Le Clown Bar: neo-parisien bistro historically and naturally seduces

Until very late hours after shows, Le Clown Bar used to entertain the artists and clowns from the nearby winter circus (Cirque d’Hiver), the first and grandest of its kind in Paris. The colorful ceiling and tiles, the fresco of Pierrots Lunaires and lively decorations V-shape from the half-moon bar set in the heart of this tiny canteen that jollies now the Parisiennes. Classified as one of the monuments historiques in France in 1995, the space reopened in 2013 as a refreshingly simple yet sophisticated bistro. Today, Clown bar is one of the best bistros in Paris because of the team’s mastery of that culinary dichotomy.

Clown Bar ParisParis circus

The kitchen team is now headed by ex-Saturne (also natural wines favouring bistro) chef Axel Gallart, who took over the acclaimed, Japan-born chef Sota Atsumi after he opened his new restaurant in town called Maison.

A lot plays in the nearby Septime phenomenon, yet now the reservations are easier to make at Clown Bar and I find the place more inviting and sans the mission impossible of snapping a table less of a headache.

Sitting inside or out on the rue during the warm months, packed tight, the tiny bistro tables snug everyone neatly. Kind of a pandemic nightmare and post-pandemic salvation. We came in three seasons. In a hot summer sitting at the wide open window we could savour a bit of breeze and the hip street action. In autumn one packed inside in the beautiful painterly interior and this winter, bolstered by the strict restaurant rules in Paris, we returned comfortably into a corner table. Cosily wrapped into this lively chapel of honest, seasonal and utterly reliably delectable food, we indulged.

Clown Bar ParisClown Bar Paris

First lands a hearty sourdough bread sourced from an excellent baker who works with top Parisian restaurants. Perfectly generous wholesome Brittany butter always stirs emotions for us. Set for a warm up glass of some vin naturel.

A three course lunch menu includes a dessert and a choice from one of the two starters (seasonal and regular menu features) and main courses, usually one meat and another seasonal fish/seafood. We usually just walk in during the lunch hours if around the 11th arrondissement. For dinner it is necessary to reserve a table ahead since the indoor dining area is tiny like the authentic bistros from the old times.

Clown Bar ParisSouthern French snacks

Clown Bar ParisClown Bar Paris

The chickpea fried panisses with rosemary and spicy harissa dip are a staple on the menu. Oh la la! That texture, creamy hot centre as you bite into the crunchy cylindric sphere fills your mouth with ecstasy. Decadently indulgent as the best in the South of France!

Girolle mushrooms tartine with fresh almonds in July was a gourmand’s heaven on a plate. If I were a Michelin inspector, a star would land with a light speed. A gently cooked octopus salad was less sophisticated, but the tentacled creature was honoured with some fresh parsley and olive oil to a purists’ delight.

Clown Bar always includes some main dish with fish like the tender Cod with carrot soubise sauce I had in February. The holy grail of Atlantic fish, my turbot was delicately cooked with wild spinach and turnips in autumn and so was the seafood bouillon with shiitake mushrooms.

Unless you dine outside at the open street terrace, you find cutlery in a small drawer inside each table. One needs a sturdier knife for the beef. This is a French bistro after all so meat plates halo the menu, from a tartare to veal brain and sweetbreads with white coco beans, the omnivores find their rainbow at the Clown Bar.

Clown Bar ParisClown Bar Paris

At dinner, a choice from two cheeses such as aged (18months) Comtè or Picodon d’Ardeche change seasonally. The quality is best you can get in Paris, which is a high stake!

Seasonal fruit, chocolate, popular sweets and some French classics inspire the deserts. The desserts are more contemporary, think chocolate and pecan cookies, granola with stewed apricots with fragrant sauces or French choux pastry with a generous vanilla cream filling.

Clown Bar bistro naturally seduces foodies and lovers of casually sophisticated atmosphere. Now that most of the city’s art has moved North-east beyond the Republique, current creatives fuel their bodies with the small plates around Marais and this sliver of the 11th arrondissement as once St Germain’s Café Flore did. The contemporary food is closer in style to Semilla, but more consistent.

Clown Bar ParisClown Bar Paris

Natural wines not only from France, but other European sustainable winemakers like Foradori made by Northern Italian biodynamic queen Elisabeta Foradori and the Sicilian Frank Cornelissen, whose vineyards around the Etna volcano produce powerful fruit whose authenticity is being preserved by the winemaker up to the point that each vintage can differ in its alcohol level by two abV points. In summer we went for a lighter Beaujolais red. With our dinner, the French producer Philippe Jambon in Chasselas, about midway between Lyon and Beaune in Burgundy, charmed out late harvest from a difficult 2017 vintage when hails damaged the stems of his vines. Clown Bar prides itself in its vast cellar and offers some bottles on their online shop.

I appreciate the nice tea selection for a zero-roof lunchtime. A tie guan yin oolong paired lovely with the seafood and fish dishes. For a post-meal energy boost, coffee by our favourite Parisian roaster L’Arbre À Cafe on Rue du Nil where hedonism thrives, picks even the pickiest coffee connoisseurs up from their chair.

Le Clown Bar is closed on weekends. Open for lunch Mon-Fri: 12:30-2pm and dinner starts at 7pm.

114 Rue Amelot, Paris 75011

+33 (0) 1 43 55 87 35


Things Better Done Slowly: poetic Marais cafes and tea rooms

Poetry does not have to be written under your bed covers (well, sometimes I do that too) or in a rusty, with vintage posters laced bohemian poetic Marais hang out. A calm place of cosy comfort can be found anywhere you can hear the muse whispering the stanzas into your mind. Le Marais was once the hangout of poets, but now it is more a bundle of loud hipster shops, cafes and bars. Still, there are niches in the tight stack of the narrow streets, and I found them. So crawl in with a notebook and a pen. Laptops, well, and ‘smart’phones are not as romantic companions as the old ink and paper.

Japanese notebooks

I have just attended my first poetry workshop in Paris. Organised by the Paris Institute of Critical Thinking in the heart of the Marais, the cards were drawn for an intensive creative feast. All of us, budding or mature female poets in our small group were curious to explore the depths of our creative wells. And while many prompts stirred a focused outpour of creative writing, one stroke me most: the tutor, a poet herself, asked us to write down Things Better Done Slowly. A wonderful idea! I thought, penning down a few activities that slipped out of my mind in the time-constrained exercise of mindful association.

Tahiti by Gauguin

Eau Delicieuse: Gauguin

Here are my ideas plus one I identified with most from our collective list:

  • baking bread (sourdough culture)
  • brushing my long hair (first thing in the morning and the last at night)
  • eating a hot soup and Chinese soup dumplings (burned tongues!?)
  • food shopping at markets (it took long to grow, let’s talk how shall I cook it?)
  • kissing the beloved (no comment)

letting a morsel of chocolate melt on my tongue

  • the entire a day (like in Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings; photo above)
  • swimming alone in a safe pool (wholesome sensuality)
  • sharing tea with a friend (alone the pot of tea gets cold fast)
  • sipping fine wine (too precious)
  • walking in a great architectural city or a park (the details)

I highly advise to pen down such a list yourself. Then use it at least during the weekend to switch onto a low gear. As the parks around the City of Lights abundantly showed me — the leaves will eventually fall.

Paris autumn Ob-La-Di Marais

Bringing these wholesome blurbs and wishes to life, next came a coffee break, later a lunch break, and then another break, … We had time to put into practice what we preached in the heart of the poetic Marais. Aware of this opportunity, I used all three pauses for mindful slowness.

First, a morning pause. Not taking away, but sitting down with a flat white and a scone in an internationally-run coffee shop that I was randomly attracted by in the Marais. Only later did I learn that this is perhaps the most Instagrammed cafe in Paris. Excellent coffee, and that is rarity in Paris, so head to the tiny cafe Ob-La-Di until it still exists. Named for a Beatles song meaning “life goes on” (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is a phrase by a London-based Nigerian musician that Paul McCartney borrowed for the song). The cafe is owned by two Frenchies and a Swede, but since the inspiration on the menu and the design are very global, “Let It Be”). The ephemeral nature of such places has awakened me during recent periods of lockdowns. Commercially unsustainable businesses relying on non-virtual attendance of people suffered most. So there, in this place of fragile existence, I wrote this ode to cross-cultural indulgence:

Trespassing the once raised borders

No lid to screen my lips

Dipping in like roses

Wet with juicy dew

Opening my mouth anew

Plush touch of the frothy brew

Its hot steam capped by a milky cloud

Alone not, my joy rerenders time

Between me and the wholy this

Marbled drops of the beans

Echo my caffeinated bliss

Imagine an accordion and this musical instrument’s movement — stretching wide and slowly contracting. Read the above part of my poem again. The meaning of the lines expands and narrows, one after another.

