Posts

Paris Chocolate Golden Star, Denise Acabo – A l’Etoile d’Or

A l’Etoile d’Or – meaning “At the Golden Star” – there may be golden stars hanging up around the best Parisian chocolate and candy shop but the real star in Paris is Denise Acabo.

Surfacing out of the Paris metro Blanche station, the Moulin Rouge cabaret signals Pigalle, the border between the 9th and 18th arrondissements. Before being lured up the hill to visit Montmartre, a visit to Denise Acabo’s tiny boutique awaits just 5 minutes’ walk away in the other direction in the 9th.

Le Moulin Rouge Paris

A l’Etoile d’Or is tucked away on the left in Rue Fontaine. Together with my curious chocolate-loving French friends from the south, we excitedly study the shop window.

It’s filled with cello-taped press reviews since Denise Acabo opened A l’Etoile d’Or in 1993 plus, amongst porcelaine cups and a chocolate pot (moussoir), tempting concoctions of chocolate quotations from famous personalities since chocolate became fashionable; to today’s researchers and doctors.

Denise Acabo Chocolate Shop Paris

Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac

Us girlfriends gravitate towards the alluring advice in the window from Italian Sex Doctor, Salonia Andrea:

Chocolate is an aphrodisiac; women with a weakness for a daily dose of the black square (of chocolate) have a more and satisfying sex life.

All of a sudden, already in full swing, Paris’s Golden Star of Chocolate, Denise Acabo, comes flying outside the door to welcome us inside. She looks ready to dance a Scottish Ceilidh in an extra-long kilt with cleverly comfy shoes. As David Lebovitz aptly puts it in his “Great Book of Chocolate”:

The sign on the door should read ‘Beware of flying pigtails”.

A L'Etoile D'or Denise Acabo Paris chocolate star

Paris Chocolate Golden Star Denise Acabo

No wonder there are so many articles already written about this Parisian star of chocolate. Denise Acabo leads us in, apologising for the loud music and asks her charming assistant to turn the volume down. “I adore listening to music,” she confesses. We unanimously urge her to keep it playing as it is.

Hm. Verdi’s Requiem. Are we at the Golden Star to experience a form of death by chocolate?

A L'Etoile d'Or Paris chocolate star

Denise Acabo buzzes around, wondering where to start first, speaking French at 100km an hour (this is when I wish I could compare it to words a minute had I listened to Mum trying to teach me shorthand).

Down-to-earth banter is interspersed with her passion for each chocolate in store and a constant cheeky humour. Don’t be fooled by the schoolgirl attire: she isn’t shy at using more adult and familiar French words and refreshingly tells us what she thinks.

We’re smitten.

At the golden star Denise Acabo

Every centimetre of her shop is groaning with French gourmet magazines and books, plus fun facts and anecdotes to accompany her personally selected treasure trove of France’s top chocolate and confiserie.

Bernachon trusts only Madame Acabo to sell their exquisite hand-made chocolate (made from scratch, from bean to bar) outside Lyon, and the delights from France’s gastronomic capital (read my article here) are well represented with not only their chocolate tablets and filled chocolates, but also les Coussins de Lyon – literally soft velveteen green ‘cushions’ filled with curaçao liqueur.

It’s not just Bernachon: she also stocks Bonnat chocolate bars, Henri Le Roux’s famous ‘CBS’, Caramel au Beurre Salé (salted caramels – more about this in my book, Teatime in Paris) plus Jacques Genin’s flavoured soft exotic caramels.

Denise Acabo candies or confiserie in Paris

Madame is proud to tell us she’s now 82 years old, adores people and has always sported her plaid uniform look. “Before I used to wear the tartan cravates et tout,” she says. “Now I’m a little more décontractée” (relaxed). Is it since she got over the gas explosion in the building and then re-opened in 2015?

We don’t even mention it: there’s so much to talk about what’s in those glass jars of chocolates and bonbons.

Denise Acabo chocolate candy shop Paris

French Chocolate Sauternes Raisins & Meryll Streep

She presses some innocent-looking chocolate raisins in our hands.

Silence.

I bite through the outer coating of dark chocolate that crashes into a soft, explosive golden raisin with a warming glow of Christmas. “Oh My God!” my mouth utters, taking me completely by surprise.

“That’s exactly what Meryll Streep said!” says Denise and tells us that a princess (whom shall remain anonymous here) picks up her order by the hundred kilo weight.

I was seeing stars with such a light but distinct taste of Sauternes wine coating the mouth, the chocolate not overpowering the flavour.

Denise Acabo candied rose petals for Champagne

We’re already wondering how the sugared violets or rose petals will stand up to the day’s walk around Montmartre later – especially as she’s gone to all the trouble to accept only the unbroken, perfect petals. She wraps them with bubble wrap and we continue around our walk dreaming of each petal (or crumb?) topped with Champagne.

Denise Acabo takes us back in time with the golden stars such as Louis XIV’s favourite barley sugar bonbons, various flavours of Les Anis de Flavigny from Burgundy, traditional oblong iced marzipan Calissons from Aix-en-Provence, soft or hard nougat with toasted nuts, pralines, Amandes de Sicile.

A l'Etoile d'Or of Denise Acabo Paris

Asked what were her own personal favourites in store, she replies with a simple “I love absolutely everything here, as I’ve chosen each individual chocolate or bonbon carefully. I only stock what I truly love.”

Nobody can sway her gut decisions what are the best products in her opinion.  She tells us she constantly receives chocolate samples and yet only a small fraction of them are accepted into her boutique. Many of them are just awful, she exclaims with wide, sparkly eyes.

Denise Acabo chocolate wrapping of French traditional cartoons

Traditional French Cartoon Paper

Look carefully around the shop and you’ll see that each and every chocolate and candy is gift-wrapped in special brightly-coloured French cartoon paper.

Denise explains that she is the only shop in France that continues this tradition of using les Devinettes d’Épinal.

