Thursday, July 26, 2012

Le Marais Walking Tour

On Sunday morning we participated in a food walking tour of Le Marais (the district where we stayed). I did a very successful walking tour in New York and I was hoping that this one in Paris would be equally good. It was a bit hit and miss - some parts were great but there wasn't enough information for me. I wanted to know more about the history of the market we visited, more about the producers and production methods, more about the history of the area and how it's changed and I wouldn't have minded tasting more food.

There is so much food history and culture in France that I was really expecting to be overwhelmed with information but sadly, I was not. (Plus it was uber expensive!) Still, I visited parts of the district that I wouldn't have gone to on my own and sampled various wonderful products and found the most insanely amazing pastry shop in the history of the world.

We started off at a local boulangerie which had the most fantastic tiles on the outside of the shop. Our guide explained about baguettes and the different types and qualities. This is a local bakery, nothing fancy, but the bread was fabulous. Still warm, fragrant, crackling as you tore off a piece (I'm always reminded of that scene in Ratatouille when Colette shows Linguini about the sound of good bread). The traditional baguette is made with only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. As we tasted outside the shop you could hear the machines working in the back and smell the doughs rising.

From there we walked to the market at the Place de la Bastille. This is an extremely large market selling not just food but shoes, clothes, bags. A kind of buy-everything-in-one-place kind of market which are apparently fairly common in small towns where there aren't many stores. We sampled various cheeses, foie gras, spoke with some producers (the man selling salt was very entertaining) and oohed and aahed over various fruits and vegetables that aren't common in South Africa.

I just love the different colours of honey
Beautiful tomatoes

Courgette flowers
Salted caramels sold with extra salt in the bag, just in case

After purchasing various products in the market we headed to a quiet square to sample all the produce.

We then visited two pastry shops. At the first we sampled waffles, one filled with vanilla cream and  another with pistachio and cherry cream. The displays made me want to purchase everything immediately.

Finally we went to Jacques Genin. Visiting this pastry shop is rather like visiting a library or church. We spoke in whispers, everything was quiet, almost revered - it was like a sanctuary for pastry. We sampled mango caramels that liquefied almost as soon as they touched your tongue, coriander chocolate, tonka bean chocolate and fresh mint chocolate, pâte de fruit, a caramel eclair, a lemon tart and finally, a raspberry tart where each raspberry was filled with coulis. We returned to the shop after the tour ended to buy more caramels (they're truly amazing) and a St. Honore. We ate the St. Honore for dessert that evening. It's puff pastry base was crispy and crunchy, each profiterole was filled with something different (custard, caramel, chocolate) and then the pastry cream and crème Chantilly just about finished us off. The tour was fun but I wouldn't pay that much again, not unless I got to see behind the scenes in some places or spoke more with the producers or there was much for information about the history of the places we went.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Berthillon Ice Cream

On Sunday afternoon we wandered over to Île de Saint Louis for ice-cream. Berthillon has been making ice cream here since 1954. We had to queue but that gave us time to mull over the flavour options. Pistachio or white peach? Vanilla or raspberry? In the end we both chose fairly classic flavours, chocolat noir for J and gianduja a l'orange for me. The candied orange pieces were amazing, sticky and sweet and contrasted with the bitter, cold ice cream. We sat on a step, overlooking the Seine whilst the ice cream trickled down the cone (despite valiant efforts to wolf it down before it liquidised completely), happy to be in the sun.

Le Comptoir du Relais, Paris

I've just returned from Paris. Paris is awesome. I'm sure you are all already amongst the lovers of this city. How can you not like a city filled with sunshine, macarons, French, literature and art? It's just too lovely. We stayed in an apartment in the Marais district. I'd only been to the district once before, to visit the Picasso museum but my friend J was already a convert. Our apartment was tiny and on the top floor (five very long flights of tiny, windy stairs -"think of the baguettes" motivation was needed to reach the top) but it had everything we needed.

Just down the street was the Pompidou Centre and we were 10 minutes from Notre Dame. Much of our time was spent wandering vaguely, although we did take in the Rodin Museum, the Musee Carnavalet and St Sulpice but actually, it was so nice to be in a place without a schedule. "Let's get coffee from that place on the corner", "let's walk down to St Germain", "let's find somewhere to eat" were all phrases that got used this weekend.

The only 'guide book' we had was Bon Appetit's May 2012 issue which had a section on places to eat in Paris. We tried two places from their pages: Frenchie and Le Comptoir. I'll talk about Frenchie in another post soon but for today I thought I'd tell you about Le Comptoir.

Le Comptoir is in the St Germain, just off the boulevard and is attached to the Hotel Relais St Germain. Advice was to go either super early or late (after 2.30pm). We arrived at about 2.45pm and queued for half an hour for a table. We sat outside, thanks must be given to B who sat on the sunny side and was therefore at least 5 degrees hotter than me and J (and it was insanely hot and sunny). The menu is intense - there is so much on offer that it's hard to make choices. We already knew we were going to order at least 2 courses because let's be honest, we'd sought this place out to eat really good food. I became an annoying photography person for some parts of the meal which I normally wouldn't do but I wanted to show you some of the highlights.

For starters I ordered the pea, feta and mint tartlet whilst the others ordered gazpacho and foie gras salad. My tartlet was fantastic, easily the best thing I ate in Paris all weekend. It tasted like summer - the tiny peas marrying perfectly with the feta and mint, it was held together with a light aspic (I'm guessing here), the pastry crumbling beneath my fork.

For mains we asked the waiter for recommendations: a chicken supreme served with broad beans, pork with lentils and for me, lamb shank with couscous. I ate the lamb with a spoon - that's how soft it was. The couscous soaked up the juices and the dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes) added a hint of sweetness. The pork was fantastic - the salty meat playing against the earthy lentils, the texture excellent. The chicken dish was light and more appropriate for the summer heat than the other too, the broad beans and spinach puree adding a welcome texture.

We split dessert, a chocolate mousse, light, creamy, bitter, interrupted by sour rhubarb jelly. I'm not a fan of rhubarb but in this dessert I may be persuaded to it's uses. The cacao crumble was dark and bitter. We people watched and chatted - the restaurant is on a busy street and there is plenty happening all the time. The queue finally ebbed off at about 4.30pm and we finally finished up at around 5.30pm. It was a fabulous way to spend the late afternoon. I'd like to visit again, to order the pea tartlet and to try other things off the very extensive menu.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Kitchen Garden at Chatsworth

I visited Chatsworth this last weekend. It's an estate in Derbyshire that belongs to the Duke of Devonshire.

The house is massive but the grounds are even more impressive. There's a wood which we walked up into the day before visiting the house. The top of the hills have amazing views out over the countryside.

There are sheep at every turn and a few cattle and a herd of deer. The formal gardens are spectacular with fountains and roses and rock formations.


My favourite part was the kitchen garden. They were growing all kinds of wonderful produce - apples, pears, strawberries, lettuces, maize, raspberries. It's an inspirational garden if you're looking to grow your own and a lovely place just to visit. We also visited the farmyard which, I'll admit, is mainly for kids, but it was fun to wander around and see all the different animals.