My recent trip to France is not one to be filed under revenge tourism. If anything, group it under the grateful section. There was so much gratitude that I felt just to be able to walk (or run in the early morning) along the banks of the Seine, to be able to simply drop into a local shop and be child-like impressed by the sheer range of wines and beers, and just the overall quality of food and ingredients, from a Michelin-starred meal to simply grabbing a gourmet sandwich as one simply lounges by the riverside with the Eiffel tower for company.
Paris is many things, and even though my tryst with France started right here nearly 25 years ago, in the last decade I had come to somewhat loathe it. My work always kept bringing me back to France but I somehow kept trying to avoid Paris, preferring to spend more time in Bordeaux, Lyon or just about anywhere else.
The metropolitan big-city nature of Paris was like a layer of tarnish which somehow hid from me all that was good and fun about the city, things which had made me fall in love with the place originally. And in that respect, this two-year hiatus from the city is just the break that our relationship needed.
In this time, I have missed it and Paris, too, has dug deep and revised some of its smaller quainter appeals and nuances which were possibly being relegated.
Anyway, enough of reminiscing. Here are some joints to check out whenever your next trip takes you there.
On the list of the World’s Best Bars for the past eight years and still going strong is Little Red Door. This is a little laboratory for the senses, as Willy Wonka would have conceived it. The drinks are potion-like, magical concoctions that seem to have no connect to the names (which are usually an ingredient).
For instance, the Red Kiwi or Walnut don’t look anything like them; the drinks were neither red nor brown, but the taste was completely spot on. They do this with many things. They were in India recently and took back loads of ingredients to, I expect that, to feature in the months to come. For now, all that they serve is focused around provenance and comes from places in or around Paris.
Don Juan II is a Seine cruise by Yacht de Paris but like none other. It’s a Michelin-starred meal on board a luxury boat where one starts the evening with a glass of something bubbly, exotic and preferably pink on the upper deck, as the boats pulls away from the foot of the Eiffel tower.
Over the course of the next two hours, this time on the lower deck, protected for the elements (and vagaries) of nature, you are regaled like a roi (that is, king, but roi works better for alliteration sake) as fine wine and platters are brought to you even as the yacht gently cruises around the famous sights and monuments of Paris.
The best bit is just as the mains come and the Eiffel Tower lights up in sparkles (for its hourly post-dusk routine) and suddenly you have the most magnificent glittering table ornament one could ever imagine!
Think of Le Syndicat as a bar which is run solely with French spirits as the showcase. This was stunning even for me because, in spite of all the time I spent here, or worked here, I can only rattle off names of wine brands. Ask me to start naming spirits and liqueurs and I will run out much quicker.
This bar then was an educational experience for me, a happy juice -soaked educational experience, to be precise. They call themselves an organisation for the defence of French spirits, a job they take very seriously, so definitely worth hunting down. Be careful though for the store front looks like an abandoned shop and you may miss it even as you stand right in front of it.
Le Saint Sebastian is a quaint little restaurant in the 11th quarter of Paris, If you are after a small simple space which pays great attention to showcasing cuisine and wines from around the country, you couldn’t find better.
The food is meticulous but not stuffy, the service friendly but showing a deep knowledge of gastronomy and food pairing, and the ambience is what we have now come to call, fun fine dining. Definitely worth a stop.
A quick word about places to stay is always essential. If being near the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees matters to you, then Hotel Belmont straddles it both. Conveniently located midways and with rooms that are spacious and well-appointed, it’s a luxury stop in the heart of Paris. Even more helpful is the fact that Vijay, who has worked here for a long time, is Indian and it was so heartening to meet and chat with him. He goes out of his way to make your stay that much more memorable.
The writer is a sommelier