A l'Etoile d'Or Denise Acabo devinettes

The cartoon-style images are What-am-I guessing games, full of colour. Even different producers of the images approach Denise Acabo, asking her to take on their devinette paper.

“But just look at this,” she exclaims, as she takes out a giant, creased and folded cartoon paper. It’s sporting far too much white and not enough colour or devinettes.

“Pfah!” and she throws it back into the wooden drawer.

Denise Acabo Paris chocolate Pigalle

Corsican Candy Specialities

I spy a Corsican corner, eyeing my favourite tastes from my husband’s Island of Beauty: jams with Corsican clementines, plus chestnut honey and confiture d’Angélique (angelica jam).

Explaining I’m an ECORSSAISE (she liked that – merci Emmanuelle!), I wonder if she can find a Scottish and Corsican speciality using les Ecorces de Clementines Corse or something?

Whether she’s on the case or not, we’re steered to the health virtues of angelica, thanks to Monsieur Thonnard who produces the exceptional Angelique de Niort.

Denise Acabo chocolate candy paris shop

We’re off again, as she tells us that Angelica is an excellent fortifiant… As early as the middle ages, angelica was given to weaker children to suck on and give them strength.

Did you know that in the 14th century, angelica was grown in Monastery gardens to prevent the plague (la peste), but these days it’s also known to help cure respiratory problems and digestive troubles?

Denise Acabo Paris A l'Etoile d'Or

Madame Acabo shows us the same healthy angelica beckoning underneath a thin coating of delicious chocolate. We guess she’s taking this on a regular basis, with such energy, enthusiasm and character.

Meanwhile, back on the golden stars, my mind and eyes wander to Meryll Streep’s favourite Perles de Lorraine (caramel with mirabelle plum liqueur), hoping to bump into her for a rendition of Abba in flares and avoid questions like what it was like to film with Clint Eastwood – or does she wear Prada?

Denise Acabo l'Etoile d'Or Paris chocolate

One word of advice: ensure you give yourself time to visit A l’Etoile d’Or, as anything under 20 minutes is just not realistic if you want to discover the stories behind the chocolates and candy – not to mention have the urge to buy most of the shop’s contents!

Denise Acabo oozes such contagiously cheerful chocolate-induced endorphins that you’ll most likely leave elated and be planning your next trip for a taste of more.

 

A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Pierre Fontaine
75009 Paris
Tel: 01 48 74 59 55

Metro: Blanche (line 2)

Teatime in Japan

How many of you read the desserts on the menu before savoury? In many Japanese restaurants, we were surprised to find that dessert was often not even mentioned, with savoury ruling; at best, Purin (Japanese crème caramel) was the only dessert listed. To satisfy our sweet tooth, it was best to seek out speciality confectionary boutiques or stop in a café or teahouse. So, welcome to my version of Teatime in Japan – from Osaka, Kinosaki Onsen, Kyoto, Shirikawago, and Kanazawa to Tokyo.

Here is just a selection of some of the sweet treats we discovered during our (personal, not sponsored) trip.  Far from being an exhaustive list, I don’t claim to be an expert on Japanese tea and confectionary; this post reflects our own personal first experiences of Japan, sharing interesting features learned along the way.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan

One of the family’s all-time favourite trip highlights was our first experience of a most tranquil Japanese tea ceremony in the Nishida Family Garden (part of Gyokusen-Immaru garden) in Kanazawa, next to the world-famous Kenrokuen garden, home to the oldest fountain in Japan.

Held in the Saisetsu-tei Roji tea house, it’s one of Japan’s oldest at 350 years old, yet the tradition continues. However, today apparently, it’s so different in that 80% are women who enjoy the traditional tea ceremony, compared to the previously more male-dominated custom. Saisetsu-tei takes its name from “snow flutters”, part of a Haiku poem (by Junan Kinoshita, a Confucian scholar) that hangs on the wall.

Teatime in Japan

Harmony – Japanese Tea Ceremony

Our gracious tea hosts made the tea and explained the philosophy behind the tea ceremony.

As you walk through the Zen gardens to the tea house – only on the stepping stones – all thoughts of everyday life should vanish, as if in a meditative state of HARMONY (wa). As before entering a temple, we purify our hands with water (and mouth for the real tradition, although thankfully we were spared going the full monty) before entering. This purifying ritual permeates the soul.

Inside the tea house there is no hierarchy; lords, peasants? Everyone is on the same level to appreciate the tea, the ambience. A Samurai would leave his sword outside – in fact, this TRANQUIL (jaku) meditation was particularly important to the Samurai in order to focus on being the best of warriors. When we visited the Samurai family of Nomura house in Kanazawa’s Samurai district (Nagamachi Bukeyshiki area with pretty little canals and bridges), a small open-air garden was designed in the building purely for tea ceremonies.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan with a traditional tea ceremony

Purity & Respect – Japanese Tea Ceremony

The hostess cleans all her tea-making implements with precision, ensuring PURITY (sei), as she heats up the water using the firepit (known as the furo – as it was during the record 2018 summer heatwave she used a different traditional stove not built in to the flooring, as it heats up the room), pours in the Matcha green tea powder, pours over the pure water then whisks vigorously back and forth with a bamboo whisk (the Chasen) to create its characteristic creamy foam.

As a sign of RESPECT (kei, evidently a particularly intrinsic value in Japan), each person thanks the hostess for taking the time to make the tea (Oshôban Itashimasu) then each person in turn asks politely to join in (Otemae Chôdai Itashimasu). The bowl’s prettiest pattern always faces outwards to the others and as the bowl is inspected, is turned around clockwise a couple of times then enjoyed.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan with some creamy, frothy Matcha green tea

Matcha Tea Powder & Wagashi in a Japanese Tea Ceremony

Following the ritual lesson, we were encouraged to try our hand at preparing our own tea. As the hot water (not boiling) was poured gently on top of the Matcha powder, our wrists were given the exercise by whisking the green tea with the Chasen. It tasted different; reassured it was the same Matcha tea, it must have been the water as it was heated using a different kettle/stove.