Ob La DiBest coffee in Paris in the poetic Marais

As I break rules once set to be changed

I sit down not with tea and scone

A Japanese barista in muted tone

Serves me scone aux myrtilles

I dip with my lips en abondance

Aussie flat white and a British treat

In the Paris now shuning French resistance

Allowing for this far flung feast of my papilles

~

French words: myrtilles = blueberries, en abondance = in abundance; resistance = resistence; papilles = taste buds. By now the crumbles from the scone were all over my lap and the draft.

Having a proper length of a lunch break, I could savor my day of slow being and doing indulgence in poetic Marais with an authentic poise. Next, being in the proximity of my favourite Japanese tea room in both Paris and Tokyo, I headed a few minutes down to the Sabō room in the house of Ogata. The Japanese have been fully aware of things better done slowly for centuries, invented a super prolonged tea ceremony (known as cha-do), ikebana flower arrangement and other mindful artisan expressions of zen. The founder of Sabō, designer Shinichiro Ogata intends to bring the essence of this japonisme abroad. Season was ripe for persimmons, the Japanese kaki being of a superior quality to most European specimens, and knowing this I had to indulge in another sweet delight. A blend of local French butter stuffed in the semi-sun-dried persimmon hedonistically works magic. Just try. Be open.

poetic Marais in a life of a poet

Bared honesty of a warm heart

When you realize

Feeling fully aware

This is what I love

The eyes want

To cry out

Your soul

Part by part

A butterfly out 

Flying free

From changing time

Like inhaling

The garden scent 

In a warm tea

Held by both hands

Pouring joy inside

Through wanting lips

All the way deep

Where reality and dream meet

So,suddenly all water tastes sweet

~

Ogata, Parispersimmon

The poetic Marais not left behind even once was out of the area. Further refueling with some proper food, I stopped at a Chinese dimsum house by the Hong Kong husband (who runs my favorite Chinese tea house where I chat and write near Les Halles) and Michelin French chef duo behind Lai’Cha. The warm pillows of soft pasta wrapped like a pierogi must be savored slowly, otherwise you burn your palate. They are like soup. Things better done slowly, surely. So I sat at the counter, with only the dumplings and chopsticks between me and the wall. And somewhat this intimate constrained space felt cozily mine.

Chinese tea in Paris

Our last poetic break naturally grew into a conversation, and I decided to skip running away from new people, staying in the classroom. Call it a post-Covid antisocial syndrome is you wish, but that space I suddenly had at my disposition during the last two years felt very nurturing. While I would often be the leader of the talk, asking questions, inserting anecdotes, I enjoyed slowing my mouth, and let others talk. Listening felt just so much more easy than talking does. One of the things better done slowly is engaging in a conversation, I learned after more than three decades of eloquent existence.

This post was like a journal entry of a day in a life of a poet. My creatively indulgent time well spent in poetic Marais felt like a bliss of a butterfly. Resting and sipping the sweet nectar of joy on one flower, then full of life landing on another, and again, until the night fell. Another day, I might pop for a pot of lovely oolong at nearby Artéfact where the ceramics filled tea bar usually stays calm enough to focus on creativity.

tea in Paristea room in Paris

Note that when one speaks of “maison du thé” in France the place is not a tea-focused house but basically a café offering some food and mostly non-alcoholic beverages for the day.

MY CALM ADDRESSES (mostly avoid lunch breaks):

Ob-la-di: 54 Rue Saintonge, 75003 Paris

Ogata Paris: 16 Rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris

Artéfact: 23 Rue des Blancs Manteaux, 75004 Paris

Boutique yam’Tcha: 4 Rue Sauval, 75001 Paris


The alternative cheese story in this millennium: why we should embrace transformation of plants, that is dairy-free, without lactose and low in carbon footprint

Not only vegans should read this. All of us will find exciting inspiration in my years-long investigation into alternative cheese. In the age of anything healthy, trendy and/or sustainable, ideally all in one, and shortly “-free”, plant alternatives crop up on the menus of eco-minded and to restricted diners welcoming restaurants. The shelves of gourmet grocers, neighborhood mini marts and increasingly regular supermarkets of most “advanced” countries regularly introduce plant-based, non-dairy products that improve with the rising demand. Many “creameries” currently transform vegan cheese into a wide variety of curiosity-rising forms. Humanity needs to innovate to meet the pressing climate disaster in a more sustainable living. Global population keeps growing and its demands for food with it, hence we cannot keep eating dairy and other animal products daily. Ideally, we balance it off. Reduce meat and dairy, include less carbon-intensive plants. Let’s broaden our diets with these wondrous choices. Only a few years ago I would staunchly say: there’s no way this nut thing can ever taste like the real thing! Well, let’s keep up with the innovators, because by being open I had to revise my no “fake” cheese opinion based on the delectable evidence in my mouth.

vegan cheese

sustainable dietraw nuts

Traditionalist mindset versus embracing the new in “cheese”

I confess, I love cheese, the real stuff, well more precisely the traditional buffalo, cow’s, goat’s, sheep, ewe’s and other dairy cheese (no camel or donkey milk, thank you). Available today are cheeses from Europe, the Americas and made as far as in Japan (mainly from Hokkaido), and so it is now with the plant alternatives, and I am open to try. Not only those dairy- or lactose-intolerant as well as staunch vegans seek milk-like products made from nuts, grains, soy protein or other plant-based ingredients (even coconut oil, oats, peas or quinoa) — eco-minded generation is the market power now. During my decade-long, taste-centric global study (I’m guilty of not researching enough in Africa that I rarely visit and have never been to Antarctica, where one has probably different concerns than looking for vegan cheese alternatives) I found that the best of all vegan cheeses were made with a blend of savvily inoculated ingredients. Now there is even a non-dairy cultured butter that really feels like the traditional lusciously melting churned cow’s treat. I wish we had it in Europe!

vegan cheese

The premium league of vegan cheese makers *

Naturally, the French figured it out parfaitement, yet as America has been flagging the growth of creativity over the past century, there the vegan “creameries” are unafraid to experiment and unapologetically copy from established traditions in the European cheese making. Like in Provence or with Italian robiola, cultured fresh cashew soft ‘casheeze’ is wrapped in dried fig leaves to preserve its moisture and look alike. 

Fresh or ripened even cultured with mold, the best specimens now taste and look like a camembert. While Swiss New Roots have yet no match to an excellent creamy brie, Rebel Cheese in Texas, and more so Conscious Cultures with their Maverick do literally magic with their vegan bries sold at my favourite plant “cheese” store Riverdel in New York).

Roquefort style by French Jay & Joy as well as the awesomely tangy Billy Blue by Riverdel, yet the best of all the blue styles was Conscious Cultures Creamery Barncat made in New York state. 

