Tag Archives: French

Baguette Hunting

We made a trip to Paris for their Bastille Day celebrations, and since we didn’t quite feel like having too much French food (all the cream and cheese isn’t quite A’s idea of a good time) we decided to make our food experience be about the search for the best baguette in Paris! Every year there is a competition for bakeries, the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris, oh what a mouthful, to see whose baguettes are the crème de la crème. The winner of the competition gets to serve their baguettes to the President of France, and he’ll apparently only eat baguettes from that particular Boulangerie for the entire year.

Apparently, there’s a long and intricate history of bread in France. In the past, bread used to be made by hand (duh), but as technology began to develop, bread making starting being mechanized, and untraditional ingredients were added to make ‘bread’. Displeased with the bastardization of their proud bread making traditions, some French (insert snide French stereotype) artisan bakers, millers and experts fought against the new wave of rubbish bread, to preserve the integrity of French bread. In 1993, a law was passed (I kid you not) giving a special quality seal to breads made in the ‘proper’ way, and conferred upon them the title of ‘baguettes de tradition’. To make sure your bread gets that seal, it must be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked in the shop, and nothing must be frozen. Only 4 ingredients are allowed in a ‘baguette de tradition’: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. Now, go try making your own.

Alternatively, do as we did, and buy one from a Boulangerie. A good sign that your baguette is the real deal is that there are large uneven holes inside, caused by the bread having been kneaded by hand, a deep golden yellow hue, and a crust that smells nutty or grilled.

 

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La Truffle Noire
228, rue de Vaugirard
PARIS 15e
Tel: 0147345441

Since Bastille Day is a national holiday, most places were closed. Hence, the Boulangeries we planned to go to were shut. Nevertheless, we did manage to find a Boulangerie that was open, and it had a long queue outside, and everyone emerging from the shop had a baguette in hand! This was La Truffle Noire.

This was our first ‘proper’ baguette, so we didn’t really know what to expect. It was warm and nicely toasted, and the insides were fluffy and soft. In stark contrast, the crust was extremely crispy. It was definitely so good you could eat it on its own.

We bought this baguette while walking to the Eiffel Tower for the Bastille Day fireworks, and just after a couple of meters we almost finished all the baguette! Along the way along Rue Cambronne we saw another Boulangerie (can’t remember the name unfortunately), and entirely on impulse we went in and bought another baguette to benchmark our first baguette against. The second baguette was definitely not as good as the first one. The dough was a lot sourer, and did not taste as delicate as our first one. Nevertheless, it was a very good baguette, probably much better than anyone you can find in UK.

We brought our baguettes to the empty space at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and had a little picnic while waiting for the fireworks to begin.

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Fabrice Pottier
231 Rue de Vaugirard,
75015 PARIS

The next day, we went to Fabrice Pottier. This Boulangerie was first runner up in 2008. Verdict: Also a great baguette. We’re beginning to wonder how those judges for the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris judge the baguettes. Perhaps to our untrained palates they taste the same, but the difference is indeed so subtle that I’d be surprised if they were able to pick the baguette from the Boulangerie that won from a blind taste test.

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Boulangerie Alexine (Alexandre Planchais)
40 Rue Lepic,
75018 PARIS

We really wanted to go and try the number one baguette in Paris. However, it was closed for the entire second half of July. (Gosh, what would the President eat?!?!?) Luckily, further down the street is another Boulangerie, which won 10th in 2008 and 8th in 2007. This was Alexine, and it had the loveliest staff we’ve encountered all trip. The baguettes at Alexine are incredible thin, shockingly thin in fact, as compared to the other baguettes we’ve had. Tastewise, they were also incredibly delicious.

As a side note, we went absolutely baguette crazy on our last day in Paris, and bought so many of them that we brought the ones we couldn’t finish back with us, and froze them. Till today we have 2 more baguettes in the freezer, and they still taste fantastic after a couple of minutes in the oven.

