Sunday, July 07, 2013

Croissants, Foie Gras and Marketing - Paris, France

So I mentioned in my Christmas post that my wonderful Chen went off to study in January. As part of a student exchange program she packed her bags and headed for Paris, for 5 months of  croissants, foie gras and marketing. In March I packed my bags and took a flight for a sojourn with her in the city of bourgeois and romance. 

This is my story of the beautiful disaster that ensued.

Paris from the Arc De Triomphe


Paris is a metropolis of culture, in 2011 the city attracted 39 million tourists to it's ancient city streets. The municipality of Paris contains a plethora of attractions for all tastes. From the Louvre Museum (which is the most visited Museum in the world) to the iron colossus that is The Eiffel Tower and all that lies in between. However not all of Paris is culturally equal; In the south-western suburbs of Paris lies the blanc village of Jouy-En-Josas, in all it's narcoleptic glory. This village is home to a supermarket, a mediocre pseudo-Italian restaurant, a delicatessen that never opens (I'm assured is still operational) and some tarmac, you can see where I'm going with this right? Almost cut off from the rest of the world with it's shockingly bad public transport connections Jouy-En-Josas also plays host to the world famous Hautes études commerciales de Paris or HEC Paris; a leading European business school. This is where The Chen chose to do her studies, and this was my first stop upon arriving in France.

To this day I'm constantly assured that the education they provide at this run down American copy cat institute is top class, as are it's facilities. One day, hopefully Chen will get a top end marketing job in one of those aristocracy companies and bring in big money, then I will admit defeat and accept HEC as the best. Until then I remain highly pessimistic. While visiting my darling Chen we unfortunately had to spend most of our time here, on the bright side it didn't cost me a penny in accommodation and I was free to indulge in my little friends I couriered across from Amsterdam (had to make a pit-stop preemptive to France, wasn't sure how many museums we'd be visiting you see).

The only two positive things I can say about Jouy was 1) The Chen was there and 2) Versailles was close. That's really it.

Versailles Train Station - Voie J

Croissants, Foie Grois and The Bourgeois

Thankfully in the five or so days I was there we did make the perilous journey from Versailles to the centre of Paris. In France's capital we did some gentle sightseeing but we primarily made the journey for food and les boissons - it's the reason you go to Paris right? - for Croissants, Foie Grois and to be bourgeois.

1) Le Tour De Eiffel

A little history for you, The Eiffel Tower is the landmark of not only Paris but France itself. Named after it's architect Gustave Eiffel It's colossal structure is 1,063ft tall, it's wrought iron lattice frame weighs in at a massive 10,000 tonnes. Construction began in 1887 and took only two years to complete opening to the public in 1889. The Eiffel tower received it's 250 Millionth visitor in 2010. The beacon of France is extremely impressive at night with it's illuminated yellow hues visible miles across the city, on Bastille Day it acts as a launch pad for a spectacular fireworks display.

Compulsory Picture of The Eiffel Tower @ Night

Right next to The Eiffel Tower, street address Quai Branly 63 there is a wonderfully fanciful little brasserie "Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel". After walking from the Arc de triomphe to the Eiffel tower and admiring the iron beast for a few moments we were in desperate need of Parisian refreshments. We called into this place on a total off-chance, we ordered wine, the house red as recommended by the waiter who spoke splendid English with only a slight whiff of the strong Parisian accent. The wine was good, very good. One large glass later we found ourselves appetent for more. Several hours passed, day faded into night with glass after glass (consistent large glasses I must add) being effortlessly devoured. Needless to say we became exorbitantly drunk. The Chen matched me glass for glass despite being half my weight, nonetheless she still looked sensational as we glided onto our third glass.

Le beau Chinois - complete with large glass of Rouge

2) Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile

The Arc de Triomphe (Triumphant Arch) is another of Paris' colossal and eminent neoclassicism monuments. It is located at the end of one of the most well-known streets in Paris; the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. It is a monument to those who died fighting for Paris during the revolution and subsequent Napoleonic Wars.

Sick of traveling from Jouy to Paris we got a hotel for a couple of nights close by the Arc. It's tourist traffic is heavy throughout it's opening hours. If you want a hassle free photogenic visit go very early in the day. On a clear day you can get some admirable photos from the Arc's rooftop.

The Arc depicts French revolutionists (who are almost nude) against bearded Germanic soldiers

The Chen aloft the Arc

3) Champs-Élysées

With its cinemas, cafés, luxury specialty shops, chestnut trees and overall bourgeoisness (Yes I made that word up) the Champs-Élysées is arguably one of the most famous streets and one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world. Home to flagship stores of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and the likes; if you are not careful with your plastic this street can become bank repossession expensive.

A walk down the Champs-Élysées is a must for any tourist

To any that know me you know I'm into designer brands as much as I'm into self harm. I'm all about life's hedonistic pleasures. Like many, one of my favourite activities of all time is eating. My sweet tooth, like a dominant allele rules my appetite, and when it comes to sweet treats France does not disappoint. Whether it be your basic sorbet or chocolat to the deliciousness of crème brûlée or meringue, French cuisine is the King of diabetes inducing desserts. On the Champs, No. 133 to be precise, tucked away in the back of a book store is the world famous Pierre Hermé. Dubbed the 'Picasso of Pastry' his stores, littered across the globe offer some of the most delicious sweet foods my taste buds have ever sampled. While not cheap, the Macaroons his stores sell are literally out of this world.

