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Rome

Foro Romano

“Is not possible.”

This could have been the slogan for our stay in Rome.

Wifi in our hostel? “No.”

Directions to a supermarket and Laundromat? “Sorry, I’m not from this area.”

We weren’t having much luck.

Foro Traiano

I first went to Rome three years ago. On my second visit, the impressions left by the first were still fresh – I remembered the graffiti (though Rome was sparkling clean in comparison to Naples), the dismissive attitude of sales girls and the persistent men. I remembered how relaxed life seemed to be here, and felt as though Rome was a coastal city. I fell in love with the city when I sat reading on a patch of grass in front of the Foro Traiano and a man told me I had skin like mozzarella.

Colosseum

I remembered being blown away by the size of the monuments – I’d never seen anything as large as the Colosseum, each of the arches in the walls at least three or four times my height, and the walls metres thick. Surrounded by parks and the Foro Romano archaeological site, I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t on an empty, sandy plain.

Saint Peter's and Piazza

This time we sat outside the Colosseum (the line was too long to go in, and we didn’t want to pay for one of those ‘skip the line’ tours) and an old New Yorker sat next to us. Apparently he and his wife visited Rome 45 years ago – back then the Colosseum was free, the arches were completely open (now bars line them) and there were about ten people there feeding spaghetti to 300 cats.

Pompeii scavi

Saint Peter’s Basilica was the largest church I’d ever seen, sitting behind Rome’s largest piazza, walled by a colonnade and with fountains and an Egyptian obelisk in its centre. Like Saint Paul’s on steroids, it was beautiful with elaborate mouldings of angels on the walls and ceiling, and light streaming in through the arched windows lining the top of the walls and circling the dome. The cavernous crypt below the basilica was like a maze – each pope’s tomb housed in a separate arch, and each unique.

I loved the history. Europe abounds in history, but this was the first time I’d seen ruins, both in Rome and a day trip I did to Pompeii.

Foro Romano

The ruins of ancient Pompeii cover an area of about 70 acres, which means some places have large tour groups standing around, and other places where I could be completely alone. I spent four hours getting lost there on my first visit, never before having realised that this was a fully functioning city with streets, houses, spas, arenas, a brothel, parks and a beautiful villa. I loved that I could get so much closer than in any museum – being able to walk around the houses and under the arches, to touch the marble pillars and the fossilised furniture.

So my favourite part of Rome was the Foro Romano, Rome’s own archaeological site.

I was curious to see whether D would be as awestruck as I was.

To be honest, he didn’t seem to be (though he might just express it differently – after all, we can’t all walk around with our jaws hanging slackly and our eyes as wide as saucers). Not having internet had put a damper on our stay, and in Italy we’d started feeling swindled by entrance fees and the limited access they provided (can we see the Vatican City? Is not possible. Can we skip the line to look at prices? Is not possible. Is there a youth price? No).

However, the main objective for this trip to Rome was to eat well, and that we did.

True, we had some unfortunate supermarket food, and an old Panini, but when we ate out it was always a pleasure.

I bought gelato at L’Ourso Bianco, where you can get three flavours for €2.50, catching dribbles of the melting ice-cream running down my cone on my tongue. The biscotti flavour was divine. It was so much better than Rome’s oldest gelato shop, Palazzo del Freddo di Giovanni Fassi, in business since 1880. There the flavours weren’t labelled, and I felt rushed by the impatient sales girl who gave me strawberry sorbet when I wanted strawberry ice-cream.

Piazza del Popolo

When we searched for a decently-priced restaurant near the Spanish steps, we walked past Piazza del Poplo and found a place near Flaminio, which didn’t seem to have a name.

Flaminio Restaurant

We entered and, immediately sensing we were tourists, the barista pointed us upstairs. We reached a restaurant filled with square tables covered in red and white checked tablecloths, the patrons largely Italian – a group of elderly ladies behind me, and a group of business men who could have been the mafia in a US television series behind D.

The bread was served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We were seated on the second floor, surrounded by tables of locals. D ordered a mozzarella and prosciutto appetizer, a tomato salad, and a penne arrabiata. I ordered a spaghetti carbonara and decided to see how I was feeling afterwards before considering the home-made tiramisu.