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Eastside Inn

40 St John Street
London, EC1M 4AY
0207 490 9230
http://www.esilondon.com/

We’re still buzzing from the high after our amazing meal at Eastside Inn. While we were in the tube on the way back we replayed various scenes from the meal in our heads, reliving every emotion felt and sense evoked as each dish was presented to us. The first sight, the first smell, the first taste, every memory of that fantastic meal was recalled. As we type this, there is a sense of nostalgia, the kind one feels when leaving a place that one’s lived in for years, and a sense of excitement for our next visit, which we have already made reservations for.

Indeed, this was the single best meal we’ve had this year. This award went to Roka last year, and we were planning to make another visit there to bid London goodbye just before we leave for good. Plans for that have kind of been shelved – for one, there’s been a fire at Roka and they’re closed indefinitely; secondly, we think that Eastside Inn might just possibly be our new most favourite restaurant in London of all time. So, yes, our reservations have been made, and we will be back on September 9th to celebrate K’s birthday (in advance). Can’t wait!

This restaurant is only a year old, but it runs like a well oiled machine. The attention to detail is remarkable for such a young restaurant, and from the moment you step in to the moment you leave, you’re made to feel absolutely at home. Eastside Inn serves French food. We’re not huge fans of French food, especially A, since she doesn’t like cheese, or cream, or anything with the texture of cream. We’ve both travelled quite a bit in France, and have eaten in many French restaurants. On one of our more recent trips to Paris, we ate at Taillevent, a restaurant which was awarded 3 Michelin stars for 34 years, and is currently a recipient of 2 Michelin stars. We’ve also gone more budget in Paris, and eaten in less posh places, but despite all these experiences, standing head and shoulders above all the places we’ve eaten at in Paris is Eastside Inn, in Farringdon, London.

Well, you could say that we’re not too fond of the French. They have a certain air about them that is quite off-putting. What we just love about Eastside Inn is that you can have really top notch French food without the French, if you know what I mean. Service is beyond excellent here, unlike what we’ve experienced in France. (We really don’t mean to slag off the French, but seriously, they don’t do themselves a lot of favours by the way they interact with non-French people, especially in France. But this post isn’t about a discussion of France and the French, so back on to the food.)

An amuse bouche arrived at the table barely seconds after we sat. These were nice and light, very reminiscent of the amuse bouche we had at Taillevent. Have to say though, the ones at Taillevent were better – more fresh and fluffy; the ones we had today at Eastside Inn sat around perhaps for slightly too long (but that could have been our fault – should have stopped staring at the cocktail menu), but then again, you would expect a 2 Michelin starred restaurant to pretty much kick everyone’s a**.

Appetisers – we had the sardine special, and the Char-grilled baby squid. The baby squid dish was really good. The fennel in the dish was a very interesting addition, and instantly we became fennel fans. The sauce was lovely, with a little bit of sweet, a little bit of salty, a little bit of sour and a little bit of a milky texture (carnation milk perhaps?). The sauce mixed together complemented the squid perfectly.

The sardine special was just out of this world. There was quite a lot going on on the plate, but everything came together really well. The sauce was once again tangy and salty, and the olive mash at the bottom was just incredible. 2 slices of toast were served to accompany the dish, and when paired with the sardines, balanced the strong flavours very nicely.

For mains, we had the Roasted Duck Breast and the pork cheeks. The roasted duck breast was amazing. The duck was cooked perfectly, slightly pink in the middle just like how it should be. The fat was very well rendered out, leaving a thin layer of duck skin on top of the meat, which was crisped to perfection. On the side were white and yellow peaches, which we thought were potatoes initially, and some watercress. The perfect bite would consist of a slice of duck (with the skin), a little bit of peach, and some watercress. With each bite you get the juicy, tender texture of the duck meat, the brittle, crispy texture of the skin, and a nice tart flavor from the peach. The combinations of textures and flavors were mind-blowing.

