Returning to the UK with a sunburned face I look a little like an umpa lumpa who has wandered from his sun-bleached saccharin idyll to a perpetual cloudy, dark October day. In fact, if you were to look upon my bright orange forehead you may wonder which Caribbean Island I have spent the last few weeks on, and may be surprised to hear that I picked up this particular facade of neon in Paris.
My previous trips to France have mostly revolved around visiting wine regions and thus I have never before been to Paris, which apart from a quaint vineyard I found in Montmartre (Clos Montmartre) and a small number of other likewise small plots, the Parisian wine region is not so much. So this time my trip to France was good old fashioned tourism and armed with a guidebook, some friends and a copy of A Tale of Two Cites (which I was supposed to have read at University) I Chunnelled to Paris.
We had dinner on the first night in a place called Le Relais de l’Entrecote. There are 3 of these restaurants to my knowledge in Paris and they are really awesome. The premise is simple, there is no menu, everyone has steak and chips and the only decisions you will need to make are which dessert of the handful of very good desserts to have, which wine to accompany and how rare you want your steak. The steak was really good, with a very tasty sauce on it, we asked what was in the sauce but it is a closely guarded family recipe. The wine list wasn’t hugely extensive but it did the job and wasn’t too expensive considering Paris prices. We then went see the fireworks for the Bastille Day celebrations. It seems as though the new French President has decided to hell with austerity measures and spent a fortune on fireworks, with the display lasting about 40 minutes. A huge glitter ball hung from the middle of the Eifel Tower, which was adorned with little flashing lights and acted as the background for this impressive display and also possibly set the tone for the choice in music, the glitter ball working as a launch pad for late 70s early 80s disco pop that should only really be heard in student nightclubs.
On the second day (Sunday) we ambled around Paris taking in some of the sights. We headed to Notre Dame before moving over to Montmartre where I stumbled across the vineyard. It was quite a pleasant thing to see a little vineyard in such an urban area and seemed to fit in well with the beautiful architecture in the area. We found a nice little cafe Au Rêve 89 rue Caulaincourt that was serving some traditional French food and had some lunch. I had the confit of duck which was very good considering this place was more of a little pub than a place for food. After some mid afternoon snoozing we headed out for dinner (you might be able to spot the theme here). We ate at a place sourced from Alexander Lobrano’s blog, Au Petit Tonneau 20 rue Surcouf (7th) (http://alexanderlobrano.com/blog/2012/6/4/au-petit-tonneau-old-school-comfort-food-at-a-gaullist-redou.html) this was, again traditional French with a great menu and impressive wine list. I had a lentil and bacon starter followed by veal stew and chocolate mousse for dessert. For the people having fish I ordered a Sancerre by Roger Neveu, which is widely available in the UK, I was very impressed with the price of this wine at 18 Euros considering it used to retail at about £11 in Majestic Wine. I also ordered a bottle of Meursault, which left the owner horrified that we hadn’t ordered any red, still an excellent restaurant and very well priced.
On Monday (day 3) we visited the Louvre. This is something I have always wanted to do and was amazed at how vast the place is. I imagine you would need about 4 days to see it properly and would look for the times when there are fewer tourists, thus less queuing, but even with a queue it is a fascinating place. What did annoy me though are the hundreds of people piling in to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, ignorant of the significance and magnificence of the works, simply putting a tick through the box in their guidebooks. This might be the unfair grumblings of an impatient man who doesn’t enjoy a queue, but I did observe a number of people who wandered into the room housing the Mona Lisa and then wandered out again and walked off ignoring Titian’s L Homme Au Gant and Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin and Arcimboldo’s Four Seasons. I don’t profess to be an authority on art but people not being moved by the splendour of what is on offer in the Louvre I find somewhat irksome. After I forced my way to the front of the scrum to see the Mona Lisa I was blown away with the mystic beauty and brilliance of the work and can understand just why it is as necessary to see it as it would suggest in all of the guidebooks, but it was the Caravaggio paintings (which I had studied at university) that were the main draw for me.
Monday night we ate at a restaurant local to us in the 14th, L’Atelier d’Antan, 9 rue Leopold Robert (14th), ( http://hungryforparis.squarespace.com/blog/2011/6/23/latelier-dantan-great-bistro-food-and-a-really-good-time-too.html ). This place was a wonderful tiny, family run restaurant, which felt like a pub with a couple of dining tables in it, but was comfortably the best food of the trip. I started with a duck terrine and had a main of veal steak, a number of my friends who were with me had a spiced prawn starter about which the waxed lyrical and made me feel incredibly jealous. For pudding I had Ile Flottante which was light and delicious. The thing that impressed me the most with this restaurant is that the chef, Pascal, is working on a large menu of hugely diverse food in a pretty small kitchen and all on his own. Pascal and his wife Sophie didn’t speak a huge amount of English so it was quite good fun practicing my fairly terrible year nine level French. For wine with this meal we had Chablis and one of the stars of the reds menu, the Domaine Maillard Bourgogne Rouge. We had the 2011, which I would usually not touch due to its youth, but it was open and fruit forward and will only get better.
Day 4 we visited the Eifel Tower, Place de la Concorde and had some lunch in a cafe in Jardin des Tuileries, where I achieved my lovely new shade of blood orange, then came home.
I realise as a wine article this is possibly a bit lacking but I can make a cheeky recommendation, take the Chanel Tunnel, the cost of Champagnes at the ‘duty free’ shop before you board is very reasonable with the pick being Billecart Salmon and Ruinart. A nice way to soften the blow of returning home.
Andrew D. Clark