As with the previous bowl of tea, small ceremonial wagashi were served and we were invited to eat them before sipping. Wagashi are sweet confections traditionally enjoyed with tea and have been such since the Edo period, when tea was imported to Japan from China. I say sweet wagashi, but they’re not as sweet as I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise. This time we had soft, sugary melt-in-the-mouth Rakugan, made from glutinous rice and sugar. Each small rakugan were in pretty cute (kawaii) summer floral designs, shaped using a wooden mould.

What a most harmonious and tranquil experience, learning the most fascinating virtues of tea culture (Harmony, Respect, Purify, Tranquility) along the way. Just before we left our delightful hosts added to our vocabularly, Ichigo Ichie (literally ‘one time one meeting’) meaning LIVE THE MOMENT – something we certainly did throughout our trip as a result.

Doriyaki

Teatime in Japan

For the best Dorayaki, I’d recommend our experience in Tokyo, just 5 minutes from Monzen-Nakacho metro station (plus an incredible temple that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself, including Taiko drums and fire).

Established in 1850, this store is apparently where the dorayaki was invented. Normally made with two sponge-like pancakes and stuffed with slightly sweet Azuki red bean paste (Anko), this is a surprising version with only one pancake that’s not that sweet, beautifully soft and moist, filled with a generous amount of Anko. They also had a green bean paste but frankly, it was like eating a mushy peas pancake. Vive the doriyaki with traditional handmade Anko.

I’ve had a few in Paris before but nothing I’ve tasted to date equates to this gourmet version.

MOCHI

Teatime in Japan

Mochi are everwhere: on the street, in cafés, tea rooms and traditionally served with green tea. It’s a soft, small glutinous rice cake shaped into a ball and comes in all varieties of flavours. This popular store in Kyoto had such a big queue that we didn’t have time to stop (and with temperatures around 38°C with high humidity around midday, we thought we’d return later). So, if you get there for us, let us know how they are!  Alas, I took photos but put them up on Instagram stories and now I can’t find them. Guess I can blame the heat…

That’s a Wrap!

A few mochi are wrapped in different leaves, such as Sakura-mochi, filled with azuki bean paste (making it beautifully pink) and wrapped in a sakura leaf. Kashiwa-mochi are wrapped in oak tree leaves.

Teatime in Japan

Warabi Mochi

As we were in the Kansai region, Warabimochi were particularly popular.  Extremely chewy, they’re jelly-like treats made from bracken starch and either dipped in Matcha green tea or Kinako, roasted soybean flour.  By the end of the trip, I was addicted to the Kinako versions, probably due to their fascinating roasted flavour. They remind me of a less sweet Turkish Delight (Loukoums) with Japanese flavours.

Fukusa Mochi

Teatime in Japan

One of the delicious specialities of Kanazawa: Fukusa mochi, a Japanese baked roll cake (glutinous Gyuhi roll cake, a bit like a hole-packed pancake that looks remarkably like a huge bath sponge) with Azuki red bean jam. The outer layer is made from either baked brown sugar or Matcha green tea.

I could have eaten this whole tasting plate but remembered my manners. Instead bought them as a gift, as meeting up with Japanese friends in Tokyo; I hear it’s tradition to offer typical gifts from your travels.

Another speciality of Kanazawa is gold leaf – appropriate, as Kanazawa literally means ‘Marsh of Gold’. We particularly loved seeing gold leaf conveniently sold in tubes (not to be confused with lipstick in my handbag!) to sprinkle on top of coffee, ice cream … you name it and it turns everything to gold!

Teatime in Japan

More Wagashi Sweet Confectionary

Tai-yaki: a fish-moulded pancake-like batter or waffle filled with red bean paste, although we saw other varieties on sale such as vanilla custard cream and chocolate (unusually we didn’t see much chocolate in general on our trip). They also appeared in biscuit or cookie form too.

Daifuku: a form of mochi filled with sweet bean paste or other fillings (e.g. strawberry) and dusted in potato starch to prevent them from sticking.

Teatime in Japan

Mizu Yokan: a jelly-like sweet made with mashed azuki beans mixed with gelatin. I forgot to take a photo of it, but to see the whole picture, including a recipe, check out my friend Nami’s post how to make Yokan on Just One Cookbook.

Oshiruko: a type of dessert soup that consists of hot, sweet bean soup with grilled rice cakes (mochi) or rice flour dumplings. The red bean soup may be either smooth or chunky. We enjoyed a variation of this at the Zen Café in Kyoto’s Gion district, where the soup was chilled with almond pudding and fresh figs – sheer bliss during such a heatwave!
The list is apparently endless and if only we had more time to try and discover them all!

Bake Cheese Tart

Teatime in Japan

Although more French in spirit, this Matcha baked cheese tart is worth a mention from the Japanese chain, Bake Cheese Tart. The pastry base is spot on: a crispy, perfect quantity to matcha the filling, which is more liquid than I expected but not too much that it falls out of the base. There’s a real tease between sugar vs salt – even on the aftertaste.

There’s also a plain version, not unlike a Portuguese tart (see recipe for Pastéis de Nata) but less sweet and yet there’s definitely a cheesecake taste to it – yet it’s a tartlet. Frankly this is heaven! So glad we saw the enticing advert for this in the Kyoto metro. That’s all the shop makes but boy, they do it well.

Macarons

Teatime in Japan

We were delighted to see macarons in many boutiques and in Osaka, they were even served at the breakfast buffet in our hotel (mango-passionfruit). The most beautiful ones I saw (sorry, the image was on Instagram stories and I can’t recuperate it) were from the Matsuya department store in Asakusa, all individually wrapped.  There are also many French pastry chefs who have stores in Japan, and so the more western specialities of Parisian macarons, patisserie and/or chocolate can be found at Jean-Paul Hévin, Pierre Hermé, Foucher, Christophe Roussel, Sebastien Bouillet, Laurent Dûchene, just to name a few. Many are found in larger department stores and it’s a real treat to discover a gastronomic world always in their basements.

