Hedonism in Paris

he·don·ism  (hdn-zm)

n.

1. Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses.
2. Philosophy The ethical doctrine holding that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good.

3. Psychology The doctrine holding that behavior is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

Hedonism – isn’t that just the perfect word to dictate what one should do when in Paris? Pursue pleasure, feel pleased when you do it because ultimately, it’s good for you. Well,  perhaps that last statement could be questionable. However, the French Paradox observes that consuming foods with higher levels of saturated fats is not necessarily bad for you, and surprisingly enough, after two weeks in France, I did not gain an ounce of weight.

Le Flaneur, Paul Gavarni

One of my most favorite travel programs about Paris at the moment is Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover – Paris. The backbone theme of this episode is that one shouldn’t go to Paris and plan too much. Visiting all the sights, spending days in museums and galleries, and hours lining up in queues to get into them. The best way to visit this city is to walk around, step into a café here, a bistrot there, buy an ice cream cone, sit in a park, or be a flâneur, and stroll around idly. He proclaims: “If you do nothing in Paris, you can still have a pretty sweet time.”

Two French men then appear on the screen to tell you the following – my favorite statement of the episode: “The real tourist is someone that would arrive totally naked. The good tourist is someone completely open-minded. You have to come naked to Paris and let us dress you. Not completely naked though, you can cover yourself a little bit! If you arrive fully clothed with your scarf, your beanie, your beret, it’s pointless. Stay at home!”

This is pretty much what we did when during our 5 days in Paris, we made no reservations more than a day in advance (even though we did try to get tables at Chateaubriand and Le Jules Verne). It does have to be said though, that it’s always best to get tips from friends about the tried-and-tested places that they’ve been to. It is often the case when we stepped into random restaurants or cafés, that the food wasn’t great, it was a bit of a tourist trap, and prices are a bit high for what you’re paying for. My favorite way to visit Paris is to book the recommended restaurants, and build our activities around the food and wine. Here are some of my Paris food highlights – on this particular trip, we booked places according to the areas where we wanted to go shopping!

Shopping @ Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré

When we arrived in Paris, it was sales time! Sales shopping in Paris is the best and most enjoyable experience for me. I find that they still have the popular designs and sizes in stock, everything is still fairly neat and organised, and the discounts are favorable (with most at an average of 40-50% off, even at the start of sales period). What’s more is that the sales assistants are truly helpful, friendly and efficient, and everyone speak English. If you are looking for the big brand names, then Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is a good place to start, and they also have a selection of more affordable brands (Maje, The Kooples, Anne Fontaine). Whilst there we stopped off for lunch at Bread & Roses, a modern bakery/restaurant that serves bread, cake, pastries quiches etc., as well as having an a la carte menu. The prices aren’t the best (they aren’t terribly high either), but we were happy with the experience, the food, and the service.

We sat one one of the tables outside and had a good time watching beautiful people in beautiful clothing walk past. I also introduced my brothers to the coffee culture – they remarked at how coffee just doesn’t taste that good in Hong Kong, and from this point on, I could hear them regularly saying “I could do with an espresso right now.”.

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Gillardeau Oysters

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Pastrami Sandwich

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Roast French Chicken with mushroom gravy and the creamiest mashed potatoes – irresistibly good

Dinner at Hotel Le Bristol

Among the best meals of our time in Paris was at 114 Faubourg, located at Hotel Le Bristol, where David Beckham stayed during his short stint at PSG. This restaurant, lead by head chef Eric Desbordes, earned its first Michelin Star this year, and it is a well-deserved star. The Bristol is also home to a 3 star restaurant, but for a more casual experience, this young Parisian chef and his team really surprised us with an incredible meal, and a memorable experience.

Photo from http://www.lebristol.com – this is one of the dishes I wish I had tried – King Crab Egg, ginger and lemon mayonnaise EUR 29

In general, the food is well presented, served with precision and flair – these beautiful little egg cups full of king crab. Beef rib eye, carved elegantly at the table (worlds away from our Jasmine-smoked spare rib carving experience at Hakkasan). There are a couple of items on the menu that are a bit surprising and a touch out of place (the fish and chips, and the beef burger), but I suppose that for a hotel restaurant, they have to have some options that would appeal to guests looking for something familiar and un-fussy.

