For afternoon tea in Paris, the iconic Angelina’s is the place to be – much more than a simple patisserie or tearoom, Angelina is a luxury brand with a prestigious image that symbolises the “French Way of Life”. It is an iconic institution that has been serving up perfect pralines and pastries for over a decade. The original tearoom located on Rue de Rivoli is still as it was all those years ago, decorated in true Belle Epoque style. Opulent and Versailles-like, you can just imagine writers, poets, artists, fashion designers and fabulous people of the day sitting in that room. So sitting down to enjoy their signature dishes after a full morning of art and impressionism appreciation at Musée d’Orsay was like being transported back to the jazz age. We ordered the two signature dishes – the Mont Blanc and the hot chocolate “L’Africain” (see Boissons below). The Mont blanc combines meringue, light whipped cream and chestnut cream vermicelli. Although not my favourite (it was too sweet for my taste buds) the tearoom sells up to 600 everyday!
Angelina’s is such an icon they have locations all over Paris including Versailles. Of course walking around richly decorated palatial rooms and endless manicured gardens calls for coffee o’clock and cake…and the Tarte Fruits Rouges was the perfect sweet treat! Plump and luscious raspberries and strawberries sat in wonderfully tangy-sweet red berry coulis atop a crumble-like pastry and almond cream. Light, refreshing and delicious it’s my top Angelina’s pick!
Another tearoom location is within the shopping haven of Galeries Lafayette – right behind the luxury designer women’s wear section on level 1. After a solid 5 hours of shopping (the details of which you can read about in my past post) one needs to refuel. We ordered the Babylone – lusciously bright red and cylindrical in form it looked exactly like a giant marshmallow…and indeed it had the same texture and flavour of a giant marshmallow! A light sweet mousse filled the inside, which was just like eating mallow fluff, but then you hit a mouthful of the wonderfully tart raspberry confit jelly in the middle and it took on another dimension. My only grievance would be that there wasn’t enough raspberry jelly.
Two words. Pure. Bliss. I now know what all the fuss is about. After thinking that macarons were overrated (way too sweet, crumbly and nothing to be wowed over), Pierre Hermé has shown me the light! He is the Monet of macarons and master of flavour combinations. Gooey, oozing filling encased in a perfectly crisp outer shell that simply melted away the moment it touched the tongue? Yup, Hermé nails it. Each round disc of colour was pure heaven. And oh the flavours! After the kind lady in the Rue de Cambon store took the time to elaborate on each flavour in the cabinet (despite the long queue forming behind us) we decided on a 6 pack made up of Jardin Merveilleux (olive oil with mandarin orange and cucumber water and the flavour of September), Infiniment Caramel (caramel with fleur de sel, otherwise known as salted caramel), Mogador (passionfruit and milk chocolate), Arabesque (apricot and crushed pistachio), Envie (vanilla, lime and blackcurrant) and the Veloute Framboise (yoghurt and raspberry). To pick a favourite would be impossible. The flavour of the month was so complex it was like unwrapping a gift for the palate, beginning with the cleansing cucumber in the first few bites, then moving through to a hit of intense mandarin essence and ending with a green olive oil note. The combination of a tart raspberry coulis centre (which tasted so fresh as though it has just been plucked from the bush) and a sweet vanilla yoghurt outer shell was just divine…and the signature passionfruit and milk chocolate was just irresistible! Zingy pops of passionfruit biscuit intertwined with a smooth chocolate centre. I don’t think I can ever eat another macaron again unless it’s a Pierre Hermé creation. This is THE Mimi must if ever you find yourself in Paree.
I may be bias as it was “our local” but Au petit Versailles du Marais boulangerie-pâtisserie served up the most incredible early morning croissants fresh out of the oven. A crispy, flakey shell encased the lightest, fluffiest pastry, which was enjoyed simply with French butter and a “petit” smear of framboise confiture (which they also sold in adorable mini pots).
However, our hotels in the south of France didn’t fail to disappoint on the croissant front either. At the Hôtel Montmorency in Carcassonne the locally sourced and produced pastries again just melted in the mouth and were savoured with wonderfully interesting jams – think white peach and violet fig. And at Hôtel La Residence in Narbonne they were baked fresh on site every morning. You could taste the love!
Hidden Gems…and even Chanel
There’s nothing better than moseying down side streets and popping up somewhere other that where you expected and then stumbling across treasures all the same. On this moseying occasion through the 1er and 2er arrondissements of Paris, Mama and I came across the most incredible pâtisserie – La Bague de Kenza. With their sugary delights displayed on round cascading tiers behind a glass casing, it was like stepping into a biscuit gallery. Everything was adorable and in miniature…and made fresh on site. Mama simply stood there and without taking her eyes off the little cakes before us she remarked, “Well, I think we just have to buy something because of the gorgeous factor don’t we?” Too right mother. In true Mimi and Mama style we asked what just about everything was – luckily the assistant was more than happy to oblige – and then settled on the recommended pine nut, olive oil and mandarin ball, which was both moist and interesting in flavour and texture (think gooey, cake-y centre with a crunch from the outer layer of pine nuts) and a mini cake dubbed “The Chanel” – a 3 layered biscuit of pistachio, marzipan and rosewater. Not as tasty as its counterpart but worth buying just for the fact it looked like a mini quilted Chanel 2.55 complete with pink glitter icing.