Alas, the only image I had was the surprising green tea pointy-looking macs I saw in a most touristy boutique near the Senso-ji temple in Anakusa, Tokyo. We were wondering if they were called nipples (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Green Tea Ice Cream

Teatime in Japan

Speaking of the Anakusa area, here we discovered the strongest Matcha Green Tea ice cream in the world from Suzukien in Tokyo. The strongest gelato came in at number 7 and it was indeed incredibly intense with little sugar, like the majority of the sweets in Japan.

Teatime in Japan

Our unanimous favourites throughout the trip were Anko (sweetened red bean paste) ice cream in Kinosaki Onsen, Hojicha (roasted tea) ice cream in the Japanese Alps in Shirikiwa-go, and here in Anakusa, including Black Sesame ice cream (I’ve since made this on return to Paris and will be sharing the recipe with you in the coming days).

Japanese Canelé

Teatime in Japan canele

Teatime in Japan with sweet potato canelés?

You heard me right: we discovered these remarkably French-looking canelés in Osaka at Canelé du Japon where they came in all sorts of surprising flavours such as yuzu, sweet potato, apple-caramel, or  flower salt (fleur de sel) from the Guérande. This may be for Teatime in Japan but they were served mini canelés at breakfast at our hotel in Osaka – more like the original ones we find originating from Bordeaux with their typical vanilla and rum soft centre with a caramelised exterior.  Also seen at breakfast were French pains au chocolat, spelled Pan’ochokora – how adorable is that?

If you’d like to make Canelés, my easy recipe is in my recipe and travel book,

Teatime in Paris,

along with the story that goes behind them and where to find the best in Paris.

Teatime in Japan

For a taste of Japan in Paris, see my personal listing of best Parisian tea salons, particularly around the rue Sainte-Anne area in Paris’s 2nd arrondissement.

 

Putting on The Ritz – Paris Teatime

Teatime at the Ritz in Paris was on my perfect French afternoon tea bucket list all during its four long years of renovation. Even as the luxury 5-star hotel was undertaking its €200 million face-lift on Place Vendôme, I still featured the Ritz in my recipe book, Teatime in Paris, knowing that they would unveil something exceptional. Together with our clinging French attire, my friend and I were excited to let time stand still and put on the Ritz Paris Teatime!

Ritz Paris Teatime new Salon Proust

Tea in the Salon Proust

Winter in Paris is perhaps the best time to indulge in the ultimate French afternoon tea. It takes place by the fireplace in the salon given homage to Marcel Proust, under his watchful portrait’s eyes.

Ritz Paris Teatime Salon Proust

Author Marcel Proust came to the Ritz’s opening party in 1898 and chose it as his second home. He apparently took to the corner spot right next to the fireplace, finding endless inspiration for his novels using the hotel’s elegant surroundings and intimate salons of the literary and aristocratic elite.
Here he felt that “nobody would push you around”.

Ritz Paris Teatime at the Salon Proust

As soon as 2.30pm chimes, the loaded silver Champagne bucket beckons at the entrance to the open-curtained, cosy salon. Would you pick a flute of Reserve Barons de Rothschild Blanc or Rosé to add even more sparkle to the occasion?

Ritz Paris Teatime with Champagne Rothschild

The shiny marble table mirroring the impressive floral display is suddenly hidden, groaning with golden-framed glass boxes containing a whole range of biscuits, petits fours and cakes from yesteryear (les biscuits d’Antan).

Marcel Proust looks on wide-eyed, swooning over his childhood favourite sweet treats on overflowing tiered plates. He no doubt would have loved what’s to come from the talented head pastry chef, François Perret.

Ritz Paris Teatime Salon Proust

It is a journey through the flavors of my childhood memories which I grew up with and which developed by taste buds.”

Chef François Perret insists, too, that he doesn’t use sugar to excess. This is my kind of pastry chef!

Exceptional teas from the TWG Tea Company in Singapore are given pride of place over pages and pages in the menu. The tea sommelier has picked out black, green and white teas, including semi-fermented, fermented teas and herbal infusions. I would recommend the Ritzy Earl Grey with added cornflowers. Non- tea drinkers are also spoiled for choice with the likes of hot chocolate, five different coffees, as well as iced and cold drinks.

Ritz Paris Teatime teas

A Right Ritz Paris Teatime

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz is distinctly French in the Salon Proust. There are no patisseries or pastries as such; instead typically refined biscuits and petits fours from yesteryear plus mini tarts and cakes.

It’s the scalloped, humped madeleine teacake that takes centre stage from start to finish, as made famous by Proust in his novel, “In Search of Lost Time” (A la Recherche du Temps Perdu). Even the tea service evokes a golden madeleine motif: Chef Perret helped to design the French white limoges porcelain made by Haviland.

Ritz Paris Teatime Madeleines de Proust

Service is immaculate and convivial, as each element of this Parisian teatime is given a touch of relaxed ceremony. A mini madeleine arrives in a bowl for starters, then sumptuously immersed in lemon-infused milk – we’re asked to leave it to infuse for a minute to enjoy the experience at its best.

Three tiers of treats arrive, competing for centre stage: we’re introduced to each layer in order, starting with a quirky teacup as top tier. They’re all biscuits and petits fours that would have traditionally been served in the brasseries of the time: sponge fingers with cocoa nibs, Russian cigarettes, Florentines.

Ritz Paris Teatime Table

The second tier highlights biscuits such as Spritz, buttery Pailles au framboises (nothing like the French packet ones!), airy allumettes of egg whites and lemon, marshmallow bears. The bottom tier is devoted to tarts and cakes, with the lightest sugar tarts on a brioche base (I hear they’re now serving old-fashioned lemon tarts), pink praline meringue, marble cake and giant tuiles.