I’m so glad I did – it was the best carbonara of my life. The bacon was salty, smoky and crunchy. The spaghetti was still chewy in the middle. And the sauce was scandalously runny, steam escaping whenever I stirred the pasta. My mouth sang as I ate, and I tried to decipher the recipe, wondering how something so simple could taste so good.

D’s mozzarella was wonderful and the tomatoes were a deep, sweet red. And his pasta served the same dilemma as mine – I dipped some bread into his sauce and tried to figure out the ingredients . . . “tomato?” I suggested weakly. “Salt, sugar, chilli?”

The tomato sauce was as sweet as the salad and, although I didn’t get any chilli flakes in my sample, the spiciness had bled through the sauce in its cooking.

Halfway through my dish and I was stuffed, and mournfully declined the offer of dessert.

Realising that the cheapest restaurants were near the Colosseum, on our final night we returned to a small restaurant called Luzzi’s. The first time we were drawn to it by the blackboard on the street advertising their €5.50 lasagne (I don’t recommend it – picture a stack of cooked lasagne sheets with a tomato and meat sauce poured on top). However, D had an incredible beef Carpaccio and we decided to try it a second time before we left.

“Can I get the Bacala?” D asked, the one dish he wanted that he hadn’t found so far in Italy. It was on the menu, but last time it hadn’t been available.

“Is not possible. Only on Tuesdays.”

“Okay, then I’ll take the minestrone soup and the beefsteak,” he said.

“The minestrone is not possible,” the waiter opened the menu and pointed. “Only the soup of the day – is a bean and pasta soup.”

“Okay,” D shrugged, “I’ll have that then.”

“And can I get the prawn and cream risotto?” I asked.

“Is not possible. There is no rice today.”

“. . . okay,” I frowned at D. “Then I’ll have the spinach and ricotta ravioli.”

The waiter nodded and left.

Later I paused, my fork halfway to my mouth, “isn’t today Tuesday?”

D looked up as he thought, “yes, you’re right.”

“I thought he could only do your fish on Tuesdays.”

D shook his head with a grin, “I think we can safely assume, is not possible!” he cried in an accent that was closer to French than Italian.

I later ordered a tiramisu and, despite the lack of possibilities, it was blissful. Instead of using sponge, like I’m used to, they used some sort of biscuit – cake-like in the centre and crisp around the edges, like Madeleines, but thinner. The contrast between the crispy biscuits and the creamy mascarpone was heavenly.

As D finished, the rain bucketed down and we schemed a way to stall as the people waiting for tables glared at us.

“Coffee?” I suggested, as I’d promised to try it before we left Italy (as you’ve probably guessed, I’m a hot chocolate person.

But when we ordered: “is not possible. The machine is broken.”

We left laughing in the rain, me sheltering under my suede cap and D using our plasticised tourist map for cover, crying “is not possible!” at regular intervals.

An umbrella-seller approached us and sold D a baby pink umbrella for €5.

A few minutes later, the rain stopped.

So clearly, some things are possible.

View from the Spanish Steps

Le meilleur chocolat chaud à Milan?

Bar Manhattan

I may have found it. On my first (and only) try.

The afternoon after we arrived in Milan, my friend D and I stopped for a late lunch at Bar Manhattan, a bar/café on Corso Buenos Aeries.

With shiny walnut counters, little down-lights in the ceiling, and red backed chairs and table-tops, the café was the embodiment of understated European elegance. Burgundy-vested waiters didn’t bat an eye when we asked for some menus in English, and frequently checked in on us.

I was served a hot chocolate in a glass, the top half piled with whipped cream and dusted in cocoa. At the first teaspoon I was won – the cream was sweet and velvety, not like the airy stuff you spray from a can. I dipped my long-stemmed spoon lower and was delighted to discover a thick goo, the same colour of the one at Café de la Paix. It was delicious and dark, like a block of 90% chocolate.

I stirred in some of the cream, as with Angelina’s hot chocolate, sweetening and slimming the beverage (though I couldn’t resist lapping up spoon after spoon of it plain – like pillows on my tongue, I felt as though I was burrowed deep into a cocoon of feather-light mattresses and doonas).

Unlike the chocolat chauds de Paris, this one wasn’t served with a glass of water, and I slowed as I sipped, struggling to finish as I grew tipsy on cocoa. The chocolate began to solidify around the circumference of my glass, globular as it rested in my silver spoon somewhere between a liquid and a solid. Soon I would have to chew it!

