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2 October 2017

A September Long Weekend in Paris

September is perhaps my favourite month to visit Paris but although I hope for russet- and orange-hued leaves and bright, sunny days, the weather gods don't always smile on me. Sometimes, however, they do and when I visited my friends last month, it was gloriously sunny and unseasonably warm; perfect conditions for a long-weekend trip.


I've visited Paris an average of two or three times a year since I was small, which means I don't have to rush around trying to visit all the prime tourist sights. But Paris's city centre is relatively small and best explored on foot, which means I tend to spend a lot of my time there strolling around the grand Haussmannian boulevards and characterful side streets. I also usually spend time exploring the city's speciality coffee scene, and you can read about the coffee shops I visited in this post. Read on for some of the other things I got up to during my recent visit.

FOOD & DRINK
On Friday night, we dined at eels, chef Adrien Ferrand's new restaurant on rue d'Hauteville in the hip 10th arrondissement. The small restaurant, with its pared-back, rustic décor and welcoming staff, was a lovely place to spend the evening. We all opted for the €56 tasting menu, which included two starter courses, two mains and a pudding. As a formerly picky eater, I am sometimes nervous about tasting menus, but more often than not, I end up trying and loving dishes that I wouldn't otherwise have ordered. The titular smoked eels, accompanied with hazelnut, liquorice and raw apple, was a prime example of this. Each subsequent course involved impeccably cooked classic French dishes with Japanese twists. We also tried: marinated tuna with a tomato marmalade, ginger and ponzu; beautifully cooked hake with orzo and bonito jus; shoulder of lamb with aubergine caviar; and one of the most light, crisp and delicious mille-feuilles I've ever eaten. The service was a little slow (we arrived at 9 pm and finished after midnight) but the food was well worth the wait. Note: you'll probably need to book in advance.


We went to the newly opened Paris branch of the Hoxton Hotel on rue du Sentier on a couple of occasions. We took in a pre-dinner aperitif at Jacques' Bar, an elegant, Moroccan-themed hideaway, on Friday night. As we were a little short on time, we both selected the same drink from the short but well-thought-out list, the Jacques Snapper (a spicy, gin-based twist on a Bloody Mary), which was very well mixed. Curiously, before we ordered, the waiter came over to dispense hand sanitiser into our hands from an ornamental silver vessel.


The following day, after discovering that there was a four-hour wait at Biglove (a popular — potentially overhyped — Marais brunch spot), we went back to the Hoxton and had brunch at the ground-floor Rivié restaurant. Actually, the main restaurant was full (there was a big group there) so we ate in the stylish lobby. The lunch menu included both French classics and more American-brunch-style dishes. The cheeseburger (€15) was excellent — perfectly à point (medium rare) — although perhaps a little cynically priced, especially as we weren't eating in the restaurant proper.


We experienced similar brunch anxiety on Sunday. A lot of the most interesting brunch spots don't take booking and thus require a long wait unless you arrive before 10 am (too early for a proper brunch, in my view). The Marais was very busy so we decided to head further north and secured a table at NOLA, one of two lovely Southern US comfort food restaurants, collectively known as Two Stories, located right alongside the Canal Saint Martin. Our table overlooked the canal and with live piano and an elegant but relaxed setting, we really enjoyed our meal. I had an omelette with Cajun pork, new potatoes and mature cheddar (€14), which was delicious. Had I not already fulfilled my burger quotient for the weekend, I would have gone for the brunch burger, served with bacon jam, cheddar and a fried egg in a pretzel bun (€16).



My trips to Paris are never complete without an eclair (or two) and this time, I enjoyed a wonderfully decadent salted caramel eclair from Ernest & Valentin — there's a branch on rue Réamur, which was located conveniently close to my friends' apartment. On previous trips, I've also indulged at Pain Pain on rue des Martyrs, L'Éclair de Génie in the Marais and Patisserie Yann Couvreur in the 10th arrondissement.


THINGS TO DO, PLACES TO GO...
When I arrived at Gare du Nord on Friday afternoon, I had a few hours to spare before I met my friends and my initial plan was to go to KB CaféShop for coffee. On the way, though, I caught a glimpse of the Sacré Cœur basilica between two buildings and decided that the late afternoon sunshine was too good to waste. I ended up climbing up to the basilica, enjoying the great views over Paris. I was not alone: there was barely a free step as Parisians and visitors came out to enjoy the warm weather.




I then wandered around the pretty, cobbled streets of Montmartre, enjoying the views and the street scenes.



Rue des Martyrs is one of my favourite streets in Paris — almost every building houses an independent shop or café, with a particularly high representation of gourmet food shops. I popped into Ekyog, focusing on eco-friendly women's fashions, and The Cool Republic, which is good for gifts and homewares.


After an intense session of coffee-shop hopping and brunch on Saturday, we wandered through the Marais (stopping into my favourite Parisian shop, Merci) and down to Jardin du Palais Royal, an attractive, manicured park with plenty of space to sit and to stroll. We made our way to the Grand Palais, where we had tickets for the new Irving Penn exhibition. Penn is most known for his work as a fashion photographer but the exhibition included a diverse range of his work, including portraits, still life and 'debris'. If you are interested in photography, I highly recommend this very well staged exhibition; Penn was a master of his craft.





By the time we left the Grand Palais, golden hour was approaching and we walked down to the river and took a seat at one of the outdoor bars on the Left Bank, just by Pont Alexandre III. Cliché as it may be to sit with a glass of wine on the Seine with an Eiffel Tower as sunset approached, it was a wonderful experience. That night, my friends had concert tickets so I decided to go to see mother!, the new Darren Aronofsky film. I have really enjoyed most of his previous works, especially Black Swan, but I'm not quite sure whether I enjoyed mother! It was interesting, of course, and provocative, disturbing and, for the most part, completely bonkers, but I feel like I would need a second viewing to decide whether or not I think it's a good film. I'm just not sure I want to watch it again. The grand Gaumont cinema near Opéra was a suitably grand place to see the film, and the ticket price — €10.90 — was refreshing after London cinema prices.




After brunch on Sunday, we walked down from Canal Saint Martin, over the river to Saint Germain. I was on a mission to buy a gift at Café de Flore (quelle horreur! I didn't stop for coffee, of course!) and then we met some more friends at Coutume for coffee. We wandered back along rue du Bac, crossed over Pont Royal and then I continued through the buildings that surround the Louvre. There was no time for leaping but I did indulge in a quick selfie. Well, when in Paris...




I then spent a few hours shopping in the Marais, one of my favourite Paris neighbourhoods for shopping. I popped into the BHV, and spent ages browsing the three interconnected homeware stores called Fleux'. I also found a cute accessories store called Maison Clotilde and a Nordic lifestyle boutique called Nordik Market. I had also hoped to visit a cool art- and print-themed concept store called Empreintes, but alas, unlike many stores in the Marais (although just like most other shops in the city), it was closed on Sundays. One for next time!



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