My family and I went on a flying visit to Paris again to rendez-vous with my dad (since he managed not to get his UK visa in time--visa people suck). Last year I gave him a copy of Ernest Hemingway's memoir of 1920s Paris, A Moveable Feast, which he raved on about until I decided to read it on our trip.
Hemingway at the start of his career is a poor and struggling writer who frequently gambled on horses to fund his holidays with his first wife Hadley. Good thing he was able to borrow books for free from Sylvia Beach at the original Shakespeare & Company on rue de L'Odéon where she published James Joyce's Ulysses. Hemingway walked everywhere, from the Luxembourg Gardens down the rue de Vaugirard (where we stayed this time) to Montparnasse where he rented a small flat near his favourite café, La Closerie des Lilas.
We didn't manage to go there (although my parents did a few days after I left Paris and said it had become all posh), but we did go to Les Deux Magots, where he and other writerly types such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir congregated, although Hemingway preferred Les Closerie (probably because it was closer to home and most of the expats hung out there including his friends F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound). One piece of advice about Paris' famous cafés: just have coffee there and people watch. Don't bother with the food as they're overpriced and disappointing. You can always pop into a side street and find a local brasserie which should be far tastier and better value for money.
As usual, we started our day with this:
Seriously, baguettes in France just taste so much better than anywhere else. And the butter was extra creamy too.
We found a small bistrot on rue de Buci in St. Germain des Prés where we prefer to hang out. This was my two little nephews' first time to Paris so we did some touristy things like visit the Notre Dame and climb the Eiffel Tower. It turns out my sister and I had never climbed it either. The secret is to get there first thing in the morning before it opens so that you don't have to queue for too long.
So for lunch, we had some pretty normal fare. Bavette steak with shallot sauce:
Again, why do salads taste so good in France? Must be the fresh veg. I also noticed they love their boiled green beans in salad.
Everyone tried this including both my nephews. I'm so proud of them.
When we looked out of the window of the bistrot, we noticed this restaurant:
We didn't go in, but us Nagoya girls were delighted.
For dinner, my mother chose Le Bistrot de Paris where Serge Gainsbourg used to hang out with Jane Birkin. It's a cozy, old school restaurant serving very French fare and is just down the road from the Musée d'Orsay. They even had pied de cochon (pig's trotters) and andouillete (tripe sausage) which our Frenchican waiter (who's French but grew up on the mean streets of Detroit) said was stinky and didn't recommend. We were a little worried that this would be a tourist trap as we were the first to arrive at 7pm quickly followed by others who spoke English. But my brother-in-law pointed out that French people dined late so all the early diners were either British, American or Japanese. He was spot on!
Watercress salad with radishes. So French:
Wonderfully soft and pink lamb with whole roasted garlic:
I did order this well done but the French love their meat rare.
Skate with capers in a butter sauce:
But the duck was a little tough. However the creamy, buttery mashed potatoes made up for it.
The desserts were heavenly. I, of course, had the baba au rum. Yeah, anything with alcohol and I'll eat it. They left the whole bottle on the table but I didn't need extra because our waiter stabbed the cake and drowned it in rum. Very generous.
The lemon and green apple sorbets were refreshing and we also had the best caramel ice cream I've ever tasted. It was like home-made caramel with just the right amount of burnt suger-ness. We lapped it up like a cat would cream.
This was a very busy bistrot and we spotted many elderly French couples dressed immaculately and consuming three full courses (and these were pretty large plates) accompanied by lots of wine. Respect.
After two days of eating French food, we finally cracked and headed to Mirama on rue St Jaques near the Sorbonne for some of this:
We're so Asian. We can't live without noodles or rice. Although much pricier than London (food in Paris is pretty expensive, almost double that of London, would you believe?), I have to say that was the best mapo tofu I've had in a long time. Spicy and very moreish. We used to be able to eat French food non-stop for a week, but these days, two days is the max. It's all that butter and cream. We just can't handle it.
This time we didn't really have enough time to indulge in cakes much, but we did go to one of our favourite tea shops, Mariage Frères.
They didn't allow pictures inside (the Parisians don't like their shops being photographed), but the decor was lovely chinoisseries and they had a huge selection of teas from around the world which are specially blended in-house. My sister preferred their green and Chinese teas and my mother their French Earl Grey.
My favourite two were the Fall in Love (which is a limited edition black tea with hints of vanilla) and Marco Polo (a fruity black tea). Both are best drunk without milk.
And I'll leave you with an upskirt shot of the Iron Lady in all her glory.
LE BISTROT DU PARIS
33 Rue de Lille
75007 Paris, France
T: 01 42 61 16 83
17 Rue Saint-Jacques
75005 Paris, France
T: 01 43 5471 77