At €4.20, it’s far better value than any of Paris’s famed hot chocolates, and is the main thing I’d recommend to anyone going to Milan.

Le meilleur chocolat chaud à Paris? part quatre

Laduree - Rue Bonaparte

On Monday, Mr Frog and I sampled the last of his recommended hot chocolates – Ladurée.

The salon on Rue Bonaparte is not what you’d expect from a Parisian salon de thé – the ground floor is decorated in a Chinoiserie style with leafy bamboo and flowers painted on the wall, echoing Ladurée’s pastel pinks and greens. In contrast, the top floor is very dark and intimate. It is all blue, with dark carpet and thick, tasselled curtains and plush little armchairs printed in blue and gold. Warm and cosy, it is a perfect hide-out for a rainy winter day.

So would the chocolat chaud measure up?

The waiter came with the traditional two glasses of water, two china cups on saucers and two metal jugs of hot chocolate, and poured each of us a cup from our respective jugs. I smiled in anticipation as the liquid seeped thickly from the spout of the jug and pooled in the bottom of my cup, the volume rising steadily. It was reminiscent of Les Deux Magots – molten milk chocolate.

Then I took my first sip . . . nothing. I took another one, trying to savour the texture in my mouth, but it left me unmoved. At Café de la Paix and Les Deux Magots I hadn’t been able to keep the smile off my face, and even though Angelina could not match, it was worlds above Ladurée, and I still enjoyed my chocolate’s silky texture and taste.

The Ladurée hot chocolate had somehow managed to have all of the texture and none of the flavour of the first two. It tasted dusty and stale in comparison to the others. Little spots of fat glistened on top of the liquid, like in a soup that has used butter or oil, and I found it harder to drink as I continued.

It was like Cadbury chocolate in comparison to Lindt. As a child I liked Cadbury but, as an adult hooked on dark chocolate, Cadbury now tastes like wax to me. However, Lindt milk chocolate takes my breath away– like velvety cream as it melts on my tongue. I pause and savour Lindt, whereas I eat Cadbury very quickly to try and capture the same rapture.

The Ladurée hot chocolate was like this – although it was thick, I found myself taking bigger and bigger gulps as I chased the memory of more intense flavours at other cafés. If it weren’t for the texture, I would have found it very difficult to rank this chocolate above those that standard cafés sell for €2.50 – €4.00.

So I wouldn’t recommend this €6.50 hot chocolate – spend another €0.50 and go to Les Deux Magots, or if you would prefer something thinner and satiny, spend an extra €0.40 and go to Angelina.

That being said, Ladurée is still worth a visit – the salons de thé are a Paris institution. Although the salon at Rue Bonaparte isn’t very French, the salons on the Champs-Elyseés and Rue Royale have chic patisseries and comfortably elegant salons like Angelina, with dim lighting, moulded walls and carpeted floors. And the beautifully presented pastries and macaroons are easily a good enough reason to enjoy the ambiance.

But, if I was going out for a chocolat chaud, I’d go elsewhere.

Rankings so far:

  1. Les Deux Magots
  2. Café de la Paix (second because the price is higher, though the quality is just as good as the first and the taste is more intense)
  3. Angelina
  4. Ladurée

Salon International de l’Agriculture

The International Agriculture Show is a yearly event that takes place in Paris in late February or early March. In 2011 it is taking place between February 19 and 27, and theme is ‘Farming and Food: the French Model’.

So over 1000 exhibitors and 3500 animals from 34 countries will be on site, focussing on France’s regions, technologies and traditions, with about 600,000 visitors expected to come and see their wares.

It is also where many politicians, hoping to snatch the rural vote, make an appearance to shake influential hands. Nicolas Sarkozy went on the Saturday morning (apparently after a faux-pas at the show in 2008, he prefers to keep a lower profile).

I went on Saturday, fortunately missing any Sarkozy brouhaha, and started with Pavilion 1, where the livestock was on display. When I walked into the enormous Pavilion, the perfume of hay wafted over me and, cut off from all natural light in the cavernous space, I felt as though I’d departed from Paris entirely.

This was completely different to being in some sanitised museum – I was looking at living exhibits, with famers and producers who were only too ready to talk to me and let me touch and taste their produce.

I was shocked by the size of some of the cows. Being a born and bred city girl, I’d always though cows were about the size of horses, but a bit bulkier – these were like buses in comparison! And the pigs – the sleeping giants at the Salon de l’Agriculture were four times the size of Babe.