Nevertheless, the connotation of these products as “cheese” is misleading as much as the nut “milk” that one Czech producer transparently calls “not milk”. We need to broaden our vocabulary with these new foods introduced in our diets. Many producers realized this confusing linguistic overhang and so they now invent new words that more precisely denote what is inside these cheese alternatives. A step further, organic ingredients sate the integrity of the eco-minded and staunch ‘healthovores’.

plant-based alternative to cheesebest plant-cheese

There are a few plant product makers doing it quite well when compared to the average supermarket cheese, but when you get a top quality artisanal cheese, there has not been so far the level of natural complexity in some fine aged cheeses I could compare the vegan concoctions with. Take a matured Comté, creamy Délice de Bourgogne, or savoury feta in Greece and then we can talk of comparisons. The best aoc/aop cheese from Europe still take the laurels.

nut cheesevegan cheese

What is in alternative cheese

It used to be mainly soy that replaced the dairy in the “fake cheese” era, but as the bean’s quasi-estrogenic effect (and cut the rainforest to grow soy) on our body fell out of fashion, other grains, seeds and nuts came to its aid. Italians now make local rice-based Risella comparable with an average cow’s milk mozzarella, but forget buffala, burrata or the oozing straciatella. Mamma Mia! I was also impressed by the Vegotta made by Ferretti in Perugia that very closely feels like ricotta in terms of texture and somewhat in taste. The fennel seeds fragrance though tells a blind taster that this attempts to taste like a dairy product.

best vegan cheese in Americavegan cheese

It seems that macadamias, oats, coconut oil and cashews work best for these dairy replacements. An almond ricotta by Kite Hill in the US used to awe me (a shame they stopped adding truffled salt, which is a game lost to another US artisan Cheezehound who perfected their Truffle Ash Casheeze). The pricier macadamia ricotta by celebrity plant chef Matthew Kenney tops the curd styles. Creamy cheesy spreads and dips are also getting incredibly delicious. Some are still a waste of calories, but others taste as the best buttery garlic dips, dilled lox-like spreads, herbed Boursin-like or Greek style. Whipped by California’s Miyokos Creamery under the brain of its Japanese founder miso and rice koji add umami savory fermented touch (even their salted butter is ooomh the best in the vegan league!). I prefer them to Kite Hill’s and other US cream cheese alternatives like Forager. So far these are only available in Canada and the US (yet, they are working on it though as confirmed via an email).

plant foods in Brooklyncheese alternatives can look like dairy cheese

best vegan cheese store in Americaplant-based alternative to cheese

Like the “normal” dairy, cheese alternatives can be sold pure or with flavourings – from being washed with cognac or other alcohol, smoked, with added dried fruits and nuts, herbs, spices (pepper is popular), laced with truffles, even naturally coloured in the cheddar or Amsterdam styles.

On a road trip through California recently, the highest rated “lunch in Paso Robles” on Google was the just about a year-old Vreamery. To our surprise, this was a plant cheese bar inside a new hip food hall. Their signature Cashew Cream with artichoke and garlic crackered our taste buds out! As if I had forked into my granny’s buttery garlic dip, but this was sans animal involvement. They make some themselves, but buy most from selected vegan creameries in America. A very refined selections as our cheese box revealed. Truffled Chévre from Riverdel (a great vegan boutique with two locations – Essex Market on Manhattan and in Brooklyn) and a selection of blue styles like the blue rind can fool you as in the Bleu Cameblu by Rind also based in New York. They also make a more funky Blue with a pink tint under the blue-gray crust. Miyoko’s Creamery in Sonoma makes spot on aged Smoked English Farmhouse with liquid smoke.

plant-based alternative to cheese

Blue cheese is a masterpiece of its own. Jay & Joy in Paris, France created Jeanne Le Bleuté végétal, soy-free, lactose-free and so-called artisanal (made in small batches). Based on organic almonds, coconut milk and cashews, with fermentation bacteria and the fancy salt from Guérande adding a sophisticated tang. It’s blue veins are not based on spirulina or other plant colorings as I had seen with blue vegan products previously. Hence the taste is not affected by seaweed. Quite nice is also Petit Bleu, a French cashew cheese, yet there is not much blueness going in it.

Greek Violife figured out how to make smooth, creamy, coconut-oil-based Greek White that looks like feta, but the briny tang of the real dairy is missing. Their rawmesan and sliced toast-style “cheese” are mediocre. Violife makes also a great spreadable cheddar-flavoured and moist Greek-style plant cheese I can recommend.

Vegan cream cheese alternatives

Making your own plant-based cheese

Cheese is addictive too (what on can do against its innate chemistry?!) and I am fully guilty of that naging craving. Yet, as I try to be progressive, climate-sensitive and balanced, I am reducing my dairy consumption by including plant alternatives. While trying many brands and complaining about the ok taste of these dairy replacements, to be fair I made a couple of plant fromages myself at home. I find two sources of inspiration – cookbooks and the packaging itself. The later is more daring and risky, but it challenges me to make it as great as they do in even a smaller batch.

food sustainabilityMaturing vegan cheese

A cashew aged cheese that I matured for one week turned out nicely and almond and macadamia ricotta inspired by Matthew Kenney was also satisfying. Vreemery sells a cheese alternative making kit, I got the Truffle Melt. Many contemporary cookbooks focused on fermenting include some recipes. The aesthetics are another story though. It’s tricky to mould the nut creations into a smooth log or wheel like a pretty chévre, or try to hole out a Swiss-eyed hard cheese or a layered truffled brie. For taste, crafting a small batch is more often key to success as it is with most artisan cheese. So try to make your own! Just keep it clean as anything can turn your product into a spoiled mess. Vegan rennet can be found in most health stores.

The French art of the cheese trolley has transpired beyond the Gallic borders. I have not yet seen a vegan restaurant rolling around a proper selection (Perhaps Daniel Humm’s revamped Eleven Madison Park on Manhattan will offer that in its $335 per person vegan tasting?), yet the plant creations turned out to be messier and more delicate than dairy products. Nevertheless, alternative cheese plates are increasingly common. In Venice Beach, California Matthew Kenney’s Plant, Food and Wine offers a nice vegan “cheese” board and so does his new cafe Sutra on Manhattan. In Paso Robles, California Vreamery pairs up your picnic box with local wine tasting at the town’s newest food hall.

plant-based dessertplant-based alternative to cheese

Beyond savory treats, most desserts can easily do with almond, coconut or rice cream. The Key Lime Cheesecake at Moby’s Little Pine in Silverlake, California is sublime! And so is their refreshingly summer-like plant mozzarella skewer (photos above). In New York again, Rawsome Treats create the tastiest plant-based desserts sliced carefully as they were all frozen prior to consumption. Their nut “cream” fillings” will send you high.

Manhattan vegan food best vegan macha cake in New York

While vegetarians embrace the real cheese’s guiltless pleasure in small quantities regularly, made in artisan, considerate, small-scale farm setting, there is still a room for plant alternatives. As my suggestions approve, now time is ripe for vegan cheese hedonism. Honestly, I would not post this article before, indeed, so enjoy the ascend of the alternative cheese as I do!

*I received no sponsorship, no PR, and have no financial interest in any of the above mentioned companies. These are purely my personal reflections on taste.


OGATA Paris: Japanese house of tea and omotenashi designed for contemporary taste

La maison OGATA Paris is the epitome of wabi rusticity where perfect simple lines of beauty merge with the old spirit of the Marais artistic zeal. There is nothing of its kind in France, perhaps in the entire Europe. Opening during perhaps the most difficult time in recent history has not defied the years-lasting project. The constant flow of refined customers swells in, and the organised blend of Japanese and French staff keeps the reservation book filled with returning names appreciative of its omotenashi hospitality seamlessness.

Japanese designmarais coolJapanese design

In sensible hands, this Marais hôtel particulier was transformed into a contemporary, minimalistic, Japanese cultural sanctuary that engages all senses. Your palate and olfactory indulgence will be baptised into the japanology that so many Westerners revere with a silent arigato. Earthly pleasures of tea, seasonal vegetables and fruits, meet in the visual feast of dining ware designed by Shinichiro Ogata, the founder of Simplicity in Tokyo. I confess, I have been a faithfully excited fan of Mr.Ogata’s design ever since I dined, shopped and sipped on tea, sake and cocktails at his tea rooms in GinzaAoyama and his first restaurant Higashiyama in the residential cherry blossom mecca in Meguro, Tokyo. All of his interior design feels as if forgotten in time, a patina that is still very present.

OGATA Paris is a natural continuation of a success story filled with passion for one’s own culture.

Japanese in ParisJapanese design

The SABO tea room underground at OGATA Paris leads you deep down into the inner world of its own mystery. Steaming water pots await your fill of freshly steeped tea. Stone walls of Le Marais combined with the walls’ monastic simplicity characteristic of Mr Ogata’s design and comfort of wooden tables and the long tea bar, may keep you in for hours. We patiently sipped four teas at one occasion. Directed by an experienced tea master, Katsuhito Imaizumi, whom we had met at Sakurai Tea Experience in Tokyo previously, this is not a sealed lips chanoyu, but a calm social encounter celebrating the grail of Japanese culture, its tea service.

