Apart from my undying love for macaroons ( though I feel they are anyway too pretty and too much of a special occasion treat to consider an actual food which is also why I don't consider them to be containing calories obviously), I have never been a big fan of the French cuisine. It isn't known to be particularly none-meat-eater friendly and for one of my French friends living in London makes it near impossible not to veer back towards a bite of foie gras when she is back, she more a vegetarian by taste and for health than of course animal rights in this case. This all resulted in a rather mediocre culinary experience on my trips, though I did enjoy the copious amounts of patisserie goods, and meant that I was never much tempted to seek out French food in London.
However two recent discoveries have changed my opinion for the better, maybe aided also by my new found love of red wine that served as perfect accompaniment for the dinner I enjoyed at Le Mecury. Located on upper street in Angel, for me one of the nicest streets in London with a quaint neighbourhood feel, Le Mercury completely surprised me with it's authentic French cooking, incredibly good prices, intimate atmosphere AND very good vegetarian choices. Once sat down at one of their tiny tables with a candle lit on top, Le Mercury has that certain old school "ideal place for a date" vibe that in London too often gets lost in restaurants with fancy new concepts and purposely " unfinished" interiors that just end up looking a little try hard. Yes, you aren't going to be getting the newest culinary creations here but after all neither do you in a lovely Parisian bistro and neither did that limit my enjoyment of the dishes. Everything from the grilled goats cheese salad for starters to my incredible gnocchi with butternut squash sauce for mains were perfectly seasoned, well presented and a real bargain considering that all main courses are priced under the ten and all starters and dessert under the five pound mark. Meat eaters will be pleased that this also means rump steak and the, by my dining companion highly recommended, lamb are included in this, making Le Mercury an affordable yet tasty and sophisticated place to enjoy a dinner, of course with one of their equally well priced bottles of red wine to wash it all down with. It may only look like any bistro you would find in Paris but Le Mercury is a great little gem in the middle of London with that same passion for food and wine that I became so enchanted with on my last two visits.
As far as street food goes crepes are of course another French institution and one that is also not easily found done well in London ( I have to say that I myself am often biased to go for the thicker and less sophisticated American pancake version for brunch). Whilst in Paris however I discovered the wonders of a savoury crepe after enjoying one filled with smoked salmon at 3 am after one too many cocktails. Keen to find a version in London I was happy to discover Creperie Du Monde on Chatsworth road. With a menu solely focused on savoury and sweet crepes, each sounding incredible ( oreo cookies, butterscotch sauce and cream anyone?) I couldn't help but make a trip there for brunch. Though service was a little off and waiting times just about bearable, the crepes served were definitely worth it. I went for the brunch favourite - smoked salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise and asparagus, served on a whole wheat crepe ( though you can of course also go for the classic white version). Made right in front of you, the crepe was paper thin, delicious and worked perfectly with the toppings. Though not as cheap as their Parisian counterparts ( my crepe was £7.50) it was a great brunch alternative and I can't wait to return to try some of their sweet options. Another piece of Paris in the midst of London I shall return to more often!
I think falling for a city can be very much like love at first sight, the people, the food and buildings almost intoxicating and at an instant drawing you in, making you want to return time after time again. I had this feeling when I first came to London with my parents aged 9 and with Rome when 4 days spent there seemed too brief of a time to soak up all that this city had to offer me. However Paris on my first visit was rather like a short, rude and easily forgettable date. Going alone and only 17 years old I found Parisians cold, had little idea where to go besides the obvious tourists traps and ended up leaving rather disgruntled and unconvinced by it's charm. Working in fashion I should have known that a future return was going to be inevitable at some point in my later life and I have to say that when I did go back Paris, with a little expert advice, a brief Parisian romance and some lovely new friends, my opinion of Paris was changed for the better.
I may have not gotten to see the sights as I was working during the days but for me the vibe and true face of a city is much more about where the locals go to eat, drink and forget about work. After all how often do we really hang out by Big Ben or frequent the British museum? In my two brief visits over the last month, I got to slowly understand and appreciate the unique side of Paris. Whehter the good - the wine and bistro culture where you can simply enjoy a good ( and with good I mean incredible) glass of red wine even by yourself without having to pay a fortune or having to venture into a seedy club and the food, though not vegetarian friendly in most places still pretty amazing and unbeatable in the macaroons and dessert department, to the not so good - the smelly metros, the sometimes rude reaction to none French speakers and I guess the lack of 24/7 culture that London offers, getting home from a bar at 3 on a saturday night proved near impossible.
Would I go back without work being the main reason? Definitely and now I have a few places I was lucky enough to be introduced to that I would revisit any time and that London lacks. Paris may not welcome you with open arms at first but it is a cultural melting pot with that eccentric French touch that I have been lucky enough to get to know a little better. Here a few of my favourite Parisian discoveries:
For Macaroons - Chez Manon à Paris
Better than more famous and pricier macaroons at Ladureé and Pierre Hermés, the flavour intensity and delicacy of the shell blew me away and I have tried many, many macaroons in my time! 25 rue de Bretagne 75003 For Cocktails - Dirty Dicks
A Hawaiian themed cocktail bar in Paris really shouldn't work ( Mahiki is a fine example in London where this concept fails) but at Dirty Dick it really does. Picture a dive of a bar, big tattooed guys in floral print t-shirts and seriously amazing cocktails served out of flaming Tiki statues and you basically get the jist of the place, a hidden gem rarely frequented by tourists that was one of my real Paris favourites.
10 Rue Frochot, 75009
For Something A Little Different - Taiwanese French Fusion at Le 37 m2
Taiwanese food may not be the best known of the Asian cuisine's but every dish served in this tiny restaurant leaves you in awe and wondering why there aren't more establishments serving it with the refreshing take on spices and flavour combinations it offers. Lighter than the more known Cantonese kitchen and with that certain French touch in its execution and finesse ( the owner went to Cordon Bleu) every dish we shared between us was a real joy and left us wanting to find out more about the eating tradition of this tiny nation.
68 rue Rodier
For The Real Deal French Fare - Le Hangar
Hidden away in a little courtyard a stones throw away from Centre Pompideu, Le Hangar has been a favourite of my colleague that has been going to Paris for years for good reason. Run by a few stern elderly ladies, it serves high quality French food to incredibly good prices. The house wine is dangerously good for 12 euros a bottle, mains are a meat eaters paradise ( think steak tartar and beef stroganoff - all receiving rave reviews from my fellow diners) but forgiven by me purely by the selection of incredible desserts. The mont blanc ( pureed, sweetened chestnut topped with cream and meringue) was out of this world and the sheer unpretentiousness of the place with its slightly yellowed table cloths made it even better. If I can start my own little Paris tradition a visit here every time would definitely be on top of the list. 2 Impasse Berthaud, 75003
For Paris From The Top - Le Perchoir
It may only look like a slightly run down residential building from the outside but enter the lift to reach the 7th floor and you are sure to be left in awe at the view you will face. Overlooking the whole of Paris, Le Perchoir is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine in an intimate and yes, rather hip atmosphere. Covered with open tends and with gasoline lamps to keep you warm, it was the perfect place to relax after a long day at work and an ideal way to soak up the Parisian flair from above.