In contrast, the chicks were scraps of feathers, smaller and softer than anything from a Kleenex ad.

And when I reached the cages of birds and rabbits, I felt like I was in a giant pet store. Excluding Bénédicte’s incredibly skittish cat, the only pet that was ever in my family was my sister’s goldfish, which I think died after a month (neat freak that my mother is, I think she changed the water too often). So my sister and would always press our faces up against pet-store windows to look at the puppies and kittens tumbling over each other, and the long-eared bunnies dozing peacefully. Here I stared at the rabbits – small balls with little, pointy ears, Angoras which were just ears sticking out of their fluffy coats, and the long-eared rabbits with their ears tucked against their bodies. I ached to run my index finger and thumb down one of those ears to see if it felt as velvety as it looked.

And then I moved on to the food. Pavilion 1 had an area devoted to cheese and dairy products, and Pavilion 7 exhibited produce from the different regions of France. I tasted sample after sample, one chocolate and hazelnut biscuit good enough to make my cheeks flush . . . but I’d already spent my money on caramelised and chocolate coated nuts by that stage, so had to slink away. One day I’m going to have enough money to go to one of these shows and buy everything I want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was even lucky enough to see some demonstrations.

One was of a girl making a soft white cheese – large disks of cheese rested in cylindrical casts with holes for the whey to seep out. All of the cheese casts sat on a wooden table with a groove cut out towards the edges, down which the whey slid into a bucket at one end of the table. As a man was explaining that the cheese needs to be left until the mould can form a rind, the girl quickly flipped each disk of cheese onto her palm and deposited it back into the plastic cast upside down to keep the shape and texture uniform.

I also saw a man preparing a Millet aux pommes du Perche. First he whipped up crème anglaise, whisking it until it seemed artificially bright. He sautéed some thinly sliced apples in butter, then coated them in honey and flambéed them with local alcohol. Next he spread a canary-yellow layer of custard into a casserole dish, topped it with the apples, and then added another layer of custard. After garnishing the dessert with chopped nuts, he put a green bowl of butter over the stove to soften the butter for a glaze. He lifted the bowl . . . and left a ring of green plastic on the stove.

Yes I did get to taste it, and it was lovely – the butter and apples melted together perfectly.

The next pavilion also focussed on food, but international food this time, where 34 countries each had stalls presenting their specialties (Australia wasn’t one of them, though I’m not sure what we’d show).

After visiting one of my students, who was working at the show that day and had told me about it, I took a brief tour of the crops and plant section and made my way home.

Le meilleur chocolat chaud à Paris? part trois

Yesterday Mr Frog and I continued on our quest to find the best hot chocolate in Paris.

Angelina, a salon de thé on Rue de Rivoli, is another place famous for its hot chocolate (as well as its Mont Blanc gateau, though I didn’t get to try that). I’d only ever peered in through the windows before, drooling over the beautifully arranged patisseries in the elegant boutique, white with mirrored counters.

So I was surprised to enter a rather comfortable salon. Yes, it’s still beautiful with murals lining the walls, which were reflected by mirrors of identical shapes and sizes on the opposite walls. But the lighting was dim, there was plain carpet on the floor, and the wooden tables and chairs cushioned with brown leather looked more like furniture you would see in somebody’s home than in a chic salon de thé (admittedly, a very stately manor home, but a home, nonetheless). It was cosy and homey, and I would have felt just as comfortable there in my runners and jeans as I felt in my post-work suit.

As for the chocolate – part of me wished that I had tried this one first. Because it was a lovely chocolat chaud, and if I had have had it first I would have thought it was wonderful. But I knew the instant I poured that it couldn’t match the others. After experiencing the indulgently thick texture of the hot chocolates at Les Deux Magots and Café de la Paix, I was disappointed to have a beverage that was clearly a liquid, and not a borderline solid, as the others now seemed to be in comparison.

Although it was thinner, Angelina’s hot chocolate was still lovely and rich, served in a jug with a pot of whipped cream on the side. I loved stirring the cream into the chocolate and watching the liquid marble as the cream melted, but this didn’t thicken the result as I’d hoped it would. It did create an interesting experience though – the flavour was milder and more velvety at the top of the cup, and grew darker and more intense as I progressed. It was like all of the chocolate had sunk to the bottom, like the sediment in wine.