Marais shopping japanese craftsbest tea in Paris

You can try additional teas from the broadly selected repertoire, just ask the master for his recommendations based on your taste preferences. From typical sencha (steamed tea, we had Kamairicha Yabukita from the Miyazaki prefecture famous for its beef), high end gyokuro (more shaded green tea), freshly roasted houjicha (over fire at the bar in front of you) to semi-oxidised oolong (Hoshucha Minamisayaka), seasonal infusion (such as ripe peaches we had over a sencha) and fermented tea in the style of Chinese pu-erh. While you can just order a la carte, matcha whisked to frothy perfection closes off most of the preset experiences at the Sabo tea room. Observing the gentle hands of the tea master as he laddles out the hot water from a pot into lidded cups, his sensibility for timing sequentially multi-brews (three is maximum for most teas), while keeping his workspace impeccably neat, is an act of meditative presence. While sharing with a friend feels nice, coming alone heightens the profundity.

Japanese tea Paris

Japanese food in Paristea in Paris

During summer, traditional Japanese kagikori, hand-shaved ice with a choice from one of the three flavours – matcha sweetened with condensed milk, houjicha with roasted buckwheat (soba) or summer peach. We tried the latte-like matcha and the even better roasted houjicha frosty mountains of icy treats. On a rainy day we felt like roasted tea. In the hands of the tea master, the earthen pot emanates roasted hay fragrance of the stems and leaves of houjicha. When we visited recently there were two types – more stems like in the Kagoshima Kuki or more leaves as we had in the Saitama Yume.

Japanese shaved ice

You can reserve a plant-based bento lunch (Hiruzen) at Sabo (Wed-Sun 12-3pm) paired with three teas or a bit more elaborate casual meal (vegetarian, fish or meat choice of the main course) at the more lively restaurant upstairs (open also for dinner). There, a large counter around the kitchen action, a long common dining table and a more private wall-side booth, offer diversity of privacy and experience. Either way, your meal starts with cold-brewed green tea, is accompanied by miso soup, japanese pickles, steamed rice and ends with wagashi. At Sabo, the choice of sweets is more extensive and the accent on the tea is more pronounced.

Japanese food in Paris

healthy lunch in Paris

The food at Ogata is good, not as impeccable as at all the Tokyo branches though, perhaps due to a struggle with ingredients in a foreign land? What shines though, next to the top quality Japanese teas, are the wagashi sweets. My favourite is the roasted sesame powder – kinako – dusted doughy ball filled with luscious balsamic-textured ganache (honwarabi). One can always go safe with adzuki beans (Mame Daifuku), a staple in the sweets selection, but seasonal specialties like persimmon in late fall, cherries and strawberries in June, peaches in July pop only for short periods on the menu, so I would recommend not missing your opportunity. I went for the sticky gluten dumpling with warabi fiddlehead fern wrapped in a bamboo leaf. At OGATA you get by far the best Japanese wagashi in Paris, but to go also the paper-thin wafers (monaka) filled with sweet paste, puffed caramelised rice (okoshi) and Japan meets the West fusions such as chocolate cake spiced with sansho pepper and cheesecake with sake lees. The locally established, traditional Japanese tea rooms serving wagashi like Toraya or Pâtisserie Tomo offer slightly less refined pieces.

wabi designJapanese tea time

wagashi in Paris

The small bar is only opened in the evenings, hence we have not tried any cocktails (count with the finest Japanese whisky and sake), but I will certainly stop by when in the vibrant area later in the day. Embodied in this design hôtel particulier, Paris finally offers an authentic yet contemporary Japanese omotenashi experience in its most wholesome shape.

The four spaces – tea room, boutique (also take away tea, wagashi and Japanese snacks in the window), bar and restaurant – cater to any whim of the day or night a fan of genuine japonisme may desire. Think of an Aesop boutique filled with edible delicacies and kitchen-centric ware instead of fragrant creams and shower gels. Yet, here beyond the design grazing, one can also learn plenty about the Japanese art of tea at regular “Ateliers” organised in-house, share an immersive experience or just escape from the city buzz in solitude.


Gastronomic ceramics chosen by the greatest chefs

Fire in my bones sparks when my food is served in a beautiful tableware. Gastronomic ceramics can easily turn even a simple meal into a ritual, but it is at the great restaurants where their work shines like in a jewel box. The chefs’ taste in art is as diverse as the culinary interpretations they themselves represent. It is fascinating to see what kind of plates they chose for their creative food.

gastronomic ceramics gastronomic plates

Artisanal magnificence has intrigued the fine chefs for millennia, but was limited to the royalty and upper class tables. Far more democratised today, the chef’s choices go beyond traditional luxury porcelain manufacturers. Often exploring regional talent in creative collaborations for their special restaurants. I dined at the world’s finest restaurants, and I would dare to classify three approaches to tableware:

  • Sticking to the traditional fine, mostly in Europe-made porcelain
  • Seeking rather minimalist, unassuming contemporary or rustic ware in the Japanese or Korean style
  • Elevates local or one’s native talent into starry heights by their highly curated selections and collaborations

gastronomic ceramics

gastronomic design

It is the last that intrigues me most. Organised by country, I share in separate articles my favourite plating treasures that I found along my gastronomic pilgrimages. In particular, when the ceramicist studio spins the potter’s wheel nearby. Most restaurateurs use a varied palette of serving plates not limited to one artisan only, so I am highlighting those potters whose handwork stroke me the most.

For my favorite gastronomic ceramics, we will travel from France through Spain, the UK, both coasts of the United States, and finally across the Pacific to Japan.

French ceramics

Creativity without limits where the visual, tactile and the gustatory senses meet sparks a wonder so memorable that … While dining and later shopping at their boutiques often attached to their own workshops, my experience of either was elevated into something more connected, meaningful and mutually supportive. Needless to add, all of these ceramics are works of art and must be handled with care so all that handwashing by the restaurant staff skyrockets my respect for their labor.

NOTE: I received no sponsorship for my selections. All of the ceramics were discovered during my self-paid meals at the restaurants that I love. I selected only those that most wowed me. I liked these outstanding handmade pieces so much that I either purchased my favorites or was given them on my birthday by the restaurant as they were nowhere for sale. The generosity of El Celler de Can Roca deserves an immense gratitude!


Best bakeries in Paris: best traditional bread, organic loaf from ancient grains, baguette, croissant and pain au chocolat

Long comme un jour sans pain, long as a day without bread, the idiomatic French saying captures what along with butter and cheese, well might be a true national dish in the country of bakers. Bread and butter on the French national flag could eradicate any confusions. Excellent news for some of you is that since 1993, all bread in boulangeries in France must be entirely made on the premises. In the abundance of excellence, I cannot stop at selecting just top five bakeries in Paris. I am sharing all my favourites for their diversity – best bread, organic loaf from ancient grains, creative baked slices, baguette, croissant and pain au chocolate. For brioche, I need to return and scout for more, since some bakeries only sell it on weekends! A dozen samples of brioche in one day, anyone?
French breadbio baguette

Best ‘miche’

Every real Parisian has a favourite bakery, usually in their neighbourhood so the bread’s crisp, fresh fragrance of wheat, and soft, holes-ridden mie (the crumb interior) are eaten as soon as they come out from the oven. Unless, you are a customer of Poilâne, whose iconic, giant, round country loaf (known as miche) baked in their wood-fired ovens can be delivered to your door. Some old traditions do not die even with the new generation taking over the family business. Poilâne has expanded its production beyond its lovely Rue du Cherche-Midi home-base. The exports ship from an outside of Paris “Le Manufacture“, yet when in Paris get yours baked here. Occasionally, tours underground into its flour-dusted cellar, allow to sniff the leavened fragrance in full. Aside from its sturdy pain campagne, I like their flaky buttery puff pastry topped with caramelised apples. Enjoy this sweet treat in their convenient next door café.
Traditional baguette