The pork cheeks. My oh my, those pork cheeks. And that sauce. Goodness me, that cauliflower puree was a revelation. That (lemon infused?) olive oil was also just ridiculously good. Words can’t describe how amazing that dish was. It’s not the prettiest looking dish in the world, but boy does it taste good. The pork was clearly marinated for a very long time, and a tonne of love went into that cauliflower puree. When I die and go to heaven, I believe this dish will be there to welcome me at the pearly gates. I could go on and on about how wonderful the dish was, but seriously, words can’t do it any justice. Best. Thing. I. Ever. Ate.

At this point in time we were very satisfied – not immensely full, but who needs to be immensely full when you’ve just had quality? We took a quick glance at the dessert menu, and weren’t feeling particularly inspired by any of their offerings, so we decided to pass. As we sat and chatted, mostly gushing about the pork cheeks, we saw this strange, almost apple strudel looking thing sitting at the pass. The manager must have seen us staring at it, and the next thing we knew, he had swung by our table with that dish, and explained that it was the Classic Dessert, the Mille-feuille, and it had just been freshly made. At that moment we knew we were going to have it.

While the dish was being prepared, a palate cleanser was served, and this was a juniper berry sorbet, wrapped with some whipped cream and some strawberries underneath. It was truly refreshing, and the strawberries were excellent.

Not long after, our dessert arrived. It was cut and plated table-side, right before our eyes. If there was one word to describe that dessert, that word would be GENIUS, all in caps. Who in the world would ever think of using olive oil, salt, bay leaves and thyme in a dessert? Chef Bjorn did, and it was absolutely mind-blowing. GENIUS. That man is one talented chef. The combination of flavours was extraordinary. You got the impression that you were having dessert, but the flavours were nothing like any dessert you’ve ever eaten, yet it’s all so familiar, and strange, and wonderful, and you try to figure out what you’re eating, and before you know it you’ve finished the whole dish. Yes, and I was very tempted to lick the plate. I think I might have, but I can’t be sure since my mind was struggling to comprehend what I had just eaten. This dish gives new meaning to the phrase mind-blowing. It is incredible, and the single most innovative thing I have ever eaten.

Obviously, the people here care about their food, and about their customers. The servers went around making sure everything was going well, and we even had a little chat with Justine, Chef Bjorn’s wife, and co-owner of the restaurant. We truly felt at home the entire time. As food critic Jay Rayner put it, people go to Eastside Inn “not to be seen or talked about, but to eat”. Indeed, it is a very unassuming environment, and the food is the star. Everything is made fresh there.

We overheard a conversation between the lady at the table next to us and Chef Bjorn, in which she asked if her dish could be prepared in a certain way. The chef replied that it would definitely be possible since they make everything from scratch, and she said that she would like the dish to have no butter. And he said ok. The kitchen has an open concept, and everyone can see the action that happens within. What we saw were a group of people who had a passion for food, and an immense dedication to quality control. Everything that came out of the kitchen was really good, and we simply can’t wait for the 9th of September to roll around for our next visit to Eastside Inn.

Service: 10/10
Food: 9/10

Pierre Hermé

72 Rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris, France
0143544777
http://www.pierreherme.com/

According to guardian.co.uk, Pierre Hermé is the best place in the world to have chocolate cake. So with such a strong endorsement, we had to check it out.

The shop is extremely small, with no seating room at all. The queues can be quite incredible, as from some online reviews, but we were there rather late, so we didn’t have to wait too long for it to be our turn. 

Naturally, we bought the chocolate cake. We didn’t eat it on the spot, but brought it back with us to London to eat. We bought as well 6 macaroons: pistachio, rose, praline, passion fruit (2 of this) and raspberry. These we ate while waiting for the train back to London.

 

The verdict: we like Laduree’s much better. The star of Laduree’s macaroons is the macaroons, which were crispy yet soft. The macaroons at Pierre Hermé focused much more on the cream fillings and not on the macaroons themselves, so we felt like they were too heavy. In fact, we hardly tasted any macaroon at all. Also, not all the cream fillings were pleasant – in particular, the pistachio tasted very artificial, almost like marzipan. However, the rose filling was surprisingly good. We didn’t mind that at all.