I can’t explain it but the crêpes in Paris are just better. Made fresh to order and served steaming off the hotplate I could have easily put away a crêpe a day. The BEST crêpe I had the pleasure of devouring in Paris was in Montmartre from a tiny hole-in-the-wall vendor with a plain black and white sign emblazoned “CREPERIE” adorning the arbor. It’s located at the far end of Rue des Abbesses (away from the Sacré-Cœur) and the adorable man serving puts some serious love and attention into the preparation of his crêpes. My banana and Nutella crêpe received some extra TLC as he sliced a whole banana (perfectly yellow and just ripe) into thin slivers and spread the slices evenly across one half, smeared just the right amount of Nutella on the other and let it crisp just ever so slightly before gently folding it into quarters. I have never seen anyone make something with such care! And you could certainly taste the difference – the crêpe itself was wonderfully spongey with crunchy edges and warm banana and chocolate simply oozed between the layers. It was the perfect antidote to the seriously chilly weather that was sweeping down the hill of Montmartre. I can’t take all the credit for this discovery though as the recommendation came from my friend Jo who had just spent the past year living and loving the 18er arrondissement.
Two more crêpe-worthy experiences included a very French version with crème de marrons (a sweet chestnut purée paste) from a vendor at the Bastille markets and the classic lemon and sugar combination from Le Côté Pub in the heart of Narbonne (the lemon juice had a wonderful sweet verbena essence to it).
In France I found my Muscat addiction. It was clearly love at first taste at Au Bourgnat (just down a little side street from Norte Dame), where Mama and I enjoyed a pre-dinner aperitif. The French Muscat grape is made to make sweet fortified vins doux naturels and can be served as an aperitif or dessert wine. Lucky for me it was a specialty of the southern regions so I proceeded to order this marvellous, sweet, liqueur-like creation as my drink of choice for the remainder of our French journey. Although be warned: to have more than one in a sitting is asking for it…
With a few very chilly days in Paris the only remedy was of course to order a hot chocolate. And Angelina’s signature “L’Africain” hot chocolate, or chocolat chaud is THE BEST. Served in beautiful white and gold trim china I poured the thick, glossy steaming liquid into a teacup and was mesmerised by the gleaming rich brown cascade of fluid as it rippled into the teacup. A mixture of milk and dark chocolate it comes served with a pot of cream (I suppose to help neutralize the intensity of the chocolat chaud…but why would you want to do that??). This is THE item to order on the menu if you’re going for afternoon tea and there’s enough of a bite in the air to justify a pot of hot liquid gold.
Compliments to le Chef
Le Flagrant des Lices Carcassonne
It may come as a surprise but only on occasion did Mama and I actually manage to make it to the dessert menu when dining out (usually we were so full of Vin and bread and our mains that there simply wasn’t enough room!). By the time we reached Carcassonne we had our portion sizes down to a fine art and could enjoy multiple courses. The first we enjoyed was a marvelous tarte tartin from Le Flagrant des Lices. Thin slices of sweet but still slightly acidic baked apple were layered on a moist golden base, which was finished with a perfect caramelized top. Accompanying it was wonderful creamy glace, which evoked childhood memories of eating Allen’s “Milko Chews”. It was a match made in heaven!
The other memorable dessert was from the fabulous L’escargot in Carcassonne’s medieval cite. After our incredible traditional French meal (details here!) we simply couldn’t resist the Flambéed Pineapple Carpaccio served up with a luscious, tangy house-made lime sorbet. Paper-thin slivers of pineapple rings were fanned on the plate swimming in fresh lime and cardamom juice (which added a peppery zing!) with the sorbet balanced on top. Très délicieux!
Something to finish
Sometimes you just need a little something sweet to nosh after a main meal. Of course you’ve read about my Berthillion glacé experience – the go to glacé institution in Paris – and when you’re bombarded with flavour choices you simply cannot go past Noisette for the creamy inclined or the Cassis for those who prefer something with a refreshing zing. However, other interesting flavours worth giving a go (tried and tasted at a local café in Lourdes) would be liquorice and the traditional marron purée. Both were just that little bit more “out-of-the-ordinary” and not what you expected. For starters the liquorice was not black but a medium shade of brown…neither were too sweet or rich and there were wonderful swirls or of intense aniseed and huge chunks of real chestnut throughout.
In Carcassonne there is a fabulous artisan confectioner L’art Gourmand in which we discovered wall-to-wall glacé fruits, chocolate dipped biscuits, pralines, truffles and fudge and blocks of traditional nougat the size of your head. The perfect place to pick up some after dinner choccies to enjoy with a cup of lime or verbena tea. Our choices included chocolat noir aux amandes, a creamy decadent marron truffe and a marvellous dark chocolate mirabelle liqueur which balanced sweet and tart perfectly. Luckily chocolate bliss can also be found on just about every corner throughout Paris!
So there you have it – all my favourite sweets encountered throughout France! What’s your guilty pleasure?