A most memorable treat is perhaps the “Pain au Chocolat”. Not at all appearing like the classic viennoiserie that we see in Parisian boulangeries, Chef Perret has played with the simple French childhood goûter (after-school 4pm snack) of a baguette sandwich filled with a couple of chocolate squares, cleverly transforming it into cocoa-nib-covered dark chocolate breads served with a platter of cocoa butter, coconut butter, whipped cream, and jam.

Pains au chocolat butters ritz paris teatime

The Madeleine du Ritz arrives hidden under a bell, unveiled as delicately perfumed with orange blossom and lemon-glazed. So not to completely ruin your surprise, they change the flavour combination every now and again.

Recipes for madeleines and tuiles are included in Teatime in Paris, just in case you’d like to recreate a ritzy teatime at home.

With all that tea, even a trip to the restroom was discrete ceremony, where the tap water glides from golden swans.

Tea break Ritz Paris restrooms

I’d missed the bill arriving, which was yet another wonderful touch (their discretion, that is – not that I’d run off to the bathroom!); elegantly and discreetly placed at page 46 inside an old edition of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, where Proust describes that perfect taste of a childhood memory through a Madeleine and some tea.

Ritz Paris Teatime check Proust book

Don’t be fooled by all the light biscuits and mini cakes: it’s just not possible to finish everything that’s presented (well, without needing a golden crane option at the end to lift us out). A box of untouched goodies are yours to take home, plus yet another finale: the most exquisite tiny tea caddy containing a Rooibos and yuzu tea with precise instructions to infuse 5g for 400ml at 90°C for 3-4 minutes, s’il vous plaît.

After such a Ritz Paris Teatime, it’s quite easy to take a stroll indoors and lose yourself in the sumptuous corridors leading to the Hemingway Bar. To access the bar, temptations continue with this elegant shopping gallery.

Ritz Paris Shopping gallery

With teatime starting at 2.30pm, by the time you’ve enjoyed an afternoon of it by the fire in such lush surroundings, it’s extra magical in Winter to come out to the sparkling lights of Place Vendôme.

Teatime Ritz Paris Christmas

Open every day: 2.30pm-6pm

French Teatime (Thé à la française): €65; Champagne Teatime: €85
Salon Proust
Ritz Hotel Paris
15 Place Vendôme, 75001 PARIS
Tel: +33 (0)1 43 16 33 74

Metros: Opéra or Tuileries

Alas, this post is not sponsored.

Lyon’s Best Pâtisseries, Chocolates & Macarons

Now that you’ve had a tasting of some of Lyon’s best Bouchons and bistros in my last post, now it’s time to cover Lyon’s best pâtisseries, chocolate and macaron shops.

What are Lyon’s Pink Pralines?

It doesn’t take long to discover Lyon’s most popular candy/confectionary speciality walking past the bakeries along the historic Rue Saint Jean in the old town and all around the city: sweetly welcoming windows are filled with bright pink pralines.

Les Pralines roses are simply coated almonds in pink coloured sugar. Although you can eat them tel quel (as they are), they’re traditionally used in pink praline brioches or in the local tarts (Tartes aux pralines rose).

Lyon's best patisseries

 

Lyon’s Best Chocolate & Macarons

With world-famous chocolate producer Valhrona only an hour’s drive south in Tain-l’Hermitage, it’s no surprise that Lyon’s chocolate shops are well covered (or well coated?).

If you do have the chance to venture to Tain-l’Hermitage during your Lyon visit, then why not visit the Valhrona Cité du Chocolat and chocolate shop (there are tons of chocolates to try – each time my husband goes in I have to drag him out like a little boy!). And just around the corner you could finish up with wine-tastings at Chapoutier and Jaboulet, while you’re at it.

Seve macarons lyon

Bernachon specialises in making their own chocolate from bean to bar and there are many other award-winning chocolatiers around, such as Philippe Bel, Bruno Saladino, Bernard Dufoux, to name a few.

Richard Sève, award-winning chocolatier who makes chocolate from bean to bar, and pâtissier, was the first to come up with savoury macarons – something I am rather partial to myself (See chapter of savoury mini macaron recipes in my first book, Mad About Macarons). His first savoury macaron was with foie gras, a world first! I heard from him first hand, too, that he’s opening a new chocolate shop and museum (MUSCO) end of October 2017.

Lyon’s Top Candy Specialities

best candy lyon

Since 1897, Voisin has been roasting not only chocolate beans but also coffee beans and are renowned for inventing the Coussin de Lyon, chocolate ganache covered in Curaçao marzipan, made a patrimonial French speciality in 1960. If you can’t get to Lyon, then you can still find them in Paris in speciality chocolate shops (e.g. De Neuville) and at Le Bonbon au Palais (they come in pink and purple as well as the traditional turquoise coussins), along with other Lyonnais confections, such as le Bouchon (a cork) and le Cocon, resembling a more delicious kind of silk worm, in homage to the famous Lyonnais silkworkers – more on my French regional confectionary post here.

best bakeries in Lyon

Lyon’s Best Pâtisseries

For delicious bread plus three varying types of the local doughnut-like speciality, bugnes lyonnaises, head to Ô Fournil des Artistes (next to the Maison de Canuts). En route via the Grande Rue de la Croix-Rousse, try more pink pralines at Alain Rolancy, MOF.

The family Maison Pignol, run by Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Jean-Paul Pignol, is a veritable gourmet oasis in such a gastronomic capital, covering traiteurs (delicatessens) to brasseries to restaurants – and his original love of traditional patisseries, from Paris-Brest to the Baba au Rhum. You’ll particularly love to stop at his patisserie in rue Emile Zola for a taste of macarons and 50 varieties of pastries and cakes. I shall be returning to Lyon since I can’t believe I missed his speciality, la Tarte Ecossaise (Scottish Tart)!

