the 'other Paris' - to Chateau Rouge, Chateau d'Eau, Stalingrad, Jaures, Belleville - for electricity fizzing up from the pavements, duty free fags, boiled sweetcorn with too much salt and endless amounts of the HUSTLE.

But when I discovered the Velib bicycle hire situation I was beside myself with delight. Off to class I'd go every morning, gliding down the Champs Elyses, past the Louvre, under the bells of Notre Dame and over the Seine. The French still have a lot to learn about the concept of the cyclist and I got into one or two hairy situations - but nothing that couldn't pacify me with chocolate or cake.

The two 'c' words! In August. And so almost every single one of the choc-spots and patisseries I had earmarked were resolutely ferme. So I had to pick it up where I could find it - and if that meant eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner then it was just the way things were going to have to play out. There was always cycling pre and post to keep me on an even keel.

At lunch with my godmother along came this rather 80s looking gateau.

Berthillon saved my life on the hottest day I've had this year - chocolat and cacao amer nestled into a crunchy sugar wafer basket.

I probably should've had another little hamper of the stuff.

In a super old school Bistro one night with a waiter who looked like a cartoon caricature of a french waiter - one of those really barrel-shaped ones - my head was turned by the fondant au chocolat. It seeped out of its dark spongey shell so obligingly.

Pain au choc for brekky - always. Or else the croissant aux amandes. Or the choc/almond combo croissant. But at times the Nutella croissant felt like the right thing to do.

What are they doing here? Oh yes, that's right - heaven on the eyes.

At drinks one night we were fed so well and I didn't even think about a dessert - but then along came these. Super dark Valrhona ganache with a pralinee, crackle-crunch base. Lord they did their job - I had about eight.

Chocolate mousse at dinner one night. I'd say it was a cream-less one, just choc, egg whites and sugar, Raymond Blanc style.

Oh God, the macarons. I ate so many frickin' macaroons I feared for myself and others. This one was violette from Sadahuru Aoki in Lafayette Gourmet and got me every which way and loose. I ate it in Les Halles while having a rest from cycling.

One final lunch in Le Comptoir de Relais finished with this group: Chocolat piment, vanille & caramel buerre sale. That chef had a touch that was petal light when it came to the ice cream. Some of the best I've ever had.

And with that marvelous end to the wonderful eating, the magical writing course and the healthy dose of exercise I ordered an absinthe and then ordered a cab.


Unknown said...

Perfect Petra!
Loved reading this, cant believe how many desserts you ate!....
Glad you cycled some, else you would be a right ol' fat biffer! xx

Helen said...

Wow! What a fabulous trip! I can't believe how many desserts you ate either. I know you exercised but really, how are you so svelte and lovely? Hmmm? I need your secrets woman - I'm going to Paris in a couple of weeks - woohoo! xx

emekonnen said...

I don't now if you can remember me? We met @ Borders on Charing Cross Road, you were reading a book I read a long time ago. I hope the book have helped re- energise your project. Anyhow I've been following your project on facebook and on this blog. Keep it up. Alez, Alez

Unknown said...

Brave cycling in Paris! I wouldn't. Suicidal.
Glad you got to check out my old haunt, Belleville, the mint tea there is superb.
Merci pour les souvenirs

Petra Barran said...

Tamzin - a pudding a day keeps the cycling habit going strong!

Helen - You're going to have so much fun. Can't wait to hear all about it.

Eme - of course I remember you - and it was a great book. Come to the van sometime for treats.

MML - I did nearly get killed a couple of times but it's such a great way of feeling part of the place - even if that might ultimately mean being part of the actual road. (MMMMMMmmm - Belleville. I want a flat there!)


Leslie said...

These all look delicious. I just love sweets and I can’t think about life without these sweets.