So yes, it was a beautiful hot chocolate, but it takes third place under Les Deux Magots and Café de la Paix. The price was €6.90, compared to Les Deux Magots €7, but I don’t think the difference in price is enough to make up for the difference in quality.

I’m glad I went, but I don’t think I’ll be going back.

Well . . . maybe just once to try the Mont Blanc gateau.

Le meilleur chocolat chaud à Paris? part deux

  • Fondue – melted cheese or chocolate into which bread or fruit is dipped
  • Derived from the verb fondre – to melt

After getting rather tipsy at The Frog and Princesse, Mr Frog and I went to Les Deux Magots, a café reputed for having the best hot chocolate in Paris.

After my experience at Café de la Paix, I was interested to see whether Les Deux Magots could deliver.

Les Deux Magots

We arrived around midnight and were greeted by an older, portly man in a black, three-piece suit with a white shirt and a silky bow-tie, who instructed us to sit “anywhere”. At this time on a Wednesday, there were only two other occupied tables.

Les Deux Magots

As we waited for our hot chocolate, I looked around the room. The café is brightly lit with rows of red leather booths bordered by white pillars. At the top of one of the central pillar sit Les Deux Magots, two Asian statues which have been there for over a century.

After starting as a drapery in 1813, then becoming a wine merchants by 1884, Les Deux Magots was refurbished and transformed into a café in 1914, and it became a haunt of many figures of the literary world – from Oscar Wilde to Ernest Hemmingway to moi!

Mr Frog was cruelly forcing me to speak in French when our chocolats chauds arrived. Our waiter lowered a tray holding two tea cups, two glasses of water, and a large china jug of hot chocolate.

I poured and inhaled, trying not to swoon as the chocolate oozed into my cup. I stirred it with my spoon and, like oil, the liquid held the pattern of the swirl as I took my first sip.

The chocolate invaded my mouth, clinging to every surface. I suddenly found myself thinking of my childhood Easters, when I would break up my largest Easter eggs in the same bowl and devour them, piece by piece, over the coming weeks. It tasted like I held melted them all and was drinking the result straight from the bowl. This beverage wasn’t like the milky concoctions you find at Starbucks – it was pure liquid chocolate. Fondue.

So, which chocolat chaud was better? It’s hard to say – they both had the same gooey texture, and rested on the back of my teaspoon rather than dripping off. Although they were both intense, the chocolate at Café de la Paix was darker – I needed two glasses of water to get through it. At Les Deux Magots, I easily managed with one. And I still think the hot chocolate at Café de la Paix would go very well over vanilla ice-cream, whereas I wouldn’t dream of diluting the one at Les Deux Magots with anything.

I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for – Café de la Paix was much larger and luxurious, and Les Deux Magots was more intimate. The service was more attentive at Café de la Paix, though that could have been due to the late hour at which we visited Les Deux Magots. And, at €7, Les Deux Magots is slightly better value for money. Let’s just say I’d be happy to try them both again.

Le meilleur chocolat chaud à Paris?

Last night I had hot chocolate at Café de la Paix at the Intercontinental Hotel.

Located right outside metro Opéra, it was very expensive (luckily I wasn’t paying, but Google told me the chocolat chaud is €8), and very beautiful – bathed in yellow light, the ceilings were painted, there were golden columns around the room, the tables were set with white linen tablecloths and sparkling glass-wear and the chairs were backed with deep-red velvet or leather, depending on the section.

When I was invited to have a hot chocolate on a Sunday evening, I was expecting a more casual affair, so I tried to walk behind my friend so the waiters wouldn’t see my sneakers. No one commented, but I did feel as though I should have dressed up.

We sat on leather armchairs in the bar/lounge, and ordered two hot chocolates.

We were served with two teacups on saucers, a bowl of sugar cubes, two small, stainless-steel teapots and two long glasses of water.

I take my chocolate very seriously, so I wasn’t sure if this would live up to its reputation as I poured . . . and gasped at the thick darkness of the molten chocolate. This wasn’t a beverage! This should have been a sauce for ice-cream, or foreplay.  ;p

I inhaled the heady scent as I took my first sip, and actually moaned in delight as the chocolate coated my mouth and my throat. It was incredibly intense, and I soon understood why it was served with water – it was so rich that I started drinking it teaspoon by teaspoon.