Just around the corner from the chocolate concept store Chokola (check out the mesmerising chocolate wall fountain), you’ll also see chocolate lipsticks, caviar, and the Maca’Lyon caramel macaron completely dipped in chocolate continuing at the legendary patisserie of Sébastien Bouillet (Place de la Croix-Rousse). I show this in more detail from my last trip. Moreover, to be totally Bouillet-ed, right next door is his new popular local bakery, Goûter.

gastronomic Lyon Sebastien Bouillet

With echoes of yesteryear, such a charming window lures us in with cooling tarts and cakes winking at us behind the panes. Long cakes, a sausage-shaped tarte tatin and brioches are cut to size, as they’re sold by the length: imagine asking for half a meter of Tarte Tatin? As if that’s not enough, buttery financiers and scalloped madeleines tempt us further at the counter (recipes for these are in my latest book, Teatime in Paris).

Lyon's best pastry shops

No gourmet Lyon trip can be complete without a taste of the famous Praluline invented by August Pralus in 1955. Today François Pralus continues to make this sumptuously sticky brioche, rising in another league, using almonds from Valence and Piémont hazelnuts to create the most compact pink praline buttery brioche in the city. After working at Bernachon, François Pralus also makes his own chocolate from bean to bar – and macarons, of course!

Pralus

Lyon’s Best Tea Salons

If relaxing in a tea salon is more your style, then a great tea list can be found in Rue de la République at La Maison Debeaux (OK, I admit to being seduced by the Kama Sutra tea). They also do a great saucisson brioché (typical regional sausage-filled brioche), as well as a whole counter of tempting salads and savouries – for more on the subject, see my previous post on Gourmet Lyon. If you still haven’t had time to try pink pralines in any form, then you have no excuse, as Debeaux’s pinky goody selection would have Barbie in raptures. See my previous visit to Debeaux.

Moreover, Anticafé (9 rue du bât d’Argent, near the Opéra) is worth checking out just around the corner from Debeaux for its catching new concept. At Anticafé (like its sister in Paris), you pay by the hour: so sit back and relax for 5 euros with free included beverages or drinks and nibbles while you work or meet-up and, although not advertised, they did tip me the wink that they don’t mind if you bring your own doggie-bag of pastries from local bakeries. ??????

After a taster of a selection, what would you choose?

Best bakeries patisseries Lyon France

 


This post is not at all sponsored. As always, all opinions are my own.

Best Value Gourmet Lyon in 3 Days

Three puzzled faces stared as I announced Lyon as our destination. While most French families take off to the ski slopes in the February mid-term school holidays, we chose our destination centred around food – driving 4 hours south of Paris to discover the best value gourmet Lyon in 3 days.

Lyon France River Saône

Why Lyon?

Why Lyon? It may be the third largest city in France after Paris and Marseille but since 1930, it continues to earn its reputation as THE French Capital of gastronomy.

Ever since the Romans originally settled here in 43BC (known as Lugdunam until the Middle Ages), Lyon has been a strategic crossroads between the North and South of Europe. Built around the Rhône and Saône rivers, it’s almost squashed together with its tall buildings to compensate for the two imposing Fourvière and Croix-Rousse hills. Historical echoes of commerce ring throughout the City, as we imagine crammed sailing boats vying for trades in wine, spices and especially local silk fabrics, an industry that has flourished since the 15th Century.

Old Lyon

We started with a visit to the Medieval Vieux Lyon, on the Rive Gauche (left bank), made up of Saint Georges, Saint Jean, and Saint Paul. Directly under the towering Fourvière Basilica, on a beautiful clear day the panoramic view of the city is (literally) breathtaking after the climb to the top.  As Lyon’s Wintery February met us with wind and rain, we’ll leave that for our next visit. Museums were our answer, such as the Musée Miniature et Cinéma which shows props, realistic miniatures and special effects; and the Guignol Workshop Theatre, which not only highlights Lyon as the birthplace in 1808 of the Guignol puppets (much like Punch & Judy) but Damien Wels is the only Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best craftsman) in this domaine as sculptor and puppet-maker.

Traboules passageways in Lyon

What are Traboules?

If you’re like me and fascinated by historical French doorsyou’re in for a treat. Behind many of them are secret passageways, called Traboules. The Traboules in Lyon are unique in the world and date back to the Renaissance. Coming from the Latin for “passing through”, there are 350 of these secret narrow passages in the city. They were created as direct paths for the local silk workers (les Canuts) to transport their fabrics protected from the rain – so to avoid weaving in and out (sorry, can never resist an opportunity for a terrible pun) between their workshops and the crowded streets.

Like any of the locals, our friend, Jean-Paul who owns a gorgeous little gift shop in Rue Saint Jean, is familiar with the traboules. There are 24 of them in Rue Saint Jean alone! He led us to Number 7 as a short-cut to get to our restaurant that night: instead of walking around a couple of maze-like streets, we were directly led to Number 7 right on the Quai Romain Rolland.

It was our first experience of trabouling – yes, apparently it’s a French verb, to Traboule: so, j’ai traboulé! Avez-vous traboulez?

silk weavers history in Lyon

A History of Silk

For a better idea of Lyon’s main industry, we headed up the “hill that worked” of the Croix-Rousse to visit the silk weavers’ museum. The Maison des Canuts (rue d’Ivry) demonstrates how silk was made using Jacquard looms and depicts the deplorable living and working conditions (the workplace was also their living quarters), leading to many uprisings from the 1830s, also penned in Hugo’s “Les Misérables“.

To get to the museum, we walked from our hotel – assured by Antoine that it was “just up the road”. Up was the word, bracing the steep pente or hill of La Montée de la Rochette to the Croix-Rousse plateau (note the lovely word plateau when you get to the top!)  If you have a step-tracking app or bracelet, you’ll be proud of such a condensed 10-minute climb to merit a taste of the local specialities!

The good news is that there are plenty of wonderful bakeries in the neighbourhood to satisfy your savoury or sweet tooth. There are so many, I’ve written a separate post, JUST on the sweet side of Lyon – here.

lyon bouchons

What are the Bouchons Lyonnais?