 

As with the chocolate cake, K found it a huge disappointment. I’ve to add that he likes his cakes creamy and soft, while the cake we bought from Pierre Hermé was a lot more ‘meaty’, if that is an appropriate word to use at all. I certainly didn’t mind it. Best chocolate cake in the world? Nah, not a chance, but it was definitely not bad. We wouldn’t bother going for another round though – once is good enough.

Food: 6.5/10

Ladurée

75 avenue des Champs Elysées
75008 Paris
0140750875
http://www.laduree.fr/

Opening Hours
Monday to Saturday 7.30am-12am
Sunday 8.30am-12am 

Ladurée was somewhere we were really excited to go to in Paris. We made a reservation for noon, and being so excited to go there we were 15 minutes early. However, we were told we couldn’t be seated since they were not opened yet – what a bummer. This however, gave us the chance to look in the pastry shop, and we got a chocolate croissant as our pre-meal starter. That was not too sweet, and beautifully flaky.

 

At noon we were seated, and we ordered a pot of Jasmine Green Tea (yes, we are huge fans of green tea, we have it everywhere!) which was nicely fragrant, and a pot of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was shockingly thick, and A couldn’t drink more than a few teaspoons of it before feeling like she was going to have a sore throat coming. I found it way too strong as well, and tried diluting it with some water, which helped make it more drinkable.

 

For mains we had 2 sandwiches. A had the Club Ladurée and I had the Club Saumon (salmon). Both of the sandwiches were going to be served with salad and chips, but since we’ve both given up chips (well, actually, we’ve given up potato snacks) for lent, we asked them to give us all salads instead. Both our sandwiches came with horseradish, which we didn’t enjoy very much (personal taste) but it was bearable. The sandwiches were alright, nothing to rave about, but I do have to add that my sandwich came absolutely loaded with salmon. It was truly a generous serving of salmon on my plate. We both commented that having just salad instead of salad and chips made it feel like an extremely healthy meal. (Yay to Lent!)

 

Being in Ladurée, there was no chance we could pass on having macaroons. We ordered a few macaroons: pistachio, lemon and praline, 2 of each. The macaroons were crispy yet soft, and the cream was a good addition for us to be able to appreciate the texture of the macaroon, yet not distract from it. Ladurée prides itself on its macaroons, and we can fully understand why.

Overall, we weren’t wowed by the food we had, but we would gladly go in for pastries and macaroons anytime.

Service: 7.5/10
Food: 7.5/10

Chez Fernand

13, rue Guisarde
75006 Paris
0143546147

We wanted to go to Pierre Hermes for chocolate cake, as it was listed in the Guardian’s list of top 50 things to eat in the world and where to eat them. However, we were too late and it was closed. So we walked around looking for a place to chill out and have some dinner. We walked along this very vibrant and exciting street with rows and rows of restaurants, and eventually settled on Chez Fernand. For some reason we were very drawn to this humble looking place. What clinched it for us was one of the locals who gave a thumbs-up sign to A as he was walking in for dinner himself.

Chez Fernand is a tiny little restaurant, with hardly any moveable space between tables. In fact, our server had to pull out our table in order to let A in her seat. The atmosphere in the restaurant was extremely homey and relaxed, and they had a list of daily specials, which they displayed on a chalk board.

We looked around to observe what the other diners were having, and it seemed like this dish served in a golden pot with rice was by far the most popular option. We asked our neighboring table for the name of the dish – Veal Bourguignon, and we ordered it, and also a steak with bone marrow.

The Bourguignon was very tasty. This is a home-style French country dish, and it contained delicious chunks of veal and mushrooms. The rice that it came with was ordinary, but was instantly flavored by the rich creamy sauce.

The steak was absolutely enormous. It came with a creamy mashed potato, and a piece of hollow bone with lots of creamy marrow inside. The marrow was smooth and buttery, and the steak was fantastic. It was a very generous size for its price, and the mashed potato balanced the dish very well, by countering the heaviness of the meat.

