France – Jour 7

OK… everyone… I think this is the post you’ve been waiting for – it’s the one about the chocolate tour of Paris!

It was good to just relax in the apartment this morning – the chocolate tour was booked for later in the day, in St Germain de Pres. Rather than rush around and try to see something else in this amazing city, I thought it would be good to reserve my energy for this very important excursion.

We decided it would be good to find a little cafe in St Germain to have our lunch – so we headed over a bit early to check it out.  It’s a pretty fancy part of town – probably equivalent to our Toorak – or the Collins Street end of town – but so much busier!! We found out later that this is the area where all the artists and writers came to hang out throughout the 19th and 20th centuries – so it has a particular exclusivity that comes from being host to all those intellectuals – Picasso, Hemingway, etc!

We looked for a café to have some lunch – and settled on a gorgeous little creperie.  We decided to have un crepe complet – Andrew would have onions with his, and I would have mushrooms.  Turns out that un crepe complet includes ham, egg and cheese –much more than what we were expecting – so it was a bargain!!

Un crepe complet – with its mysteries revealed…

I wish I could have had more than one – but with chocolate in my near future, I decided I should pace myself.

This time my tour was with Context Paris – which had been recommended by world famous food writer and blogger David Lebovitz.  Even though I would have loved to go on another tour by Paris by Mouth – I thought it would be good to road test another tour company.

Lise on the phone outside the church, with the rest of our tour group.

We met our docent, Lise, outside L’Eglise St Germain De Pres – apparently one of the oldest churches in Paris, and she explained a little about the history of the area.  Apparently the church used to be an abbey, and it owned all the plains (pres) around the abbey.   When the revolution happened, this church was one of the few that could still remain open – but only because it provided a school for children.

Andrew and I had gone inside to check it out before the tour started – and it was really dark and grimy inside, in desperate need of restoration.  I’m thinking that there’s likely to be a long list in Paris…

After we met our guide – Andrew went off to do his run.  I’ve captured his runkeeper map for posterity – he was very proud of doing the triange: The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Seine….  we got to know our guide better.  Lise, was originally from Canada, and is a food writer.  Apparently she sometimes writes articles for a magazine called French Living in Australia. She came here 10 years ago to write about food – met her husband here and never had to leave.

There were only four people in total, but we were missing a couple of older travellers who didn’t make it.  As a result of waiting for them, we really didn’t get underway until about 2:15pm.

In the meantime, here’s some photos of the action around St Germain des Pres….

Art for sale…

A French horn in France…

And now…. back to the chocolate tour. First – a little about the history of chocolate.  Apparently the Spanish were the first to bring it to Europe, and they kept it a bit of a secret – sneaky little Espagnols!!  They didn’t want to share this marvellous concoction – which at the time they could only drink because they hadn’t yet worked out how to put it in solid form.  It was a Spanish princess who brought it to France – where immediately the aristocracy started drinking it every morning as a restorative.

We headed out to our first stop – the oldest chocolate shop in Paris.  Originally Monsieur Gallais was the pharmacist to Marie Antoinette.  So, he would prepare her chocolate every day – he would actually mix her medicine in with it.  She said to him, There has to be a better way…!!.  So, he started experimenting – and he came up with the solid form of chocolate – in the shape of small chocolate disks.  The problem was Marie Antoinette started overdosing on her medicine – because those little chocolate discs were so delicious!!   I reckon I would have as well!  Anyway – he decided to make some chocolate without the medicine and that’s where all  of our chocolate addictions started!!

During the revolution – Monsieur Gallais had to keep his head low.  Anyone who was seen to have benefited from a relationship with royalty literally lost their heads – so he disappeared for a while.  Funnily enough – one of the Napoleons (I forget which one exactly) found out about his chocolate – and they wanted him to start making it again.  So, once again he ingratiated himself with the Emperor.  Of course, the story is that they valued his pharmaceutical knowledge as well – but who are we kidding???   They ended up giving him this residence to use as his chocolate workshop and shop.

The shop is very beautiful – but we were warned that the ladies inside could be a bit stand-offish.  They were OK – perhaps not the friendliest people I’ve encountered – but no problem at all – even when I wanted to take photos.

Here we tried 60%, 70% 80% and 99% (!!!!) chocolate.  Apparently, the French like their chocolate dark – and it’s customary to have perhaps quarter of a disc of 99% chocolate after dinner- and that’s enough for them.  I can understand why – it’s pretty intense – but still creamy.  Amazing.

Our next stop was the famed Laduree – the original shop was set up as a place where ladies could go out for some tea without being accompanied by a man.  They weren’t sure how it would go – but it went off and proved to be a very popular store.  Over time, they grew to have numerous tea rooms across Paris.  Now Laduree is a worldwide concern, with shops everywhere (even in Sydney) – however, it’s now owned by a Chinese consortium – but to be fair, they have tried to stay pretty true to the original concept.

Apparently we weren’t allowed to take any photos in the shop – so we’ll have to be content with the window display.  We were able to try one macaron each – I tried a salted caramel macaron – and it was lovely, but a bit chewy. I also found that the almond meal was a bit coarser in the mouth.