Best sourdough fro ancient grains

For bread, I asked my local friends, and was fortunate, indeed, to taste the wonderful organic sourdough from Le Bricheton [50 Rue de la Reunion, 7520]. In their authentic, young French neighbourhood of Saint Denis, far beyond the tourist zone, Maxime shapes loaves from wholesome grains (spelt, rye, even a chestnut). A true artisan, his opening hours are reduced to two hours only on some days, the Sundays, Mondays and other random days (check their Facebook page for actualities).
best bread in Paris
Paris gourmandise
Recently, Alain Ducasse browsed in, and the social media went buff, the proud locals lauded the baker as their king. Coincidentally, I enjoyed his chocolate with Le Bricheton bread the past fall in my hotel bed. A wonderful pairing! The secret is no longer, so I can share it with you. The multi-Michelin chef was impressed, nodding he will be back.
sourdoughreal croissant
French breadFrench baguette

Best baguette

The best golden crusted, white sourdough (au levain) baguette was brought to my attention by the legendary three Michelin starred chef Alain Passard, who loves the pain au levain sourdough loaf from Stéphane Henry. A discreet artisan boulanger in the not so trendy end of Canal St Martin, the only buyers are workers or residents from the area. I bought as much as my reusable cotton bag could carry. Soon, chewing on the sunshine crust with an airy mie center, I was smitten. I preferred it to the bien cuite hard crusty baguette traditionelle. Also their buttery, large, soft and fragile crusted croissant, chewed so moist that I will return! The sourdough (sliced upon request) surprisingly lasted for three days in my hotel room. Tasting great with the butter I got at Terroirs Sans Avenir, my favorite produce vendor. The cheesy olive, ham, tomato savoury rolls rival my other favourite bakery’s creations.

Best pain au chocolat

I have been indulging at Du Pain et des Idèes for years. Every journey by Eurostar stops over at the nearby boulangerie. North of Canal Saint Martin, this is now a hip area, ripe with artisan temptations. Their chocolatine pain au chocolat is my absolute winner. For more sweet delights still, the seasonal tarte finne – cherries in June, apricots in July, figs in August, while apples and pears are laid on the puff pastries in fall – are unmissable.

The croissants are too soft, bending like gummy bears and the twisted sacristians are too sugary for me, but a true sweet tooth will surely relish them. I am not a fan of their organic bread though, the pain des amis is most popular, but the savoury mini rolls fit perfectly into a paper bag to carry on a train or taxi ride. The organic goats cheese and spinach is my coup de coeur, while my husband is puff into the farm bacon with reblochon cheese and dried figs, also bio. I can never stop at one. Sublime!
Rue Du Turenne bakery

Best croissants

Croissants are a thorny theme for the Parisans, for everyone has his/her personal preference. The best croissant for me is the mini roll of perfect buttery layers that like my granny’s strudel peel off as you pull them with your horny fingers around. How fun! Like a child, most recently I relished in the two-horned cone’s perfection at a nearby green park. Nesting under a chestnut tree with a friend, it made our day. No leftovers for the always asking pigeons. A family business since 1859, Benjamin Turquier of RDT received the best croissant award in 2015, so expect a small snaky lane sticking its tail out of the tiny bakery on Rue Du Turenne. Using only AOP butter is costly, but simple baked pastries do not keep secrets – they shout the quality of the sparse ingredients inside! His chunky studded chocolate bread is only good when ultra fresh, while the pain au chocolat peels of like the croissant and is good, but does not reach the magnificence of Du Pain et des Idèes.
Le meuilleur croissaneFrench pastry

Best creative bread

Organic bakeries have sprung up with the ‘bio’ trend swiping over France. Some are rather amateurish, while others bake better and more creative breads than other “normal” boulangeries. The indulgent breads at De Belles Manières bakery in Paris are the most original and creative slices I have had the salivating pleasure trying. Their low gluten, red and white quinoa bread (Le Pain des Incas) matches cheese wonderfully, while their black olive slice is decadent on its own. Flat, shaped like a focaccia, the sourdough starter and abundant ancient grains inspire some of the flavours. Long and narrow, the pistachio and cranberry bread, with Emmental cheese-filled loaf, dried fruits, as well as the simple, perfectly baked spelt or rye and baguettes lure in the Marais crowd. Winning the best organic bread award recently stamps its appeal.
pain bio Paris
Patricia Wells, the renowned restaurant critic, for three decades Paris resident and author of The Foodlover’s Guide to Paris put it well: “Bread is life. It’s food that makes you feel good, feel healthy; food that goes well with everything”. Unless you are a cealiac, a quality, sourdough-based bread should not rise any regrets. I cannot more agree with her, writing: “The good French loaf is made with respect for the simple nature of the ingredients: wholesome, stone-milled wheat grown in France; a fresh sourdough starter (levain) or yeast (levure); pure water; and a minimum of salt.” The only extra touch in the creative, curious contemporary world is that the grains used expand beyond wheat, making eating bread perhaps even more exciting experience.

The best bakeries in Paris I selected use often organic, local ingredients, are all purely artisanal, do not have chains all over France and abroad, summed up, you must try them all on your next visit to the metropolis of fine food!


Best tea rooms in Paris selling their own tea

Paris tea culture has evolved tremendously over the past twenty years since I visited the enchanting French capital for the first time. Beyond the established commercial giants and the ‘historic’ Parisian maisons du thé, the new wave of authentic tea rooms welcome the tea curious. Here, you find quiet or an intimate conversation if you desire. Tea is my daily bread and I travelled the world to visit hundreds of tea rooms and shops, therefore I offer a global perspective while seeking local nuances.Paris tea

The best tea rooms for me NOW in Paris: authentic, boutique, quality, savoir-faire

For me, the best tea rooms now in Paris are all small in size, their owners are passionate about tea like authentic wine growers, still not commercially scaled, intimate, sustainably-minded, and offer specialist and personal advice.
My choices offer a substantially less touristy experience and their teas are top quality. Some are more creative, other purist, offering traditional teas in a contemporary designed tea room.

As most Asian businesses in Paris, these are also located in the triangle between the Marrais, Saint Germain and the Opera. I selected these not just for the quality of the tea, the staff’s knowledge, but also for their distinct atmosphere.

tea shop in Paris
ARTEFACT is perfect for newcomers as well as seasoned tea drinkers open to trying niche pure teas. Each tea is described by its aroma and characteristic taste, making any new choice easier. Artéfact also creates superb tea, fruit and herbal blends infusing them into the best iced tea I have tasted to date – based on black tea and fragrant flowers. From the pure teas, the hand-picked, directly sourced spring tea leaves of White Bud Puerh from Lincang in the Southern Yunnan Province of China delight with their floral sweet, deep resinous and malty taste. Each label on the loose leaf teas treats customers with transparency – from the exact sourcing, type of cultivar, production method and how to brew it for best result. Art exhibitions brighten the stone walls of the two floor boutique. 
MAISON DU THE PARISthe glacetea room in Paris

The duo behind KODAMA call themselves as “alchimistes infuseurs”. True to their ethos, you find the most interesting, while some very unusual blends named with a pinch of irony and perhaps even philosophy. Think Rehab Bio, La Vie Comme Elle Vient [Life as it goes], Tous les Chemins [All the paths], and the Sticky rice tea that I loved. The most popular in the heat of summer are the curated iced tea blends, in winter the chai latte warms you up. Yet, for me, the award winning master-roasted hojicha from Japan stroke the inquisitor’s mind. The whisky and cherry smoked ones a bit too much, but one-offs like this sparkle the cosy cocoon of Kodama. Colourful origami float above the tea bar, where daily fresh pastries seduce your sweet tooth or a rambling belly for a slice of cake. If the stools are not comfortable enough, snap the low tables at the back.

Kodama tea storeKODAMA

TERRE DE CHINE pioneered pure Chinese (including Taiwanese) teas brewed in traditional gong fu cha style, tasted (paid for unlike in most China) and sold with transparent labeling of the harvest month to authenticity seeking tea connoisseurs in Paris. For a quarter of a century the owner has educated parisians about tea terroir across China and proper preparation technique for each. From the well-known teas like Taiwanese easily pleasing oriental beauty oolong, floral elegant white teas from Fu Jian like Bai Hao Yin Zhen to single cru or top of the echelon rock teas and aged pu’er from Yunnan, the cradle of the tea plant, Terre de Chine is still one of the best tea rooms in Paris. Purist, no food is served and tea is the coup de coeur of conversation. There is a two seat bar and a few chairs along a table for the experience.

best tea in Paris CHINESE TEA IN PARIS

YAM’TCHA indeed is Yam. The name comes from Cantonese tea time with dim sum. Focused on well-known, top quality Chinese teas (white Silver Needles, legendary green Longjing, Tie Guan Yin oolong, Wu Yi rock tea, some raw – Sheng and ripened – Shou Pu’er, and others) plus baos and Chinese stuffed dumplings (dim sum). The fit is perfect and the minimalist, focused offer eases your mind into a pleasant state of tea’s magic. Impeccably curated by Hong Kong native husband of the Michelin starred French chef Adeline Grattard (of Netflix fame) whose restaurant is just around the corner. A dream couple! For the most calm time come either early or after the lunchtime rush. Must try is the melting English stilton bao, but the tofu-based vegetarian dim sum were great too.