A teapot of chocolate and two glasses of water later, I left very happy.

I’m happy to recommend this as the best hot chocolate in Paris, but if anyone has one they want me to compare it to, I’m happy to do the legwork.

Vin & Marée

One of the nice things about having a foreign visitor is that I have an excuse to do things in Paris that I wouldn’t usually do, one of them being eating out at nice restaurants.


Vin & Marée Suffren

I found Vin & Marée on La Fourchette. La Fourchette is a French website that has reviews and promotions for hundreds (maybe thousands) of restaurants in France. As we were planning to go to the Eiffel Tower on Friday evening, I looked for somewhere in the seventh arrondissement, and Vin & Marée was the best value place available – a seafood restaurant near the corner of the Champs de Mars with a promotion of 50% off your final bill (excluding drinks and the set menus, if you reserve a table at 7:00, 7:30, 10:00 or 10:30).

From the outside, the small blue restaurant looks like a Belgian mussels bar. On the inside, everything is very elegant with patterned white linen tablecloths and matching napkins twirled into cones at the diners’ places, and shining silver and glass wear.

When we walked in we thought we might have been too early – there were only two other diners, and the staff seemed to be setting up for the evening. But one waitress approached us, crossed our names off the reservation list and took us to a booth in the corner of the restaurant. When she discovered that my companion (this is his new title – I think it sounds very food critic-y) didn’t speak French, she offered him an English menu, and explained things in French to me, using a smattering of English words for him.

We started with aperitifs of beer and ruby port, and shared a bowl of complimentary mussels, very tender in butter and chives.

For our entrées, we ordered langoustines and scampi. The langoustines were served in a circle over a bed of salad and, although the salad was dressed lightly, the langoustines were just seasoned with some paprika and pepper and were beautiful and soft. The scampi was very interesting – wrapped in rice-paper and fried like a spring roll, it was too hot to eat immediately, but rather voluptuous (I know it’s a strange word to use to describe food, but when I think about the slight resistance of the curves of the shrimp before I bit through it, it seems the most appropriate) once it had cooled a bit. It was served with a mild tandoori sauce in a small pot with a spoon, which was so good that we scooped out what was left and mopped it up with the baguette pieces in our bread basket. The bread had a lovely hard crust, though was a little chewy, so probably a bit old.

For our mains, we both ordered baked salmon with a lemon sauce. The salmon fillet was like butter on my tongue, with a deliciously light herbed crust on the top. It was served with some broccoli and sauerkraut which left something to be desired, as well as subtly-seasoned whipped potatoes in a casserole dish on the side. Not being a lemon fan, I was a little tentative about the sauce, served in a small pot with a spoon, but I couldn’t taste any lemon in it. If I was going to compare it with anything, it would be a honey mustard sauce, and it went beautifully with both the salmon and the potatoes.

My companion finished with a coffee, at which point we started itching for the bill. Although the restaurant had been empty when we arrived, by 8:30 it was packed and by 9:00 we were starting to overheat. The tables along the booth were extremely crowded, with barely enough space for champagne buckets between them, and they needed to be pulled out from the wall so that patrons could sit behind them. There were a few specials boards throughout the restaurant, which the waiters would carry to each new arrival’s desk and rest on the champagne bucket as they chose their order, which left us feeling a little claustrophobic when this was done with the people next to us.

Usually I enjoy other people arriving – I love food, and it’s always exciting to see what other people are having. We even saw one table choosing the lobsters they wanted from a fish tank. And generally, I wouldn’t have minded it getting a bit crowded before we left, even if it was a rather long wait for our bill.

However, unlike Bercy, this time the other patrons were not French, but American. I don’t mean to insult any Americans out there, but hearing large groups of Anglophones getting louder and more boisterous as they order more drinks does take something away from the experience of dining out in a French restaurant in France. I suppose it was to be expected, what with us being so close to the Eiffel Tower, but it never even occurred to me. Because I don’t work near any monuments, my days are generally tourist-free, or at least, free from large groups of tourists.

That being said, although the food was incredible and the service was wonderful, it was a bit of a relief to be outside again. I would definitely go back there, but I might consider the 10:00, or even the 7:00 booking instead, and have a little more quiet time.

With our discount, the total bill came to €43, which included two drinks, two starters, two mains and a coffee, all within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. If anyone else comes to visit, I’ll definitely be taking them to Vin & Marée.