Most important are Lyon’s restaurants, of which the lively Bouchons Lyonnais are famous worldwide for the local cuisine and friendly ambience. Catering initially to the early-rising exhausted silk workers with a Mâchon Lyonnaise (8-10am) around a hearty pre-lunch meal mainly of tripe, the bouchons arrived thanks to the Mères Lyonnaises in the early 20th Century. These strong-willed “mothers” created their own restaurants or bouchons serving “simple yet refined” cuisine at a time when the bourgeois families they worked for could no longer afford to keep them, especially after World War I.

La Mère Fillioux was the first to gain a reputation for her cooking; La Mère Brazier went on later to learn Mme Fillioux’s culinary tricks, popularising her Poularde de Bresse Demi-Deuil (truffles lined under the chicken skin). Mère Brazier then opened a second restaurant, passing on her tricks to a certain legendary Lyonnais chef Paul Bocuse. Moreover, in 1933 she was the first woman to be awarded THREE Michelin stars – and simultaneously for both restaurants!

A traditional bouchon is a cosy, welcoming home-from-home, almost as if sitting in someone’s own dining room filled with memorabilia, trinkets – many decorated with Guignol puppets. Wine is good quality, even if served in simple pots (small bottles) with mainly Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône.  The food is real terroir (local cooking from-the-land) using quality products.  If you love pork and bacon, you’re in for a bonus treat.

bouchons Lyon restaurants

On my previous trip to Lyon, I headed for Chez Hugon. This time we tried out two more  – of which Chabert & Fils (11 rue des Marronniers; open on Mondays) was our favourite: a real down-to-earth, jolly evening around an exquisite, typical kind of menu.

Typical Bouchon Menu

What’s a typical Bouchon Menu? Expect a bowl of grattons, fried and seasoned pork fat with your apéritif drink (take this as a warning, as this is rather an acquired taste!)

Typical entrées (first course, starter) include saucisson sausages or the popular sausisson brioché with salad (lettuce leaves), Salade Lyonnaise (lettuce, bacon, croutons and more); I pounced on my absolute local Bourgogne favourite Oeufs en Meurette (photo above: poached eggs cooked in Burgundy red wine, onions and topped with croutons).

The most typical main dish (plat) is the Quenelle, formed into a sausage shape but made with bread and either chicken or veal, but the most proposed is the Quenelle de Brochet, made of pike and served in a Nantua sauce.  It looks pretty dense but you’ll be surprised how airy it is.

Dessert usually comes in some kind of pink form, with Pralines Roses as main feature: from Tarte aux Pralines, with a sticky pink garniture of pralines roses melted with cream. But the real classics that were served by the Mères Lyonnais were good old French tarte aux pommes, île flottante (floating meringue in vanilla custard), and a boozy Rum Baba – even if this was invented by Stohrer in Paris but when booze is concerned, I’m not complaining.

best value gourmet Lyon - pink pralines

Various pink praline tarts and brioches you have to try (Pralus, Bouillet, Sève, Alain Rolancy)

Best Value Gourmet Lyon Bistros

Lyon’s traditional bouchons aren’t the only great restaurants in town. There are many discrete Michelin-starred establishments around, with Paul Bocuse the ultimate star.  This time we wanted to try smaller bistro-style addresses with up-and-coming young chefs. These are excellent value for money – but note that they offer LIMITED CHOICE MENUS. Smaller menus are perhaps not suited for particularly fussy eaters but it’s fun to try dishes you wouldn’t normally think of ordering, if you’re open to new tastes and ideas.

Do remember we were only here for 3 days and so we need to return to try out more to complete the list!

Le Jean-Moulin (22 rue Gentil, Lyon)

Young chef Grégoire Baratier was recently awarded “Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaises 2017” amongst an impressive line-up of around 50 like-minded creative chefs and Meilleurs Ouvriers de France just in Lyon alone. Although he learned the ropes from local chefs such as Paul Bocuse and Anne-Sophie Pic, his cuisine bursts with his own personal style.

Seating is limited to a cosy 40 covers so booking is essential. I went for the 29 euro evening menu of starter, main and dessert – although confess to stealing tasting part of Antoine’s beautiful local Marcellin fromage plate too from his 4-course menu. A helpful bonus was an accompanying list of allergens of each menu item. Don’t miss the signature dessert: an iced vin jaune parfait, topped with crackling brûlée and surrounded by a light cèpe mousse. Yes, you heard me, mushrooms for dessert? Don’t worry, it’s so subtle yet intriguing.

best value gourmet Lyon

Arsenic (132 rue Pierre Corneille, Lyon) didn’t initially convince us by its name, somehow.  We were imagining all sorts of weird and wonderful dangerous potions appearing at the table, smoking through bowls under some molecular gastronomy spell.

Instead, Arsenic is more of a concept that highlights the latest talents of young chefs making waves in Lyon’s gourmet world. Having gone through the ranks with Christian Têtedoie (Meilleur Ouvrier de Franceread my review of his restaurant here), we loved the surprising dishes from Benjamin Milliard when we visited – even the amuse-bouche of cauliflower and Jerusalem artichokes was sublime.  Cod and pear? Why not? He pairs them both beautifully too. With a great wine list, there’s some good value for money treats too.

Best value gourmet Lyon - halles paul bocuse

Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse

This was our last stop to stock up the car with local goodies before our drive back to Paris. There are 40 markets in Lyon but you can’t come to the gastronomic French capital without a visit to Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse.

Lyon gourmand specialities

Above: a typical Lyonnais saucisson brioché

It’s the crème de la crème of best producers under one roof,  highlighting local specialities from charcuterie, pâtés, poulet Bresse free-range chickens, and rows and rows of cheese; freshwater fish and quenelles; to chocolate, bonbons and patisseries from the finest Lyonnais pastry chefs and chocolate makers. Don’t despair if you don’t have room to bring anything home: stop for a bite at one of the welcoming stalls for a plate of oysters or quenelles.