Chinese tea in Paris

Chinese food in Paris 

JUGETSUDO is THE place in Paris for Japanese green tea. Zen your mind as the Japanese staff impeccably whisks a bowl of matcha at the massive wooden bar. As if I were in Tokyo. Just the design is more contemporary chic. Most of its green teas are now organic. The yuzu citrus flavoured series, seasonal spring cherry blossom scented sencha, roasted houjicha, and pastries by the celebrated Paris-based Japanese pastry chef Sadharu Aoki and Patisserie Tomo lure inside. Downstairs, rotating ceramics exhibitions, even an occasional tea ceremony ritual complement the cultural immersion. More recently, Jugetsudo succumbed to commercial opportunities. Collaborations with French chefs and candy manufacturers divert from the tea theme. Anne Sophie Pic created exotic flavoured tea blends, while Valrhona, the premium producer of professional chocolate, whipped up a matcha bar. I was hooked on the freeze-dried strawberries coated in matcha-infused white chocolate. Sampling great things is dangerous. The mutual French affair with Japonisme continues to bring in the country’s talent and established brands.

Japanese tea Parismatcha

The best tea rooms in the millennial Paris not only sell a wide range of top quality tea, but shield from the enrapturing city noise. Swarms of tourists grouped into disruptive formations, fuming buses, and the chic-pax smokers on cafe patios escaping offices and store entrances stalk your sense of wellbeing. Pollution, the scorching summer heat or the deep chills of winter, whip you indoors where either a warm embrace or a cup of refreshing iced tea provide comfort (read about What tea time can do for you).


Sola: modern kaiseki with French twist in Paris

Sola is an eclectic amalgam of French and Japanese cultures reflected in the gastronomic opus by talented young chef Kosuke Nabeta. Reopened after fire in 2017 the former Maison du Saké chef took over from Yoshitake Hiroki who returned back to Japan. They are both Japanese and chose Paris as the stage for their culinary performance.
 
Their grasp of the art de cuisine was awarded with the gastronomic Oscar – so far one michelin ‘macaroon’ (as the French cutely say), but they deserve more at least for the quality and flawless presentation of their food.
In a kaiseki spirit  the chef selects the best seasonal ingredients daily on the local market and then presents them to his customers in a consecutive multi-sensory gastronomic experience with an emphasis of balance in each dish. In nine-courses (dinner) the chef transforms his youth on to his refreshing and ingenious plates.
Open kitchen at Sola
Sola attracts throngs of Japanese customers relishing great food, the seal of approval for a good Japanese restaurant abroad. Sola was praised also by local insiders – Le Fooding recommendation brought me there. I hope that it remains more of a secret as it is already quite hard to get a dinner reservation there.
Foie gras with jelly, japanese mushrooms, chestnut creme
At Sola contemporary Japanese cuisine meets gastronomic French techniques and ingredients. Vegetarians detour, although they accommodate allergies and other requests such as forgoing pork. The chef goes daily to the market to select the freshest produce, highlighting also animal products. The nine-course dinner tasting menu always includes two fish courses and one meat. Two marvellous desserts conclude the indulgence. Lunch is a simpler affair served in six-courses.
It all starts with a small amouse-bouche and freshly baked, still warm, slices of baguette (very French), constantly replenished in a linen pouch on your table.
Rich foie gras was eased off with clear juicy jelly in a melange with Japanese mushrooms. An exquisite chestnut crème was winded up like soba noodles in a turban shape on the top. Two noodles of a truffle shaving and spring green leaf like glorious earrings on a beautiful face achieved perfection in one mouthful.
Seared tuna
Slightly smoked tuna freshened with red and white radishes and leafy greens. A creamy straciatella (heart of burrata) cheese and an egg yolk sauce played the roles of dips for the crunchy veggies. This magic rainbow of seemingly contrasting flavours created delicious harmony. A deep white Burgundy wine with good acidity added the final tone to the colourful rainbow.
Cooked oysters with sea emulsion
I rarely like oysters, but I am discovering the beauty of the sea mineral quality of these clammy shells. At Sola, the softly cooked oysters lost some of the unpleasant texture that the oyster plaintiffs disdain, becoming sturdier while remaining their delicate self. An added bubbly white seafood emulsion and rings of subtly grilled leeks bestowed depth and leafy roquette seasoned with a bitter tang.
Seared scallop
Still staying with white wine the next course of a seared scallop with amber-hued carrots, was artfully decorated like a modern painting with a stroke of white foam and carrot purée, a dot of thick balsamic vinaigrette in the centre of the earthenware and generous spritz of four-leaf clovers for good luck.
Seabass
More seafood came with a broiled crab bathing in savory butter and ponzu sauce, accompanied by raw potato spaghetti, all adorned with flowers and herbs. Another incredible dish that will linger in my food memory for weeks!
Seared bass with a smoky character as if it was cooked over an incense, was hiding under a forest of sautéed mixed greens, seaweed and yellow flower petals. A clear seaweed soup like a sun dwelled in the centre of the universe.
Broiled sole came next. Its flashy spine was leaning back as if it was stopping itself from jumping into the spicy milky sauce next to it. All over the fish lashed long fried onion strings adding depth and oily fullness, while grated and pickled yuzu skin brought zest and fruity quality. I had it instead of pork with shallots and delicate potatoes, that was on the menu that evening.
Broiled sole
Pre-desert was based on a juicy and fresh passion fruit sorbet with passionfruit marshmallow, sliced mini bananas, citrusy yuzu, rich white chocolate paste, palate brightening pineapple cubes, red peppercorn, baby sugary meringues, and all sprinkled gently with flower petals and mint leaf. Achieving harmony with so many ingredients is a heroic task.Dessert at Sola
The desert itself was superb vanilla bean ice cream sandwiched between a thick mouse of chocolate, a chunky cookie crumble and a thin soft sesame biscuit with fragile crispy cracker interspersed with cracked raw cocoa beans. Crunchy, creamy, crisp, all these textures mingled together in each wholesome bite. Roasted hojicha tea is best with this sweet treat.
Tea & macaroons
The Japanese sommelier assembled nice wine list. From French through Japanese koshu to good sake selection (Sola is owned by the Maison du Saké), good values but also pricey whales from Burgundy. Wine pairing for each course is also available. Sparking sake is fun to start with, while Japanese aged whisky concludes boldly a superb evening. I had a glass of mineral Puligny-Montrachet that complemented the seafood and fish dishes and red classic Bordeaux from the superb 2009 vintage with the desert. Not a flashy producer, but a great value for money.
I enjoyed a pot of tea from an established Japanese purveyor Jugetsudo. From the seven teas on offer, I chose Ao Hojicha – a superior green slightly roasted tea by the Aohoji method. Lower in caffeine than green teas and its elegant flavour readied me for bed. Delightful homemade lemon macaroons and chocolate buns were served complimentary.
Moulin de La Lagune AOC Medoc
The wooden beams adorned the former “Salle Francaise” dated from the 17th century feels like a chalet in the Alps. Now it is a sake bar.
Dining in the “Salons Japonais” designed for a shoe-less Japanese low seating in the basement vaulted cellar travels you even further – to Japan. Its monastic underground is romantic and mystic at once. Ideal for couples.
With these two very distinct faces, eating at Sola can last all night.
Sola Japanese salon
Valet parking assistance for dinner is available.
Closing: All august, 30. December – 7. January; Mondays and Sundays.
 12 Rue de l’Hôtel Colbert, 75005 Paris
+ 33 1 43 29 59 04; lunch + 33 9 65 01 73 68


CLOSED Nature Brute on the King’s table by Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée Paris

Barely touched nature in the three star restaurant by Alain Ducasse’s team at the Plaza Athénée hotel in Paris puts more sustainable dining on the luxurious plate. After a major refurbishment and concept change, Ducasse stars vegetables with a millennial touch at the eponymous Paris hotel. Like some of his three Michelin stared French colleagues, from Michel Guérard in the Landes, one of his culinary teachers, through the Paris-based Alain Passard, Ducasse also introduced his lighter culinary oeuvre in his vegetable and seafood centric tasting menu at the Plaza Athénée.

