RENDEZVOUS A PARIS
Updated: May 9, 2018
Paris Paris Paris, I have never really liked you, never have I been captured by your air of romanticism, your cafés with their extortionate prices perfumed with eau de cigarette against a backdrop of gitanes beggars but this time around you have surprised me, you have cut away the murk and shown a glimpse of your brighter colours and it was pretty damn awesome.
I flew into Paris Charles de Gaulle on a Wednesday after work and met with Fatima, one of my old uni housemates. My last 30 or so flights have been European low cost trips and as much as I love them for their friendliness to my account, this BA flight was otherworldly in comparison. I had decent legroom, comfortable seats, no-one tried to check in my hand luggage against my wishes, and there were FREE refreshments served with a smile, honestly I think I forgot what it’s like to fly with a good airline. Fatima had arrived at the airport 40 minutes or so before me on another flight from London, she looked flummoxed, so after the customary greetings I asked her what the matter was.
“Someone’s just stolen €20 from me?” She moaned
“Stolen?! When, just now? How? Did you see who it was?”
“Well not stolen, but you know those Arab looking men you get around here, there was one having a fit at a cash machine, apparently he’d had his money stolen and he was shouting at everyone. I spoke to him in Arabic and gave him €20 to calm him down…but what if it was a scam?!”
She paused for a moment. “That’s on him. If it was, Karma will get him” as soon as the word karma came out of her mouth her countenance immediately lifted, and a smile came to my face. I was smiling not because she had resolved her confict of being kind or conned but because I agreed that karma had won. Her ordeal was her recompense for not waiting at the gate with a board saying “Mr Aking”. That’ll teach her!
“Either way seems he needed it more than you did” I replied. We both laughed and hurried on to find the RER fast train to Luxembourg.
For dinner we met up with Cat, a fellow francophile and Reading University French grad who’d relocated to Paris to eat cheese and fresh baguettes. Unfortunately the fast train was extremely slow and by the time we arrived at Café Constant the waiters had given Cat a free glass of wine so she wouldn’t feel so bad about being stood up. We exchanged pleasantries and with no delay turned our eyes to the menu, we were famished. Café Constant was Cat’s recommendation, its owned by starred chef Christian Constant of le Violon d’Ingres. Café Constant sets out to provide everyday food like Christian’s grandmother used to make in a bistro setting. While it succeeds to resemble a bistro, there are a few aspects which for me kick it back up into the restaurant category; firstly, the staff are extremely polite and well trained; secondly, the food is absolutely divine; finally, the good crockery and absence of the typical coloured paper place mat and/or serviette mean it cannot be a bistro, it is definitely a restaurant.
For starters Cat had the oyster & salmon tartare, I had the pork knuckle terrine with lentils and Fatima the pumpkin soup. Cat’s oysters were served in the shell and topped with caviar, they were beautifully creamy. The terrine was gorgeously porky with some meatier textured bites, the lentils were soft and well seasoned warming me up from the inside. The soup was theatrical, a bowl containing 8-10 delicately arranged mini veg was placed in front of Fatima “voila mademoiselle, the pumpkin soup” he looked at us confidently, we starred back and he walked away. As we questioned whether or not this was some kind of sick, deconstructed soup joke, our waiter reappeared. “but of course that’s not it” he uncovered a small jug of brilliant orange creamy soup and poured it over the miniature veg. “Enjoy” he said, and walked away. Whilst the drama was impressive, the soup was far too buttery, even by French standards. Fats was cold and hungry so she managed to eat half of it with some bread.
For mains Fatima had the chicken royale stuffed with veg and other goodies, Cat had the lamb in an onctuous sauce with dauphinoise potatoes, whilst I had the steak and celeriac mash. The chicken was the standout dish here and Fats was over the moon with her second choice. The steak was supposed to be cooked a point, but was well done, which is rare for France (pardon the pun) as they usually cook their steaks half a notch less than most Brits are accustomed to. Too hungry to complain, I accepted the fate the kitchen bestowed upon me and wolfed it down.
The funny thing with hunger is that it goes as quickly as it comes. After my first two courses I was satiated, I could have had a coffee and called it a night, but these two ladies thought otherwise and requested a “look” at the dessert menu. Sure enough a look turned into three orders, I succumbed due to my sitiomoinstophobia (a fear of being out eaten – I made this term up, searching for a fear of being out eaten yields unrelated results). Fatima opted for the well presented apple tart, Cat the profiteroles and I the chocolate quenelles with crème anglaise. The theatre this time surrounded the profiteroles, two giant cream filled choux pastry puffs followed by the waiter pouring a river of chocolate sauce over them. It looked fantastic. Fatima couldn’t praise the apple tart enough whilst I had the opposite problem with my dessert. I’m accustomed to crème anglaise being a cold thin custard but the plate as a whole was uninspiring. The chocolate while lovely and rich, was too monotonous, it was like they ran out of ideas and decided to empty half a pot of Nutella into cold thin custard. I felt it a shame for my meal to end on such a low note, so I ordered the table another bottle of wine which sufficed.