A tour of gastronomic French capital Lyon

Where to Stay in Lyon?

We stayed at the Hotel Metropole. Although many reviews say that it’s a bit out of town (Caluire-et-Cuir), we found it so easy just to jump on a 40 bus that whisks you into the centre of town (Bellecour) in about 15 minutes. Tickets can be purchased directly from the driver or better still, buy a carnet of tickets at any metro station in the centre of town.
By renting a couple of studios for 2, we purposely didn’t have breakfast at the hotel, so we were free agents to organise breakfast with Lyon’s traditional pastries and sweet treats. from Lyon’s best bakeries and pastry shops. Speaking of which, read my next post on Lyon’s best bakeries and patisseries.

What to eat and do in Lyon, France

 


This post was not sponsored in any way. After writing this earlier this year, a UK magazine wanted to publish it this Autumn but has not gone to print since my images were not good enough, taken on a simple telephone. So, here it is finally for you to enjoy free on le blog, without the glossy fancy images.

Café Renoir, Montmartre Museum Gardens

There’s no denying it: Montmartre is always pretty crowded with tourists and tour groups – and that’s just on weekdays! But it still never fails to amaze me that when you head towards the back of the hill (the “butte”) and follow signs to the Montmartre Museum, you’ll discover a surprisingly much quieter haven in Rue Cortot. Now opened to the public, for just 4 euros entry into the Museum’s Renoir gardens, enjoy the welcome tranquility and relax with a drink or snack in the timeless Café Renoir.

Rue Cortot Montmartre Paris

This week I did just that, avoiding the summer crowds around Sacré Coeur and Place du Tertre during a swelteringly hot afternoon. Thanks to the Montmartre Museum, I was invited for a spot of light lunch at the Café Renoir, which has recently been refurbished.

Café Renoir, Montmartre Museum

café renoir montmartre museum

The sun room has been given a make-over with antiques from La Petite Brocante de Montmartre and touches of dried flowers and plants.  Apparently it was here that Auguste Renoir was inspired to paint Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette in 1876 when he lived here.

café renoir montmartre museum Paris

I could have sat indoors to imagine Renoir painting, but a pretty table in the shade was beckoning with a most beautiful view of the gardens dedicated to the painter, with a view on the famous swing …

cafe renoir montmartre museum garden

By 1pm, I’d already missed the quinoa salad, which was obviously popular in such a heat but when a Moroccan-style chilled carrot salad arrived to accompany a vegetarian quiche (made by Rachel’s Cakes), then that made up for it (part of the €16 menu).

If you know me well, I love good wines and so couldn’t resist a taste of their chilled white (also choice of rosé and red) – I’m looking out for this again and thoroughly recommend their organic Apremont from Savoie by l’Envin – not too dry, bags of fruit and full on the palate.

Café Renoir montmartre museum

All their drinks are supplied by quality brands, with fruit juices by renowned Alain Milliat or Sassy Cidre but as slices of lemon & poppy-seed cake arrived (made by Ryotaro Sato), their own house iced tea with mint was the perfect accompaniment on ice to help bring down the 36°C!

Renoir’s Swing in Montmartre, Rue Cortot

The view from the quiet Café Renoir looks on to my favourite part of the garden: the famous swing, La Balançoire, painted by Renoir in 1876 while he lived here for a year.

Renoir Gardens swing

The painting was presented at the Impressionists’ exhibition in 1877 but hard to believe that it was badly received by the art critics.  The work was purchased by Gustave Caillebotte, Renoir’s artist friend and patron – jolly good chap! Incidentally, I need to visit his home near Orly, outside Paris and take a boat ride à la Caillebotte.

The gardens are so inviting to linger and enjoy the familiar views that would have been seen by Suzanne Valadon and her son, Maurice Utrillo from their painting atelier, which has recently been restored to resemble what it was back in 1912.

Suzanne Valadon artist studio Montmartre Museum

The Oldest House in Montmartre

Number 12 Rue Cortot is the oldest house in Montmartre, constructed in the middle of the 17th century.  It was home to a number of artists such as Auguste Renoir, Emile Bernard, Suzanne Valadon and her son, Maurice Utrillo.

It wasn’t until 1959 that it was restored to house the Montmartre Museum, which houses a unique collection of paintings, posters (notably by Toulouse-Lautrec) and drawings that recount the history of Montmartre, including its infamously animated cabarets.

oldest house in Montmartre Paris

Making your way to the back of the museum, you’ll appreciate the views.

Cafe Renoir Gardens

Montmartre’s Vineyard

I’ve already visited the museum many times and one of my favourite exhibits are the slide shows showing how life was through photography and film at the time of these various painters.  They also show a memorable photo of the area where the vines were replanted in 1933 for the Clos de Montmatre vineyard.

Around 50,000 visitors celebrate the Fête de Vendanges or Montmartre Wine Festival each year in October. Here’s the unique view up close to the vineyard from the Renoir Gardens of the Museum.

café renoir vineyard montmartre

This year, the museum has also organised gardening workshops. Learn how to plant, seed and take cuttings for your Parisian balcony; or how to cultivate your own vegetables; and how to add edible flowers to your savoury and sweet dishes.

This is also great for children, accompanied by an adult.  For more information, consult the Renoir Garden Workshop information site.

Renoir Cafe Gardens Beehives Montmartre Museum

The Café Renoir, Musée Montmartre
12 rue Cortot
75018 Paris

Open every day, 12pm-6pm (May-October) & from Wednesday to Sunday (October-April)

Snack lunch menu: €16

Night opening, 7pm-10pm every Thursday in July & August, and last Thursday of every month (€15 entrance fee, glass of wine included).

Metros: Lamarck-Caulaincourt (line 12); Anvers (line 2)

More on Montmartre …

For my self-guided tour of Montmartre’s quieter spots and a taste of the best chocolate and patisserie in Paris’ favourite hilltop village, see my article here.