Paris? il Encombre Toujours mon Cœur*
The city of light still charms and delights with untouched corners and family run eateries but the dull hand of gentrification still hangs over Paris
Column by Trevor Pickett
Paris is my spiritual home, though I should ‘fess up to a soft spot for Athens (one should never have historic regrets and I don’t). I would love an apartment in the roof of a Parisian building – one used to hanker after the Rue de Rivoli, but now anywhere in the 9th arrondissement would be ideal.
This trip happened almost by accident, it was totally unplanned and spontaneous. My Parisian friend booked what he thought was my favourite watering hole, the Bistrot 22 (Rue des Capucines, 75002 Paris), but he had not. I have a new one for the list – Le Petit Vendôme – so that was tomorrow’s lunch venue sorted and as I am with my team they will be pleased we are going to the Bistrot on Saturday it’s on to Popeille on Place du Marché Saint-Honoré.
The Le Petit Vendôme is an over-crowded café, I guess as I remember in the 1980s like that of Patisserie Valerie and Café Italia, it had energy and was totally buzzing with bustling tables. We were so cheek by jowl to your neighbour, it was like we were sitting at one table of six. We had a high spirted chap next to us who began long chats about Lyon where my host had just arrived from. Our new friend’s entrée was the most enormous assiette charcuterie – I gasped at the plateau and he promptly shared 20 per cent of it with me and my host. Our Fois Gras looked paltry but delicious to his cornucopia of cold meat, however my steak tartare was perfect. Of course, the staff were Parisian chic and charming in a natural way that I like, most Brits don’t understand you kill with being polite trying to speak the language and they soften like butter.
So I guess Paris is my second home… I find the similar spaces, bistros and cafes just have a very distinct feel. You are spoilt for choice wandering around the street, be it for a light snack or more indulgent OTT blow out you can find the perfect restaurant – with not a chain eatery in sight. For small, intimate one-off bistros and brasseries, Paris really does have eating out well sussed.
It was suggested by Harriet that this month has a Paris theme, as we have been at the twice-yearly visit for the collections. With my love of the city and a couple of days on at the start of the trip bit for a bit of research and some culture visits, she felt it a perfect subject for March or April. It’s a change of scene for me. In Paris I shop but never go browsing per se, as shopping is a serious activity. Heading to BHV, it seems mad to buy the basics but you find light bulbs, lamp shades and library lights like you can’t find over here – not forgetting the paint (laquer not gloss mind). It’s pricy but worth getting the result on the front door. I never understand why the JL partnerships don’t visit to see what shopping’s actually about; it does remind me of what Peters Jones basement was like prior the atrium when it had a selection of items that had a use and a purpose.
Over the last 30 years we have usually stayed on the east side of Paris – 1 eme, then 6 eme, as we prefer neighbourhood areas with a local village feel. A few stays on Avenue Gabrielle next to the Elysees Palace was grand and due to the location very wrapped up in cotton wool, Paris 8 or 16 are the traditionally more bourgeois. Now the city is spreading, as has London, there are more global international and luxury fashion brands in the areas that once felt like homely and residential with shops selling groceries and everyday items. I guess rather like Knightsbridge and Chelsea have changed, so we have decamped to the borders of Paris 70009 which is on the edge of Paris 70002, and is a bit edgier with a Soho vibe. However, three trips ago I noticed a wind of dramatic changes in the area – with a few of the independent stores having closed and the ‘A Vendre’ signs appearing on others, so we thought we should share this hidden treasure that will soon be over gentrified and homogenised like the Northcote Road.
One of the attractions for me in 70009 that has always been still worth a wander through, are the ‘Passages’ – Des Panoramas, Jouffroy & Verdeau. They have the flavour of Burlington, Piccadilly, Princes and, the now gone, Brompton Arcade. With an air of Old Bond Street (20 or more years ago), it is full of individual vendors that sell curios, umbrellas and toys with art galleries and antiquarian bookshops, as well as gifts and jewellery stores. These narrow walkways are also dotted with the odd cafe or bistro, with their slightly worn floors, dusty upper storeys and simple glazed roofs giving it a simpler feel, but the grandeur is still apparent with a faded charm, and now a couple of the more sophisticated restaurants have appeared, with a Michelin starred restaurant sitting rather incongruously in this environment. An M&S simply food has disastrously taken over an expanse of shop fronts and we don’t have the time to venture to the Follies Bergere even though it is just a street away from our hotel…
Hotel Opera Drourot – this hotel is a gem of a find five years ago, which is in the perfect location and was just being restored. It’s part of Best Western, the English are put off by this, yet it has a lovely boutique hotel feel about it and offers value and the crisp clean linen is very welcome after a day of walking Paris. My favorite rooms are on the top floor which are small (very) I will not give you the number – but must be forgiven for their size as they have the best views over Paris with the Eiffel tower twinkling on the hour and you can just see the statue on the top of the Palais Garnier. Across the road from the hotel is Café Comete on Faubourge Montremart so we start the day naturally with a croissant. Gavroche on rue de Marc joined the dinner list when we were at the last season’s collections, another inside tip from my great friend Denys Laroche.
The newest cultural centre to have opened last autumn 2015 it is the Gehry creation – the new building is the home of Foundation Louis Vuitton. As all his works are impressive and majestic, the layout is clever – working on an evolution of the inside and outside. There are spaces you navigate naturally around and discover all the different rooms with a sense of enquiry and discovery. So even if ultra-modern art is not your bag, the building is worth visiting and at the moment there are a series of sound and video installations – very cutting edge! Sadly, by the time this is published the MOMA NYC loan exhibition will have closed; it must be to prompt the Museums Renovation and Expansion Project of the 57st building FLV which is the perfect location and backdrop for this capsule exhibition of MOMO’s collection – rather fitting in such a new fresh space.
New last season to the cultural palaces of the city, the Musee YSL is small, focused and perfectly formed, the curation is detailed and it’s about Yves Saint Laurent the man – not diluted by a back catalogue of clothes. The celebration of YSL – he is one of, if not, the greatest designers of the second part of the 20th Century working with the fabric house Abraham Ltd and the embroiderer Lesage. You see his eye for detail bringing together all the fabric and trimmings – from pencil and paper to the catwalks of haute couture and ready to wear (YSL’s rive gauche) YSL had truly remarkable skill.