Naturalness, the “natural character of an element belonging to nature” conducts the subtle preparations that humbly respect the raw product. Created by Pierre Tachon, a cross between a fish and radish, the logo of the restaurant seals the veggie-focused deal.

Redefining luxury: vegetables from Jardin de la Reine (The Queen’s Garden)

The naturalist, vegetables celebrating menu is different from Passard’s more rustic take in his vegetarian tasting at L’Arpège. Ducasse’s take is more luxurious and attuned to the current tastes. Yet, at the Plaza Athénée restaurant, the chef redefines luxury.
Like at London’s Fera, no table clothes hide the artisan polished oak wood shining just under the fine porcelain and French earthenware introduced in sequential pampering by the waiters to entertain your palate. Passard’s organic gardens in the Eure and Sarthe regions have for decades supplied his menus, yet Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée sources from the royal soil at the Château de Versailles! A magic stroke of marketing genie for the chef, sure, but the produce is superior to an average potager.

At the former Marie Antoinette’s retreat Trianon and Grand Parc de Versailles, the vegetables are biodynamically farmed at one of the three gardens by Alain Baraton. Originally, these gardens were commissioned by the Queen to imitate the French village lifestyle. Highlighting the farmers and fishermen’s produce, the MENU GARDEN ~ MARINE consists of three half dishes, cheeses and dessert. Some are vegetarian plates in their nature, but mentioning any dietary restrictions is highly advisable since bacon is Ducasse’s go to seasoning for vegetables and wild, sustainably caught seafood is included in this sea meets the soil menu. For €390 this is a festive epicurean journey. 

The menu is presented only in French, but online you can find some hints. Still, daily, small adjustments introduce surprise dishes, so let it flow, but any request will be accommodated, including gluten-free pastry and purely vegetarian meals.

Dining at the Plaza Athénée on the World Environment Day, I went for a purely vegetarian tasting menu. Handpicked from the regular offerings, I started with delicately cooked seasonal Vegetables from Château de Versailles, beeswax, dandelion, buckwheat and continued with Hemp seeds, brown and blond morels and green asparagus cooked in Ducasse’s signature ceramic “cookpot” with a creamy morel sauce poured over to finish on the table, like the other most broth or saucy dishes. The best though came in-between. An off the menu vegetarian course of Primeurs of green peas and broad beans in “cassolette” with romaine lettuce velouté (velvety butter, flour and stock sauce). So satisfying, intensely concentrated, crisp green yet mouth filling with oomph creaminess – perfectly balanced.

Charred beans at Alain Ducasse restaurant

If the rare La Bonnotte de Noirmoutier young potatoes appear on the menu (between 7th and 20th May), they are a must order. This delicate, hand-picked varietal is not just the most expensive potato cultivated today, but the fresh chestnut resembling round tuber was for the first time grown outside the famed French island in the Versailles gardens for Ducasse at Plaza Athénée. Not all is grown there though. The Puy lentils and other coveted French legumes, citruses, Hautes-Pyrénées peanuts and grains may grace the menu. The unexpected combination of Volcanic hill green lentils with a smooth farmed Chinese caviar by Kaviari, highlighted simplicity of the lentils converging in a sublime unison with the precious caviar. For self-defined gourmets the hand-picked Chickpeas form Hautes-Alpes mountains, sturgeon marrow bone and golden caviar.

Tanahashi-san, a shojin cooking specialist (shojin ryori is vegan cooking in traditional Buddhist temples in Japan) consulted for Alain Ducasse, who confessed in an interview with Laurent del Porte: before the chef, there was nature. It’s nature that dictates the menus, and the talent of the chef consists in a form of self-effacement in order to exalt the true taste of what nature intended to give us. “ Such are the words of the mature and well-respected chef.

Healthy produce trilogy: fish, vegetables and cereals at the Plaza Athénée

The head chef Romain Meder brings Ducasse’s naturalness philosophy to life at the Plaza Athénée with his creative but respectful zeal. Like in the healthful Mediterranean diet he is encouraged to use France washing wild fish and organic ancient grains like the red corn from the Basque region, Khorasan wheat, buckwheat, and other nutrient-dense plants grown by small scale farmers. A fibre rich Psyllium husk is also used either as flour or additionally to some naturally gluten free flours. The seeded rice and psyllium bread served as the centrepiece in the bread service alerts deliciously that a naturally gluten-free loaf can be perfectly moist and crunchy as we like it.
Wild Atlantic fish at Alain Ducasse at Plaza AthénéeAlain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée restaurant

The Atlantic sea bass, white asparagus and almond milk of my friends was the most disappointing plate for the stellar price tag (€140), yet despite of it being slightly boring, the fish was good enough to enjoy. The nut milk did not pay the best service to the sustainably caught bass. A fishmonger Gilles Jégo supplies seasonally the diverse line-caught species that are every morning freshly delivered from the small boats cruising on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The Cotentin blue lobster, shellfish eggs emulsion and turnips was another game. Succulent, tender and light while generous, contrasts worked here.

For some tradition nostalgia, U stocafi à la monégasque brought Ducasse’s early success in Monaco to the menu’s consciousness. Any seafood can be also prepared in its simplest naturality, and meats upon request sate the wild spirited.

A bit of naughtiness to finish…

The cheese is served in two platings. A duo of by the chef picked cheeses at first, and later if you wish a carefully selected French cheese trolley rolls in for you to indulge your passion for artisan dairy. I requested a slightly oxidised Vin Jaune from the Jura region to be served with my cheese plate, and the sommelier happily poured some of the well aged Vin d’Arbois into my glass.
To a sweet finish, the desserts are in a contemporary fashion light except for the extra off-the menu treat of the classic Baba au Rhum, the traditional French sponge cake soaking in a prime quality rum. My Lemon picked in Nice area, kombu seaweeds with tarragon was refreshingly citrusy but the lemon sorbet was a bit too sweet, but he Burlat cherries from Lizac, pesto and watercress of my husband were exquisite. Simple while being originally flavoured with the savoury green pesto, a hit! Now chocoholics beware since the Alain Ducasse chocolate Manufacture creates extraordinary luxuriant cocoa delicacies specifically for the Plaza Athénée restaurant. After some quite good morsels of dark chocolate covered rice crisps, the gold of the Maya pops on the dessert menu as Chocolate from our Factory, toasted barley, cocoa and single malt sherbet. The whisky addition attracted our Chinese friend, yet she was disappointed not to trace much of the flavour of her favourite spirit (whisky) in it. Still, the best was the most natural plate of the night – the giant Versailles grown raspberries served in a bowl with their stems by the finale of our grand dinner. I just should not have to be paying the triple digit meal for all of it, well the atmosphere counts.

The wine list at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée Paris is not as extensive as at the most established three Michelin stared restaurants across France, yet many treasures take the stage like our favourite Châteauneuf du Pape, the rare Château Rayas. Not everything from the cellar is available. Mostly the wines that are ready to drink, while the rest is being cellared until the sommelier decides to price them. These have “e.v” instead of the price on the list. The wines are classified by their generation in the “Celebration” picks – 10, 15 to 55 years age according to the harvest vintage while À l’apogée (at the peak) is a selection of wines at full maturity. The sommelier will exclusively attend to the hull shaped Table Cabane table, where the Bordeaux know-how is the focus of the vinous indulgence. Jacket is required for gentlemen, so ladies pull your best robe out!
 Plaza Athénée Hotel, 25 Avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris
+ 33 1 53 67 65 00
 Lunch: Thursday & Friday: 12:30 pm – 2:15 pm
Dinner: Monday – Friday: 7:30 pm – 10:15 pm
ANNUAL CLOSURE Friday 21st July after lunch to Monday 28th August included. Friday 22nd December after lunch to Saturday 30th December inclusive.


