Sunday, 27 November 2011

Midnight in Paris…

Marcel Proust was partial to dipping one into his cuppa; the French in general appear to have a penchant for them at most times of day, but it was a surprise when a plate of madeleines was proffered late last Friday night, their scalloped edges just the golden side of crisp. I did wonder how they’d slip down with my vin rouge. They were hard to resist, even after such a meal; they were warm and fragrant and just seconds out of the oven.

The BSG and I took in the City of Light under high azure skies after what had been a painfully prolonged absence. Amidst varied excursions to the Eiffel Tower, Monet’s gargantuan lilyscapes at l‘Orangerie and a boat trip under the many bridges of the Seine there were some truly memorable fuel-stops (in truth, the excursions were really the punctuation marks in this two-day gastronomic tour).

At the planning stage, we’d heavily researched the food aspect of our tripette and decided we’d try to get a table at Spring, the eatery du jour. The operative word being try….The phone rang – and rang. If Spring’s PR mantra is ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’, then they’ve got it, spot on. Though I’m not sure I do.

And so we put Spring behind us and the lovely Kate took over. Kate is chic, knowledgeable and has discerning taste in most things, especially when it comes to food, so we knew we were in safe hands – after all, it was she who was responsible for our last great Paris discovery, Chez l’Ami Jean, a secret we have proudly shared ever since with friends who are visiting the city. After meeting first for a drink and an hour watching the beautiful people at Hotel Costes, we took the scenic route through Place Vendome to Bistrot Volnay.

The emphasis here was on quality produce: various seasonal mushrooms appeared throughout the evening’s menu; alongside razor clams or St Jacques to start; pan fried with sweetbreads and foie gras to follow; stirred through the darkest, glossiest osso bucco. I had the pheasant tourte: a type of savoury pasty filled with meat, bacon, foie gras and chanterelles, with grapes and spices lending an autumn sweetness. It was very elegant and very simply done, a description that could be applied to the Volnay itself. Whilst it’s clearly a Paris bistro - complete with plaque-studded counter-bar commemorating lifelong regulars - the restrained and quietly chic palette is redolent of Manhattan; it has the feel of a neighbourhood restaurant. The staff were chatty and helpful, and we felt welcome from the off.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to those madeleines…

Eyes bigger than stomachs, three of the four of us just had to order riz-au-lait, which came with extra cream and a dark salty caramel sauce. Kate’s husband Emmanuel finished his with aplomb - like any self-respecting foodie, but all I could do was stare at the remainder on my plate and wish it a good home somewhere else - it was enormous. Therefore, when wafts of the freshly-baked-cake variety started to circulate, it took the brain a little while to recover itself and ape some kind of hunger pang. It was nothing other than gratuitous, but everyone else in the place was tucking in to those dainty sponge shells so surely it would have been rude not to….wouldn’t it?

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