For TIM MAGEE, there is no place quite like Paris in the spring. And 24 hours is all you need to whet your appetite for more
This day last year I was truffling around the steaming street stalls in a snowy Tokyo. This day next week me and my tummy are bound for the sunny dining one-upmanship of Sydney and Melbourne. Twelve months of alternating circuits of Ireland with overseas all-hauls has meant New York for each season, lots of London, tackling various capitals both European and elsewhere. I’ve grazed and lazed in the small corners and big beaches of Spain and Portugal. And what I have learned? To get over myself and stop moaning about travel for a start. Unpacking three times a week might feel like too much but what if it all ended? And if it was about to end, what would be my very last trip?
Would it be hitting replay on something from last year? Choosing one of the wedding cake tiers of Prague, Vienna or Budapest. Eating my way around Istanbul or Bologna. A long haul to the toasty awning of Palm Springs’ winter sky. A last swim in the half moon bay nestling between the Pitons in St Lucia, or one last blast of South Beach’s candy striped neon? Would I wonder why I didn’t spend more time in Beirut or Mexico and head back there? Probably not. In reality, it would take me all of 30 seconds to decide. Because my bucket list would be a list of one. It was my first ever grown-up overseas trip, and it would be my last. It would be Paris all day long.
The most feminine of cities, Paris is not really maternal but one big bossy bird that is spectacularly beautiful, and knows it. So sexy too – to me even the Eiffel Tower looks like a bodiced national monument to Agent Provocateur. The city of light’s lighthouse is practically the only pointy edge among Haussmann’s soft timeless greys and black curves.
I wouldn’t have to go for long. An overnight will do. This isn’t a list of must-dos because Paris has too many of those, just a taster. And a taster is all you ever need of Paris – enough to remind you how good it is, and just enough to leave you hungry for more.
The most feminine of cities, Paris is not really maternal but one big bossy bird that is spectacularly beautiful, and knows it.
Paris rules my heart but my belly rules that, so arrive around midday, in time for lunch. And arrive hungry, really hungry. My first stop straight off the plane – bags and all – is to Brasserie Lipp, an institution as touristy as it is local. Yes, it boasts an older all-male cast but the devil is in the detail in this town and these silver servers are the least aloof in the city. They actually smile and engage while covering nearly every inch of your pristine bijou linen-topped table with oysters, Crémant, garlicky snails, and the crowning but affordable glory and comfort of choucroute garnie, God’s own bacon and cabbage. Passing through Brasserie Lipp in Saint-Germain-des-Prés is like passing through a carwash and arriving out the far side feeling like you’ve been in-country for a week. Sated, and Parisian again, jump one of the taxis outside the door to the Marais, and Les Bains.
Les Bains has some work to do with its service – the hotel is still taking some of its hospitality nods from nightclubs like the one it used to be in a former life, when it was seminal, star-pulling Les Bains Douches, the Paris equivalent of Studio 54. But the quiet internal rooms are beautifully finished, and some of the peaceful little oases have tiny private courtyards and balconies, like gold hens’ teeth in the Mara.
After check-in, wander to Place des Vosges where on the corner of the square is Ma Bourgogne. Ma’s best kitchen days may be behind her; though the saucisson chaud du Beaujolais is still good, but this remains a front row seat to one of the city’s most sacred hides. Then return to base for a power nap.
If you have the time and money go to L’Arpège for dinner. It is France’s most important restaurant. L’Arpège might be French for “So you think you know something about food?” as Alain Passard is as much a futurist as a chef. A relaxed Jedi chef, his edible lesson on vegetables, flavour and laid-back but extraordinary service is as good as anywhere on this planet.
If you don’t have the funds or the hours for L’Arpege (or just couldn’t be bothered with getting into a taxi) then walk around the corner from Les Bains to the darling Poulette. Poulette is one room with a zinc bar, a tiled and tiny Belle Époque belle that is as cheap as chips, has the sweetest staff and is always rammed. Try to nab one of the tiny window seats to watch the street drama. The last time I was there one side of me was wall-to-wall Parisians all eating the same perfect steak frites while through the window was a gorgeous rainy, blurry street scene.
After a coffee only breakfast and morning mooching in the Musée D’Orsay, checking that all is present and correct with one of the greatest art collections in the world, check out and head with your bags to Antoine Westermann’s temple of chicken, Le Coq Rico. This spot couldn’t be in a better place for an overnighter to Paris, waiting patiently at the top of Rue Lepic on one of Montmartre’s steep hills to break the journey on the way back to the airport. It’s the most romantic and delicious departure lounge anywhere. A modern-looking bistro with the oldest of restaurant ideas, perfect roast chicken, in the city that invented the notion of a restaurant.
This column has covered the French capital a few times, forever smitten with its Marian blue and Farrow and Ball grey skies and its cartoon rooftops, always admiring the foresight of the man who designed its centre and the resilience of those who live in it. It’s been gut wrenching to watch the last year. Even though it all took place over a couple of days, Paris hasn’t endured anything as fearful since Hitler took the city, but that didn’t change its way of life and neither will this.
Savouring the last of the Le Coq Rico’s masterclass I’d have all of the same thoughts as my first time in Paris 25 years ago – mostly how do they make chicken taste this good? – I’ll head to the airport to leave Paris for the last time. That’s the premise for today but something I cannot imagine ever happening.
This article first appeared in The Gloss Magazine in February 2016
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