Toyo: refined Japanese gastronomy meets rare ingredients in Paris

A simple, yet fine entrance to Toyo in Paris announces the humble Japanese attitude that permeats the entire dining experience at the restaurant. Welcomed by a clean, sombre painting of the chef working a fish (perhaps a giant red mullet), a gift of the respected fashion designer Kenzo, who employed him as his personal chef for many years, you get a well-lit hint that style is well considered here. We became the pilgrims to Toyo’s kitchen during our bi-annual fashion trip to Paris.
Toyo gastronomic restaurant in Paris
The signature style here is not about glamour, as Toyo’s interior represents rather understated fashion, but it is the precise tailoring of each plate that catch your sartorially sensitive eye. It helps, that Toyo’s chef Toyomitsu Nakayama is a former private chef of the renown Japanese fashion designer. This experience surely inspired him to serve his dishes in a dressy style, in their edible eloquence capturing the hungry eye.
You will be ushered into the first open room to the left, along the narrow kitchen counter seatings upon the right turn or if you reserve the private room at the back, you will pass the behind-the-bar kitchen activities. Most guests respect the almost monastic environment, still on some nights it can get very chit-chaty at the kitchen counter. Monday is the night of the more pronounced Japanese tasting menu, and the entire restaurant as well as the secluded private seating tend to be occupied by the many devote Japanese fans of top cooking. Mr Nakayama’s cooking is a secret gem in Paris.
Our seat is almost always at the bar as we love to observe the focused hands of the chefs behind the counter and wonder at their precise skills. The head chef is often there, and in a zen-like calmness directs all the kitchen’s activities.
Veal carpaccio
Using superb rare ingredients available on the Paris markets, Japanese specialist purveyors, and then morphing them into an œuvre d’art of creative perfection, is the philosophy of Toyo. Posted on the edges of the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse, the restaurant also pays respect to the flagship French ingredients. The entire Japanese team turns them precisely into delectable small portions, that feature on the regular menu apart from the Japan-centric Monday.
On one ocassion, the first starter of a quartet of vegetal kingdom-inspired bites included a bowl of consommé de volatile en gelée – a poultry consommé in a jelly – contrasting with the crunchy vegetables such as the purple taro and lotus chips and the char grilled roots. There is no English menu, so I am adding the French originals for your ease.
Tapas facon Toyomitsu Nakayama
Flan de soja et Caviar
The cooking reflects the year’s seasons, but generally the chef uses generously several species of mushrooms and fresh herbs next to the fleshy fish and seafood. He also retouches the French staple ingredients such as foie gras, veal or beef and presents them in a new, much lighter form. Both, chopsticks and the Western cutlery assist with these dishes.
Toyomitsu’s craft is a refined blend of French and Japanese cooking skills and ingredients, randomly perfumed with luxurious delicacies such as caviar. Adding extra €15 to the fixed dinner menu (€95) brings in the exquisite Flan de soja with Caviar. The flan is more decadent than most of the other plates. To tame it’s fatty texture, sip on a white wine with a high acidity such as Riesling. The softness of the caviar gently popping in your mouth becomes even more smooth when combined with the custardy texture of the flan.
Japanese appetiser at Toyo in ParisSmoked eel salad with cod fish at Toyo
soufle
A French white bread served with butter reminds you that you are not at one of the Tokyo’s sushi or kaiseki restaurants, but in Paris, where the bread is always fresh, crunchy on the surface and sticky inside. Our amouse bouche was a fresh and light Salade d’anguille fumée et Brandade de Morue. A daring plate of a smoked eel salad with salted cod that was not as challenging as it sounds, but sublimely delicate.
chef Toyomitsu Nakayama
My second starter the Saint Pierre juste brûlé spoke the Mediterranean language – drizzled with olive oil, a side of chopped olives ‘tapenade’ and a John Dory fish cooked very carefully so its white flakes remained tender. Most of the plates are finished behind the bar counter, so it is fun to sit there and experience the show of culinary tricks. The Bar en Croute de Sel et d’herbes is one of the chef’s specialities. It is usually prepared only for two people, but when possible it can be made for one. The bass is cooked in a green-coloured herb salt crust that is cracked and the fish is deboned in front of you. The sea bass like the John Dory could match up to the best Mediterranean preparations.
Contemporary Japanese cuisinepigeon
My partner relishes the Carpaccio de Veau, the veal carpaccio sourced from the best butcher in Paris, Hugo Desnoyer. This young cow meat is the pinnacle of the chef’s mastery. The tenderest veal was served on another occasion on a morsel of a Japanese eggplant during one of the Japanese Mondays, and I was immediately in the game for meat at Toyo. Another plate, a fried pan-crusted beef, just stirred my appetite for flash. In a style of a izakaya, the tempura-like Filet de boeuf pané, was hearty yet focused. Pigeon is not my kind of bird, but my husband took to the adventure. Entrusting his taste buds to the chef was rewarded with a perfectly Grilled pigeon served unconventionally with a moon of lime and soy sauce.
First main plate Coques, asperges sauvages et Champignons
The fairy lightness of the previous courses carried along the Coques, asperges sauvages et Champignons, perhaps the most artistically enchanting plate for me. In it, wild branches of crunchy asparagus refreshed the unshelled, playfully chewy shellfish and the assortment of forest mushrooms crowned the culinary creation with an earthy depth and clarity. The mushrooms were seared to perfection as a tepanniaki in front of us.
Yet another signature dish of the restaurant is the rich Curry façon Toyo et Lotte Panée, a monkfish curry. The chef decided to underline the strength of the meaty fish with a concentrated curry sauce. A red wine pairing (Bordeaux, Rhone) is on call, but an intensely flavoured oaky Chardonnay or a spicy Gewurtztraminer work just fine.
Sorbet Gorgonzola
fruit salad
The desserts are mostly airy light, and fit into the tightest belts. Sorbet Gorgonzola concluded our first gastronomic night at Toyo with fireworks. The savoury yet sweet blue cheese sorbet combined with pecan nuts and fried parmesan cheese crisps was richly creamy, and at the same time less heavy than a regular cheese plate. Wonderlicious! A Peach soup with refreshing ice-cream was another summer sweet treat, while the custardy Green Tea Tiramisu, delicate yet thick, served with berries on the side, called for a cup of tea. An intense dessert for Toyo!
If you dine at Toyo often you might get bored by the repetitiveness of many of his plates, yet there is often a little tweak in each dish and that familiarity played with a new seasonal tune is intriguing for any sophisticated foodie paying attention to small details. I got his cookbook, attempting to emulate his artful plates at home in the Mediterranean, yet the mastery of Toyomitsu Nakayama is hard to match, so most of my plates were vague messengers of his attentive cooking style. Further the art of plating implements Japanese aesthetics, a slight organic tweak may surprise your perfection seeking eye, just do not forget to spoon the food out and put it in your mouth where it belongs, not on a canvas..
Kumquat infusion at ToyoToyo restaurant in Paris
There are some nice champagnes to elevate your mood, but the Shaman by Marguet we were recently poured was a pleasant unsettler. A great start. The wine list is focused on French bottles, but the choice is sufficient. There are three whites and three reds by the glass that are chosen well to match the dishes on a given night. The sommelier is passionate, always a good sign to trust his choices. The bottle we love is the red Burgundy Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “La Perrière” by Philippe Pascalet. I hope they have a large supply of this savoury an light Pinot as the Beaune by the same producer is much bigger to match the finesse of the chef’s cooking. The Savigny les Baune 1er cru is not a bad option either. Still, any Burgundy will do.
French wine
Japanese award-winning whisky Yamazakesaké and tea from the popular Japanese purveyor present in Paris – Jugetsudo – complement the drink selection for the less vinous population. A homemade Kumquat, ginger and lemon infusion was served at the end of the meal of the Monday Japanese tasting once, and we adored the preserved sweet kumquat in our cup, that I couldn’t resist to eat after drinking all the liquid. Toyo inspired me to make it at home.
 17, rue Jules Chaplain, Paris 6ème.
 + 33 1 43 54 28 03.


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