Partie de Campagne


Café des Deux Moulins

On a Thursday I work from 10:00 to 4:00, and I have a 1.5 hour break from 11:30 to 1:00. A few weeks ago, I remembered that my friend David (who I met through a Conversation Exchange – we had coffee and hot chocolate at Café des Deux Moulins, the café where Amélie works) actually works in the same building where I have my morning class.

Since then, we’ve been having lunch on a Thursday.

Bercy Village

The week before last we went to a French restaurant in Bercy Village called Partie de Campagne. It was lovely and rustic – the walls and floors were all exposed wood, along with the tables and chairs, which were not covered by tablecloths. The walls were decorated with rooster motifs, and general bits and pieces that you would find around a farm, like brass buckets, wrought iron coat hooks and even a wheel (if I remember correctly).

The seating was a little bit crowded, but with the warm light and the smell of food wafting in from the kitchen, it felt more cosy than uncomfortable.

We both ordered the dish of the day – Canard de Maghreb, for €9.50. The service was very fast, polite and unintrusive, and the food looked beautiful when it was laid in front of us – two slices of duck under a ladleful of gravy, with a small lettuce salad, potatoes and some sort of ham concoction on toothpicks on the side. The duck was okay, but when compared to the richness of the gravy (which we both mopped up with the sliced brown bread from the bread basked), it seemed a little bland. The salad was simple, served with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette, and the potatoes were lovely – a stack of sliced potatoes with cheese and chives, they were a cross between baked potatoes and potato gratin.

But what won me over was the ham things – we each had two toothpicks, each one threading through two pieces of ham which rolled around something. I sliced open one of them, and could see some sort of black jam. The combination was incredible – the saltiness of the ham contrasting with the sweetness of the (prune?) jam made my tastebuds sing.

As I have a friend visiting me in Paris at the moment, I decided that we could also meet for lunch during my break on Thursday, and we would go to the same restaurant.

This time I was left in awe of the service. Bercy is not a tourist area, so I was assuming that I would have to do all of the talking, as my friend speaks no French. As soon as the staff realised this, they assigned waiters to us who spoke some English who were very attentive, explaining dishes, offering suggestions and making jokes.

Unfortunately the duck dish with the ham concoction wasn’t on offer, so this time I went with the Formule Gourmand (the suggestion of the day – today a prawn and calamari dish, with a Café Gourmand – coffee with a trilogy of mini-desserts). My friend chose the Boeuf Tartare, and looked a little bit shocked when it arrived French-style – a cylinder of beef mince topped with a raw egg.

My dish wasn’t bad – the prawns were amazing, seasoned so well that I didn’t need to use any sauce, crispy with a salt-and-pepper crust. The calamari was a little chewy, and the plain rice was rather bland. Unfortunately the sauce they gave me seemed to be a tomato sauce, thinned out with tomato juice, Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce, which really didn’t compliment the dish or make the rice more enjoyable.

My friend was very impressed, though, saying that he couldn’t believe that raw mince topped with a raw egg was one of the nicest things he had ever eaten. It was served with chunky potato wedges seasoned with chicken salt, and salad.

Then came dessert – a large plate dusted with icing sugar arrived, carrying a short black and three small deserts in matching white pots – chocolate mousse, crème caramel and slices of banana in a thick chocolate sauce. Not being a coffee drinker, I gave the coffee to my friend and set about attacking the desserts. The chocolate and banana concoction was heavenly, though anything chocolate and gooey is sure to win me over. I ended up eating some of the chocolate sauce with the chocolate mousse. Although the chocolate mousse was good, the other desserts were so rich that I was using it more as a palate cleanser than anything else.

And the crème caramel . . . excuse me while I drool. It was ridiculously sweet. The custard was lovely and firm and moist, but I could barely taste that over the generous amount of caramel sauce that had been ladled over it. Every time I dug in my spoon, more caramel would seep into the crevice I had created, and I felt my smile grow bigger and bigger with every bite.

All in all, I was very sorry to have to rush to class. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough change to leave a decent tip, so I’ll have to remedy that the next time I go there.

Although some moments at Partie de Campagne weren’t outstanding, the atmosphere, service and food highlights are enough to warrant a return visit. And how much was our meal? Two mains, one drink and one dessert for €32.50.