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

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Seeing Stars: 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana

I went to Otto e Mezzo Bombana for the 3rd time this month, the first was for a quick late dinner with PB. We strolled in at 9.45pm with no reservations, and the manager, Mr. A, kindly let us take a seat for the last order at 10.30pm. My mother then made a lunch booking in advance with no one in particular (seeing that reservations are increasingly difficult to get), anticipating that someone would go with her – that someone ended up (gladly) being me! Finally, we went again for Valentine’s Day lunch on Tuesday (with PB, not my mum). Each time was a well-rounded and tasty experience.

Otto e Mezzo opened in January 2010 and was awarded two Michelin stars within two months. Dare I say that this new rating was perhaps not 100% due to 8 1/2’s magnificence on the global Michelin stage, but also due to the relatively new presence of the Michelin Guide in Hong Kong. But The Guide can give, and The Guide can take – what is more notable is that 8 1/2 has not only kept it’s stars, but collected a third in December 2011, making it the only 3 star Italian restaurant outside of Italy. Continue reading

Seeing Stars: Tasty buns and tonic medlar @ Tim Ho Wan

To dim sum, or not to dim sum? If it is 1pm on a Saturday or Sunday and you have just woken up with a mean hangover and only a vague recollection of what time you got home the night before – then this question is moot. If there is a reaaally good dim sum restaurant in the vicinity, then the need or desire for a chippy, kebab shop, greasy spoon or hot dog stand simply ceases to exist. Dim sum is not only the perfect hangover cure, it is a great meal to share with family and friends: you can order slowly and gradually to savour the food as well as the company, and try a bit of everything. It’s a perfectly balanced meal (a bit of fried stuff + a bit steamed stuff + a plate of green stuff = a relatively guilt-free meal), AND you can drink copious amounts of tea! Have a cup of long jing(Dragon Well) tea  HT recommended it once as the best hangover tea and I have never looked back.

I digress. Dim sum in and of itself really deserves its own post. My point is that dim sum has always been a brunch or lunch time affair for me. When I ended my detox early, my friend JY was very excited. He had been raving about Tim Ho Wan(添好運點心專門店)- translated literally as ‘Add Good Luck’. It is Hong Kong’s cheapest 1 star Michelin restaurant – in fact, it’s most probably the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. THE WORLD! “Let’s go TONIGHT!!!”, he says, in a pitch several octaves higher than his normal voice. Continue reading