Our dessert menu was presented to us on another chalk board. By that time we had already made our minds by observing the other table beside ours. We decided to have the sorbet. This also came in a huge bowl. The berry flavored sorbets were extremely refreshing and woke us up immediately. A found them a bit too sour. The mango sorbet was delicious though.

Overall we felt very lucky to be able to quite literally stumble upon this fantastic restaurant. The food is very simple and rustic, and the whole concept is very warm and inviting. This is definitely worth a repeat visit the next time we go to Paris.

Service: 8/10
Food: 7.5/10

Taillevent

15 Rue Lamennais
75008 Paris, France
01 44 95 15 01
http://www.taillevent.com/

We were going to Paris for the weekend, and we wanted to experience eating in a really posh French restaurant for the first (and probably only) time in our lives. We decided to really splurge on lunch at Taillevent, having read awesome reviews about it online. Taillevent was awarded 3 Michelin stars for 34 years, and only recently was it demoted to just 2 Michelin stars. (Hey, if you have to do something only once in your life, make it count!)

The dining room was very modestly decorated, and we were ushered to a table and sat side by side. This gave us the chance to observe the servers at work and the other diners in the restaurant as well. Our servers were all very professional, and we liked how they presented our dishes to us in pairs, laying down the plates at exactly the same time.

Almost immediately after we sat down, we were presented with a plate of 6 bread balls with cheese. I’m probably not doing it any justice by calling it that, but I forget the French name (excuse moi). Being novices at dining in such fine establishments, we didn’t know whether to use our hands or not, and our server very politely told us “it’s ok to use your hands”. So we dug straight in, and they tasted heavenly. The taste of cheese wasn’t overpowering, which was good as A doesn’t like cheese very much, and they were light and almost pastry-like. We should have finished them immediately though, as once they got cold they lost their fluffy texture.

We were offered bread at almost every opportunity, and every single bread roll was still steaming as it was served to us.

We were given an amuse bouche, and this was a delicious foam with foie gras. It was amazing how something so light and inconsequential as foam could be so tasty, and I loved every bit of it. A found the buttery texture at the bottom of the cup too much for her, and I happily offered to finish her portion.

Our starters came next. I had the Pumpkin Risotto, with bacon. The bacon was the most thinly sliced item of food I have ever had, I’m not kidding you, and it was just wonderfully delicate. I didn’t understand the connection between the bacon and the sweet risotto, but I’m sure definitely not complaining! A had a Scallop Carpaccio starter, which was delicious as well. The slightly sour fruit salad it came with brought the entire dish together perfectly.

For mains we both had the lamb cutlets which were good, but once again, not the best lamb dish we’ve ever had. The lamb was tender and juicy, and didn’t smell too much of lamb, as it generally tends to.

My cheese platter was incredible. I didn’t think I would enjoy the brie initially, but I really did. The apple slices that were served together on the plate were the perfect companion to the cheese, which was not too pungent. A doesn’t like cheese, so she had a salad, which was slightly too over-dressed and too sour for her liking.

Our desserts were both very good. I had the Chocolate puff with ice cream, and A had the Mango with coconut ice cream. The coconut ice cream was surprisingly full of flavor, and the mango lent a nice tropical touch to the dessert. My chocolate dessert was adequately rich without being too overpowering, as I still managed to taste the coconut ice cream that A had after a bite of my chocolate.

Overall, we had a very good time pretending to be members of high society. We felt that the service was very professional and the food very well cooked. Throughout the meal we kept asking ourselves what is special about French cooking and French food. We didn’t come to a conclusion at the end of our meal, as we’re both not experts in this area, so we welcome comments and discussion to help us widen our food horizons.

Additional Comments: Formal wear recommended, and their menu changes constantly, so there’s very little chance of ordering what we had for yourselves.

Service: 9/10
Food: 8.5/10