Next stop, Pierre Herme – there was a bit of a line down the street – but we persevered and finally got a chance to go inside.  It reminded me a lot of Adriano Zumbo’s shop in Rozelle.  All the gorgeous, perfect pastries and tarts – and at the end a mound of different flavours of macarons.  I decided to try the salted caramel again… in the interests of research. Kind of like a horizontal tasting!

This macaron was a bit more melt in the mouth, the almond meal was finer, and the filling was actually much more generous and creamier. Ah… life’s difficult isn’t it!!?   They also had a selection of chocolates – behind glass.  It was as though they were a selection of Montblanc pens or expensive watches!

A little puppy along the way…

Next stop,  Une Dimanche dans Paris – this shop also had a restaurant which focused on the cocoa bean.  So, if you wanted to – you could go and have a meal that would include chocolate at every course.  The things you find out the day before you leave Paris!!!!

They also had a workshop where you could watch the artisans making chocolate products.  They weren’t very interactive… I’m sure they felt like zoo exhibits!

I made quite a few purchases here – mainly because the shop was beautifully set out and was very user friendly – they had some products for tasting, and you could walk around with a little basket and take products off the shelf.  Here we tasted some single origin chocolates from different countries – and it was amazing how different they all tasted – from quite fruity through to a darker, creamier, nuttier tone.

The last stop was the shop of the famed Patrick Roger – currently France’s best chocolatier.  Every year – France has a number of competitions to recognise the best produce suppliers – bread, chocolate, etc.  Patrick also is a chocolate sculptor – and in his window was his latest work – Hippos!!

His chocolate varieties are very avant garde – and constantly changing.  So, if you find you have a favourite – the next time you go back – it may not be available.   Here we tried whisky and beer chocolate, basil chocolate, peppermint and tonka bean.  The amazing one was the basil one – I declared it tasted like a calabrese salad in a chocolate!! And that was our last stop.

Overall, the Context Paris tour wasn’t as much fun as the Paris by Mouth tour I had enjoyed earlier in the week – I don’t know if it was the group of people on the tour, or whether it was the “docent” (what’s wrong with calling them guides – how pretentious!).  It just seemed to be a whole lot more conservative, and although I learned a lot about chocolate in Paris – it seemed a lot more like a lecture.  The docent said “ummm” every third word – and it wasn’t because English was her second language.   She just wasn’t as dymanic and relaxed as our Paris by Mouth tour – and it was a bit lecture-y in style.

Seen along the walk…. someone who just wanted a quiet place to write….

Oh my goodness – my feet were so sore from the seven days of walking around we had done.  I virtually crawled back to the apartment.  I made my way back along the Seine to Le Pont des Arts – and saw not one, not two – but three wedding photo shoots in action.

Wedding 1….

Wedding 2….

… and Wedding 3.

Ahhh…Paris – City of love…. and the pont des arts is a beautiful place for photos!

I made my way back to the apartment and collapsed on the couch – and there I pretty much stayed until dinner.

Tonight – dinner was about proximity!!  I was very pleased to see the little Italian place across the road, Olio Pane Vino, was open for dinner service.  I quickly ran downstairs and asked in my best French: Je voudrais faire un reservation pour ce sour – s’il vous plait?   They were happy to accommodate me – and so we made a booking for 8pm (the earliest they opened!!).

The restaurant from our apartment window!

This was another restaurant recommended by the Paris by Mouth website – apparently the chef makes all his pasta fresh every day!  That’s got to be good right?  The menu was very limited – to a range of cold platters and starters for entrée,  and only 3 pastas for mains!

Assiete de charcuterie – Charcuterie artisanale d’Italie

Andrew started off with a small charcuterie platter – this was nice, but not as good as the charcuterie at Les Fines Gueles.   He felt that there was quite a bit of oil on the dish – those Italians!

Carpaccio de Bresoala – Fines tranches de boeuf sénchées, parmesan, salade

My carpaccio was lovely – cured rather than raw steak.  There was way too much parmesan – of which I am not a big fan – but I could leave some of that behind.   I think I could have easily eaten a large portion this – the meat has been sliced so thinly.

Linguini à la creme de la fenouil

Andrew’s main was linguine crème de feignul – cream of fennel.  The pasta was cooked al dente – and the fennel cream had been infused with aniseed flavours.  Andrew was ok with it – but I don’t think I would have coped with the licorice-nish of it.

Orecchiette aux 4 fromages

I ordered the orecchiette avec quatre fromages – four cheeses.  A mixture of goats cheese, scarmorza (a little like mozzarella), gorgonzola, and pecorino.  It was really nice – thankfully it wasn’t too cheesy (I know that sounds weird right – but you know what I mean), and I ordered a nice green salad to have with it.  It hit the spot!

Tiramisu

To finish – we shared the tiramisu and it was good!! Creamy and luscious – but not too much.  Ahh… we were done.  Not a bad way to finish up our week in Paris.

We walked across the road back to our apartment, and started to pack – we had an early start tomorrow.  We were catching the train to Beaune in Burgundy to start our cycling adventure!!

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