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Seam Bream Tartare, lime and basmati “blanc manger” EUR 38

The sea bream tartare was light, crisp and fresh – a nice way to prepare the palate for the rest of my meal.

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Andalusian Style Tomato Gazpacho EUR28

This gazpacho was literally bursting with flavour, and was proclaimed to be ‘the best gazpacho [he] had ever had’ by my brother.

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Organic Beef Cheeseburger with Bacon, French Fries, Mustard Sauce EUR31

The burger was less impressive, and left my brother wishing that he had gone for something more adventurous. That’s not to say that it wasn’t tasty – the local beef tasted amazing,  the fries were nice and crispy – but it just didn’t beat the other dishes that were on the table.

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Hand-chopped Beef Tartare with Virgin Olive Oil, French Fries and salad EUR 38

Similarly, my other brother felt like he should have ordered something hot after receiving his main dish. Beef tartare features prominently on a lot of French menus, and this tartare was very nicely mixed, served as a tartare and as a carpaccio.  But after eating a meal at this restaurant, I would highly recommend that you go for something that’s not an easy order – the skills of the chefs shine brighter in the other dishes.

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Orzo cooked like Paella, monkfish and langoustine, slices of chorizo EUR46

I have to say, my main course was definitely the best order out of all! I’m not usually a huge fan of rice-y dishes such as paella or risotto, but the elements in this dish were too tempting to say no to.  The monkfish was so tender, really perfectly cooked, and the broth in which nestled the tender grains of orzo was so packed full of yum that the result was indescribable. It had a strong hint of shrimp stock, but after that, the numerous layers of flavour are hard to guess.

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Roasted cod with verbena, white asparagus, chanterelle mushrooms and fava beans EUR48

This was another beautifully composed dish, but I felt that the cod was perhaps a touch over-cooked.

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Profiteroles with coconut ice cream, Caribbean Chocolate Sauce EUR19

On to desserts, these profiteroles were served by themselves on a white dish, whereupon the waiter approached with a large jug of chocolate sauce and poured it on these chocolate choux morsels. It was decadent, so the coconut ice cream (piped into the choux pastry) balanced out the sweetness. Beware, this is a huge portion! I had told the waiter that I would like to share one portion with my brother, and when it was served I thought there had been some sort of mistake. Apparently not, the original serving is 6 pieces!

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Bourbon vanilla millefeuille, a touch of salted caramel EUR15

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Chocolate Tart

Galleries Lafayette

We went shopping at Galleries Lafayette, a huge upmarket department store in the 9th arrondissement, they stock brand names as well as high street labels, over several floors. Whilst you are spoiled for choice, the sales experience at GL is not one that I would choose to experience again – too many people, including busloads of mainland tourists, and it was all quite stressful. I also felt that the racks were overstuffed, the clothing looked old, and badly kept – like they had been in the store room for ages and they were just trying to get rid of whatever they could, whether it be from last season on the several before that. It made even expensive clothes look cheap. For the department store experience, I much preferred Le Bon Marche.

After taking a deep breath upon exiting Galleries Lafayette, we head down Boulevard Haussman for lunch at Au Petit Riche. The menu here is an homage to traditional culinary principles of the old famous French chefs, Escoffier, Bocuse: tête de veau (calf’s head – brain, tongue, snout and cheeks – yum), traditional meat pastries, homemade foie gras terrine, sole meunière. They also serve some beautiful oysters in the “er” months (unfortunately they were out of season when I went), and have daily specials. The dining room is separated in to several small to large rooms, and decorated with beautifully mosaic tiled floors and decorative panels.

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Asian marinated salmon @ Au Petit Riche

This marinated salmon was quite a break from the rest of the menu, but fared well. We also ordered the homemade foie gras, which was creamy and delicious, served with toasted bread.

