Monday, 17 October 2016

Fig and frangipane tart and a long weekend in Paris

Last weekend, we went to Paris. This is a Big Deal. I know people in the UK are supposed to be completely blasé about jaunts to the continent, but a combination of the global economic crisis, Paul not having a sensible (or valid) passport and not having a reliable cat sitter has meant that we hadn't been away together in seven years. Seven. Years.
Fête des Vendanges Montmartre - pic by Paul Fourie
But we've found a cat sitter who Urchin seemed to accept and we both now have EU passports, so it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of open borders while we still can. Found a pretty good deal on and prepared ourselves in our own ways. Paul's way is to charge batteries and organise electronics, mine is to read blogs for restaurant recommendations and worry about what to wear.
Fête des Vendanges Montmartre - pic by Paul Fourie
We decided to book restaurants for the three nights we were away, and just wing other meals. And chose restaurants fairly close to where we were staying, for ease of staggering home afterwards. Unfortunately, choosing from restaurants that have a good website, online booking and an English translation does rather mean you end up in pretty touristy places. But that's OK - we were tourists, we don't speak French and we quite liked the idea of eating onion soup at every meal as long as the hotel room had openable windows.

Fête des Vendanges Montmartre - pic by Paul Fourie
Unfortunately our dinner reservation on the first night hit a serious snag. We wandered (OK, puffed and wheezed) towards Sacré-Cœur, and found ourselves in the middle of a food festival, part of the Fête des Vendanges Montmartre. We should have popped in to La Mere Catherine and cancelled our reservation and just eaten ourselves senseless, but instead we restricted ourselves to a modest cornet of charcuterie and a couple of glasses of wine so as not to spoil our dinner.
Fête des Vendanges Montmartre - pic by Paul Fourie
Part of the attraction of La Mere Catherine, as well as the old-school brasserie menu, was the age. Established 1793. There can't be many restaurants in the world with that kind of history - Rules in London is almost as old, but that's going back to the very beginning of what we think of as restaurants. I had a good goats cheese salad, a rubbery steak with excellent potatoes, tried to explain steak haché to an over-tired American tween who was deeply sceptical (although she did try her mother's snails) and a potent rum baba. It was entirely expected and fine for what it was. But my heart was 2 streets over eating foie gras inna bun, wooden boxes of grilled cheese and long glasses of Planteur.
Goats cheese salad
We wandered back through the festival after dinner for a glass of Monbazillac and for Paul to take more photos before calling it a night.

Next morning we had quite a late start. And then we walked. And walked and walked. Had a restorative croque madame and a couple of cups of coffee and walked some more. I've decided that I don't really love a croque madame. As much as a fried ham & cheese sandwich, topped with bechamel and a fried egg sounds like it should be bliss it's all oddly subtle for my taste. It'd be better with sharp cheddar, a good spoonful of mustard and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. If it was, in fact, Welsh rarebit.
Croque madame - that egg is undercooked even for my taste
After loads more walking and a couple of stops for fortifying glasses of Kir we went back to the hotel room to change for dinner. The restaurant, Sacrée Fleur, was only a 5 minute walk away but they'd sort of put the fear of God in me with repeated warnings that they only hold bookings for 15 minutes. We were on time... and given that during our meal we saw several people turned away I can definitely see why they enforce the policy. It's a tiny space and I can imagine that a single table not showing could kill their profits for the whole day. The staff were utterly charming (that reputation for rude French waiters? Everyone we encountered, bar a waitress in the Café des Marronniers, was delightful and incredibly patient with us) and the food was excellent - really simple but very good beef, with nice chunky chips and a selection of sauces. And the best bread we had in Paris, with a properly good crackly crust. Then Paul had tarte tatin and I had a crepe flambeed in Grand Marnier which was lovely. We went back up to Sacré-Cœur but the Fête des Vendanges was bonkers - unpleasantly, claustrophobically packed with a lot more broken glass around than I thought my thin sneakers could tolerate - so we went back to the hotel. Late mornings and early nights were pretty much a feature of the weekend.
Beef at Sacree Fleur. Awful picture, good food.
On the Sunday morning we headed straight to the Latin Quarter for breakfast and a good poke about. We'd thought we'd had a good lie in but the streets were post-Apocalyptically quiet. Which was nice really. Coffee and a ham & cheese crepe set us up for the rest of the day. I wish I could say we spent all weekend eating rare and beautiful pastries and six course dégustation but we really didn't. We spotted a shop selling bite-size versions of Kouign Amann, which we meant to go back to but... didn't happen.

More walking... and it was an absolutely beautiful day so there were more drinks breaks. We ended up going straight to dinner at La Strasbourgeoise. It's opposite a major railway station and it's absolutely huge but if you like a vast plate of choucroute - and I do - it's completely fine. Smokey, salty pig bits, tangy cabbage and a few boiled potatoes if you really can't deal with unremitting pork and cabbage.

We walked off the meal with another schlep up to Sacré-Cœur - which made me extremely crabby because Paul insisted that the food festival would still be on when I knew it wouldn't be that late on the last day. And I was right which made him extremely crabby. But we'd walked past a couple of likely looking places on Rue Paul Albert, so we went back down, grabbed a table and shared a very good apple tart and a couple of glasses of cognac.
Rue Paul Albert - pic by Paul Fourie

Our last day started with coffee (of course! - Paul really struggled to get a decaf Americano, and I stuck to iced coffees after the first day because I found the café crème to be unpleasantly bloating and espresso is too intense). I'd been pretty keen for a decent croissant but we never found a place that looked like it had both good pastry and a place to sit and eat it. We really should have done a bit more research, I think. So I had an omelette, full of ham and chunks of potato.
Our last meal in Paris was more of a snack as far as I was concerned. Paul had a steak, but that omelette had been plenty for me, so I just had another iced coffee and then we shared a fabulous fig frangipane tart. When we sat down, the table behind the counter contained a whole apple tart and a whole fig tart but by the time we ordered there was just the one slice of fig tart left. So we knew it was good and it had to be ours. Just wonderful - biscuity crust, thin, well-flavoured frangipane and loads of fat, ripe figs. A very appropriate meal before we pootled off home.
One friend said it looked like tentacles. I can see that. But delicious.
The tart was so good I made my own version this weekend.

Fig & Frangipane Tart

Shortcrust pastry (your favourite - I bought pastry)
100g butter
25g well-flavoured honey
75g golden caster sugar
100g ground almonds
2 eggs
2tbs amaretto liqueur (optional)
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
8 figs

Preheat oven to 180C

Line tart tin with pastry. Cream together butter, honey and sugar until fluffy, then add the almonds and eggs, amaretto and cinnamon and pour into the pastry shell. Cut the woody stems off the figs and cut almost into quarters, and wodge into the frangipane.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until nicely risen and browned but still with a hint of wobble.  Eat warm or cooled.


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