The plethora of flavours on offer in the Macaroon section will turn any grown adult into a child at the sweet store.

4) Catacombes de Paris

The Catacombs of Paris are one of the largest ossuaries in the world. The underground network of more than 200 miles of tunnels and caves are home to the skeletal remnants of more than 6 Million people. Until the early 19th century, the Catacombs had been used as a cemetery only, a depositary for bones. In 1810 Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury who was overseeing the renovation of the tunnels arranged the stocks of femurs and skulls into the macabre spectacle on display to visitors today.

Walking through the catacombs although interesting is a sombre, extremely grim and claustrophobic experience. With a moderate walking pace a full tour talks around an hour or so but can be done much quicker if your feel uneasy upon descending into the boney depths. It's around 10 euros to enter the unsettling underground, but unsurprisingly the catacombs doesn't get as crowded as some of the other museums and tourist attractions of the city.

Some of the skeletal arrangements are gruesomely artistic in the Catacombs.

The tomb of the hospital doorkeeper, Philibert Aspairt, lost in the catacombs in 1793 and found 11 years later, is located in the catacombs on the spot where his body was found. Today the catacombs not only play host to tourists from all over the world they also are the home for many underground illegal parties, this is enabled by the many secret entrances into the tunnels under the French capital.

 The Food

Ok, so now that all the 'must-do' touristy stuff is out of the way I can talk about my favourite subject again; food.

Paris, like many other 'cultural' capitals of the world is famous for it's cuisine.With this comes a perception that every restaurant in Paris is spectacular, that they all serve taste bud exploding haute cuisine - this is most certainly not true. In my stint in France with The Chen we sampled almost a different restaurant every evening spending hundreds and hundreds of Euros looking for this haute cuisine that is supposed to be so prominent all over France. Like silly tourists we fell for this misconception and most of that money spent was wasted, it would have been better spent in McDonalds or KFC. We did however with thanks to a couple of locals find two absolute gems.

1) Au Pied de Fouet

Located at 3, rue saint Benoit, 75006 Paris, this little restaurant is so emphatically French that as I entered I had to stop myself from saying Ooh La La. Quaint, compact and charming, the layout inside reminded me of many restaurants of Amsterdam. It wasn't only the interior of this restaurant that was compact, the menu was restrained too which was not a bad thing. I hate going into a restaurant and seeing five dishes I want, it's a recipe for making you fat. I don't recall exactly what I had, all I remember is that it was a signature beef dish served with warm creamy mashed potatoes and lashings of rustic french bread. The Chen got their signature duck confit. We washed both down with rivers of delicious house wine.

Au Pied de Fouet - Foot Whip according to Google Translate :)

The food was superb as was the wine. The service was typically European and the seating arrangement was strange, a norm in French restaurants maybe - you share your table with other couples / families. Less intimate than I would have liked but the final tally was very reasonable - Great french food and wine for two with a unique dining experience for less than 100 euros.

2) Le Village À Neuilly

After asking our Hotel receptionist to book us a table at one of the top Trip advisor restaurants in Paris
at short notice, we were obviously unsuccessful. Upon viewing our disappointment the very nice gentleman at reception recommended us a restaurant; Le Village À Neuilly. A small brasserie on the outskirts of the City Centre. My immediate concern was that this guy was paid commission to redirect haute hungry tourists to this failing emblem of French cuisine. How happy I was to discover that my concerns were so far away from the truth.

Table pour deux @ Le Village

The restaurant is a favourite amongst locals, we were the only tourists in the place. The head waiter who's English was impeccable attended to our needs personally with gusto and charisma.

To start we ordered a portion of the Scallops and a plate of Foie Grois on toast. The scallops were large and served on sea shells bathing in a hot garlic sauce, you got four per serving - an ample portion even for a strapping lad like myself. The Foie Grois was rich and delicious, an outrageous portion served on a wooden plate, accompanied by two slices of perfectly booked brown bread coated in southwest France home made spices.

For main we both ordered the Steak, 400 gram cuts of Hereford Prime beef, delivered to our table cooked to absolute perfection. The steak is served with (and my Grandmother will kill me for saying it), the best mashed potatoes I have ever eaten and lashings of french bread. We washed all of this impeccable food down with a perfectly chilled bottle (or two) of Sancerre which was reasonably priced at 35 euros a bottle. With no room for dessert the bill came to a more than acceptable 130 euros, that was with two bottles of wine.

We visited this restaurant twice during a three day stint in Paris itself and I have to say the next time I visit this city the first thing I will do is make another reservation here.

In summary, although bank account emptying expensive I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Paris. I got to spend five days straight with The Chen, I got to experience Paris outside of Disneyland, I got to eat the best mashed potatoes of my life and I was able to get drunk on mind bogglingly good wine. The Chen is back now in Singapore after flying through her exams. Maybe one day if we win the lottery we could live in Paris, I think she would like that and guess what? I would too.