08 June 2016

A Great Weekend in Paris

Note: This post is long and has lots of photos. Scroll to the end for a map of the places I visited.

My office is a five-minute walk from the Eurostar's London terminal in St Pancras and yet I take the opportunity to hop on a train to Paris for the weekend all too rarely. Before the ill-fated trip to the city I had planned for my parents last November, my last visit was in 2012 and that was only for the day. Mindful of this, I headed off on the 18:01 Eurostar from St Pancras on Friday to stay with some friends in St Germain. With news of floods and strikes, I was worried that I might be jinxed, but the train pulled into Gare du Nord a few minutes early, without any evidence of disruption.

I met my friends for dinner at Professore, a hip Italian restaurant in the 9th arrondissement, a short walk from Gare du Nord. At the back of a restaurant is an even cooler bar, with comfy seats, a bathroom hidden behind a bookcase and a beautifully designed menu resplendent with creative cocktails. Our table was ready early, though, and as it was almost 10 pm, we skipped cocktails in favour of dinner. We shared a delicious charcuterie plate to start and I then had the vitello tonnato as my main course (the veal was beautifully prepared). Pudding was a panna cotta, which certainly passed the wobble test. We Ubered back to the 7th over Pont Royal, where I finally caught a glimpse of the swollen waters of the Seine; the Eiffel Tower was enshrouded in mist.

In the morning, we got up late and had breakfast at home before wandering out into the city. We had a dinner reservation at 9 pm but knew we needed to work up an appetite so we decided to go for a long walk. We stopped on Pont Royal to take a few photos of the crues (floods). Unfortunately, although the rain held off all weekend, the sky was a stark, featureless grey; combined with the brown waters of the Seine, this didn't make for particularly attractive photography, but it was shocking to see the river so high and fast-flowing.

We cut through the Louvre, where a trompe-l'œil had been set up on one side of the giant glass pyramid at the museum's centre. Our first coffee stop of the day was at Télescope, a petite but perfectly formed café on rue Villedo in the 1st. As usual, I'll do a separate post on the coffee shops I visited, but we had excellent Aeropress-brewed filter coffees.

Revitalised after our coffee, we continued north to Montmartre, via the lovely rue des Martyrs, where there are dozens of independent boutiques and gourmet food shops, such as Mesdemoiselles Madeleines and Mes Lunettes et Moi. Round the corner on rue de Douai, there are numerous guitar and music shops, including a shop specialising in left-handed guitars.

We skirted around Sacré-Cœur, trying to avoid the crowds and instead seeking out some of Montmatre's quieter and quainter streets. There is a steep passage that runs between rue Lepic and avenue Junot, near the Hôtel Particulier, which has wonderful cityscape views.

We zigzagged through the streets around Pigalle. Our plan had been to stop for coffee at the branch of Café Kitsuné on rue Condorcet, but although we were able to admire the powder-blue La Marzocco, the staff were otherwise engaged in the accompanying boutique. After consulting my coffee research, we decided to go to Café Craft on rue des Vinaigriers, near the Canal Saint Martin. Unfortunately, we ran into one of the protests that was taking place last weekend — a not altogether peaceful one involving items being set on fire, large groups of people running and throwing things, and a big police presence.

Pont de la Grange aux Belles, right next to Craft, seemed to be at the heart of the action, so we made our way south instead, ending up at Patisserie Yann Couvreur on avenue Parmentier in the 10th. We queued for 20 minutes, eyeing up the amazing pastries, only for almost everything to run out just as we reached the front of queue. I was particularly disappointed that the woman in front of us in the queue took the last two coconut eclairs, leaving only the mocha flavour. Talk about patisserie frustration!

We returned to Craft, where things had calmed down a little. The V60-brewed coffee was very good and the stylish monochrome café doubles as a co-working space. After a bit of window-shopping at lifestyle boutique Kann, homeware store Madeleine et Gustave, design bookstore 0fr, and my favourite concept store Merci, where we ran into the protests again, we were more than ready for a glass of wine. We went to Monsieur Henri on rue Picardie in the Marais, and shared a bottle of wine and a charcuterie plate. It wasn't a coconut éclair but I was very content.

Dinner was at La Régalade, a sleek restaurant in Hôtel de Nell in the 9th. After we had ordered, the waiter brought us a large and very welcome terrine and plenty of crusty bread, which we wolfed down, ravenous after our 10-mile walk. My excellent Old Fashioned slipped down very nicely with my starter — a prawn and squid ink risotto with pork and a Laughing Cow emulsion. The suprême de volaille I had for my main was very good too: impossibly juicy but with a crispy, moreish skin. Somehow, I found room for pudding; I had a chocolate praline tarte, but the house speciality is a huge helping of rice pudding withe caramel sauce, which my friends enjoyed.

On Sunday morning, we got up late again and headed straight for brunch at Coutume on rue de Babylone in the 7th. Coutume is rightly credited with invigorating the Paris speciality coffee scene and they roast coffee on site as well as serving a mean brunch. My declaration not to eat again for the rest of the weekend — made hastily after Saturday night's filling dinner — apparently forgotten, I had some delicious pancakes with thyme-infused blueberries.

My friends' apartment hunting took us over to the 15th, but then we continued our walking tour of the city, first crossing over Pont de Grenelle. The views of the Statue of Liberty had a rather post-apocalyptic feel with the high river levels. Meanwhile, the Eiffel Tower was still fuzzy in the haze and a drowned park sat several feet underwater — the tips of its benches the only evidence of its existence. We couldn't walk along the river bank because of the floods so we headed a few blocks north and then made our way east to the Louvre, via the grand mansions of the 16th, the Trocadéro and the Palais de Tokyo — currently hosting a Nike-sponsored shrine to football — and the Champs-Élysées, which was thankfully closed to traffic.

There was some kind of cycling and street food event taking place in the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre was no less busy than Saturday. Still, I managed to do a couple of leaps — I did the original leap in the Louvre, after all.

We spent an hour or two wandering through the Marais and had coffee at the quirky, colourful Fragments on rue des Tournelles. Then we admired the gourmet food at the stylish Maison Plisson before my éclair frustration was finally satisfied at L'éclair de Génie on rue Pavée. I had the most delicious chocolate, salted caramel and popping candy concoction, which was well worth the 24-hour wait!

We crossed over Ile de la Cité and then back to my friends' place via the 5th and the 6th. Literally 20 minutes before I had to leave for Gare du Nord, the sun deigned to show its face, bathing Paris in that gorgeous light that I had been craving all weekend. Still, it had been warm and, more importantly, didn't rain so we were pretty lucky with the weather really. Finally, on the Eurostar, I rested.

We walked 25 miles over the course of the weekend, according to the Apple Heath app, and visited five speciality coffee shops and no museums. Not exactly restful and not everyone's idea of a perfect Parisian weekend, but walking, talking and eating are my favourite things to do in the city. I've created a map with the places mentioned above and my coffee shop reviews will be up later this week.

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