After dinner, Fats and I ordered an uber and made our way down to Andy Wahloo just in time for last orders. We were welcomed by Driss a tall, humorous Algerian chap. After some small talk he looked over at the bar, then back at us and apologised, we won’t be able to do any cocktails, just wine or champagne. The bartenders were already wiping down and you could tell everyone was ready to go home. The decor in Andy Wahloo was cool bordering kitsch, there were many ornaments dotted on the walls and around the room with a disco floor in one corner jazzing the place up. Driss came back to take our order, Fatima opted for the wine, and me being the rebel asked for a gin & tonic…Driss approved my choice and suggested I try the Japanese gin. I obliged. The Japanese gin served with yuzu peel had soft botanical notes while the sweet citrus perfume of the yuzu complimented it perfectly, after I had taken a sip Driss asked what I thought of it. “Probably the best gin and tonic I’ve tasted” I replied, it was almost perfect. He proceeded to bring over the bottle and explained that it was made in Cambridge. Owing to a lack of authenticity the “almost perfect” score was downgraded to “almost good”, he proceeded to explain that the name is given as a result of the flavours rather than origin. I still felt slightly deceived but it was seriously delicious. We wandered out into the fairy light decorated courtyard to get a better feel for the place. It was fairly quiet being a week night, so we had a little chat with the waitress, Segolène who explained where the restaurant and other bars were located. Segolène was tall, with a warm smile and cute face to match, she spoke English with a soft Parisian accent that made me want to get down on one knee, she too was almost perfect. We managed to make a reservation in the restaurant of Andy Wahloo, Derrière for the following day and I ordered another Japanese imposter gin to sip outside.
On Thursday morning, we visited le Cordon bleu for a chat and tour with Alexandre, who was extremely informative and welcoming with a great sense of humor, from the outset it was evident he had a great deal of pride in the 120 year old institution. He explained to us all the features of the new school opening in June beside the Eiffel Tower and gave us a view into a few classes. In each class there were 12 students hard at work on their individual stations managing several tasks at once. Unfortunately for me, one of the students nearest the door had left a pan burning, so I spent the rest of the afternoon smelling of smoke. The classes were all led by a chef in a tall white hat and were all fairly mixed with the exception of the pastry class which seemed to have only female Chinese students present. At the end of the tour Alexandre invited us back to assist in a 3hour basic demonstration class later that afternoon. Which we of course accepted.
We grabbed a quick breakfast from a nearby café, and hopped on the metro to do a little sightseeing before lunch. On Cat’s recommendation we headed to l’Arc de Triomphe for a history lesson and some stunning views on a clear winter’s day. After taking in the views and a few selfies, it was time to head to Derrière for lunch.
For Entrée Fats had the bowl of leaves, and I the salmon. The Salmon was nicely cut with a lovely light marinade. The leaves were literally just a bowl of leaves, Fats insisted it was good, guess we’ll have to take her word on that. For mains I enjoyed the steak and aubergine and Fats the vegetarian pasta dish, which was covered in a herby green sauce. I opted for a glass of wine, which was highly acidic and deserved to be thrown out, unfortunately we were too much in a rush to complain about wine. All in all my meal was definitely better than the previous night in café constant. The steak and accompaniments were cooked perfectly, the staff were friendly and the décor simply outstanding.
Unfortunately we had to make a frantic dash back to the Cordon Bleu and ordered an uber before we ‘d even paid.
We arrived back at the Cordon Bleu just in time for the start of the class led by chef Marc Vaca. He was confident in delivery and extremely passionate. It was a two course demonstration, for mains a tarragon chicken and dessert was a poached apple covered in an italian meringue. Fats and I sat at the back of the class not to interrupt the rhythm of the students too much. The class was taught in French and every word interpreted by the in class linguist. There was an interesting mix of students in the class, most of whom seemed to be in their early twenties, but from many different nationalities. Chef Vaca’s instruction and tips were insightful, and I picked up a few things such as skimming broths during cooking before the lipids have a chance to emulsify and become inseparable, he also went through the chicken butchery showing a few some banquet presentation cuts and trussed on the request of a student. I had never seen anything like the trussing before, although chef did it with ease, we were under no illusion that this was not an easy task.
The class was not very modern, and it was evident why the new school is being built (location guesstimated in the SC) but nevertheless, it is extremely well equipped and more than adequate. The mirrored ceiling allowed even us right at the back of the class to get a decent view of the worksurface while cameras and tv screens gave a better view of chefs hand movements. The three hours whizzed by and much to our surprise at the end of class, one of the students brought around a huge tray with 20 or so sample bowls for us all to try the mains, followed by another tray for the desserts. The chicken was divine, the sauce perfection, so flavourful and the chicken very tender. I just wish I could have had a bigger portion! The dessert was a classic example of simple ingredients paired and presented to make a dish that looks and tastes 10-15 times more costly than the sum of its parts.
After le cordon bleu, we thanked chef Vaca for the demonstration, bid farewell to Alex and jumped in the metro to Pigale at Cigalle for the main reason we came to Paris, Craig David.
Here’s my snapchat from the trip.