No photos were taken of the main courses, and a hilarious story is behind it all. There I was, in Paris with my family, and showing off my French skills. Turns out my food vocabulary is not as good as I thought it was. After opting for the French menu whilst my family asked for them in English, I proceeded to order rognons de veau – a dish on the daily specials menu. I thought it was something similar to a roulade, and neglected to realise exactly why the waiter had paused at my order, and repeated “Rognons de veau??”.  “Oui”, I said, “rognons”. So off he went, and he came back with my mum’s pan-fried cod, my brother’s steak, and my …. calf kidneys. My wide eyes darted incredulously between my plate and the waiter, as I squeaked, “C’est quoi ca?” He pointed to his kidneys and the whole table burst into laughter. It looked like 6 testicles on a plate covered in gravy. The waiter saw my face go white in front of his very eyes, and was simply amazing. He let me order something else, absolutely free of charge.

Up all night to get lucky … 

Well, not all night, but I must have heard this song play at least 30 times in a 2 week time frame, on the radio, in shops (we were browsing in the Chanel boutique, and all of a sudden all of the prim ‘n proper shop assistants start shaking their heads to the beat and singing – it’s like they can’t help themselves! We are all slaves to this summer hit). We had one night out with friends when we were in Paris at Matignon, one of the many establishments owned by the Costes brothers.

In this article, I read that they felt that Paris was short of places for “le before” – the place to go before going out. Well, Matignon is “le before” and “le after”, with a restaurant upstairs and a nightclub downstairs, where all the beautiful people hang out. A glass of champagne costs EUR30, and you can buy a pack of cigarettes in the bathroom for EUR15 (HK$ 150). We sat on the terrace (not a good place to sit if you are not a smoker), squeezed into our seats, and ordered some tasty dishes. We didn’t even order the fish tartare, but didn’t turn it away when it came because it looked so good. The smoked salmon was … smoked salmon, but it was served fresh and with a nice and creamy dill sauce. The veal Milanese was HUGE, and the steak was under-cooked. Afterwards, we all descended downstairs for a little bit of a dance and sing-a-long … “we’ve come too far to give up who we are!!!” (cue arms up in the air).

In fact, that’s a good thing that all should be aware of.  Steaks in France are always less cooked than you want them to be. If you order it medium, it will be medium-rare, and if you order it medium-rare, it will come to your table bright red in the center. I’d hate to see what rare looks like. On the third time we received a steak under-cooked, we queried the manager about it. He was very friendly and understanding, and told us that they get that problem all the time. He says that apparently French chefs thing it’s just wrong to cook a steak too much – it must be true, as we sent them back every time.

I don’t remember the prices at Matignon, and don’t even bother checking out the website, because there’s something wrong with it. All I can tell you is that our bill came to about HK$1250 each with wine, and we had a really good time there.

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Some sort of fish tartare

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Lobster and asparagus salad

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Smoked Salmon, dill cream and toasts

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Veal Milanese

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Steak …

After Paris, we rented cars and started our journey thorough France, stopping by at a charming little town called Charroux, Puy de Sancy for the view, Chaudes-Aigues for an amazing dining experience at Serge Vieira, wine tasting in Aniane, relaxing by the pool in Gordes, and finally, a romantic sejour  in the medieval village of Eze on the French Riviera.

Bread & Roses

Address: 25 Rue Boissy D’Anglas, 75008 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 42 40 00

Website: http://www.breadandroses.fr/

144 Faubourg
Address: 114 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 53 43 44 44

Website: http://www.lebristolparis.com/eng/restaurants-and-bars/114-faubourg/
(Online booking available)

The Menu (In English): http://www.lebristolparis.com/media/160113/gb__june__2013.pdf

Matignon
Address: 3 Avenue Matignon, 75008 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 89 64 72

Website: http://www.matignonparis.com/

Au Petit Riche
Address: 25 Rue le Peletier, 75009
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 70 68 68

Website: http://www.restaurant-aupetitriche.com/
(Online booking available)

Menu (in French): http://www.restaurant-aupetitriche.com/notre-carte.php
Menu (in English): http://www.restaurant-aupetitriche.com/Carte_English.pdf

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2 thoughts on “Hedonism in Paris

  1. Pingback: Courgette, Mozzarella and Tomato Salad | LoveBites

  2. Pingback: Upper Modern Bistro | LoveBites

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