The east side of Paris, between métros Bastille, Nation and Ménilmontant (the 11th and 12th arrondissements), is the new magnet for the city’s ‘culinary luminaries’ – daring, forward-thinking chefs who have put new spins on French cooking traditions and jumpstarted a booming restaurant scene. It’s also where those in the know come to buy some of the city’s best produce, at authentic Parisian markets, in ultramodern delicatessens and in atmospheric caves à vin, brimming with bottled treasures from all over France.
Historically this area has always been hard working and progressive. It was here, between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries that carpenters, porcelain manufacturers and textile entrepreneurs first made their fortunes, and it was from here that the mobs came to storm the Bastille in 1789 – so it seems fitting that this is the site of Paris’ culinary revolution today.
To get a real feel for the transformation, let serendipity guide you along three main thoroughfares: rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine, rue de Charonne and rue Oberkampf. You’ll find a plethora of shabby-chic buildings harbouring trendy new bars and eateries, and former ateliers converted into hip hotels and cafés – best of all, none of them will break the bank. In fact, there are so many you could easily spend a week eating and drinking your way around this one area; it most certainly wouldn’t be a waste of your time. The streets offer plenty of postprandial shopping opportunities – all blissfully far from the city’s busiest tourist spots.
Noisy, jam-packed and open six days a week, the Marché d’Aligre, off rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine, is one of the city’s most authentic and busiest neighbourhood markets. Outside, the street is a mass of multi-coloured fruit, vegetables and flower stalls; inside – under the high ceilings of the covered Marché Beauvau – you’ll find wonderful meats, fish and cheeses sold in boutiques that wouldn’t look amiss on a post- war film set.
Look out for the mounted stag’s head; it belongs to Au Chapon d’Aligre, the best place for wild game such as pheasant and rabbit. Boucherie Hayée Patrick, practically next door, specialises in spit-roasted suckling pig, and the smell is as appetising as the crackling. Or for seafood, try La Marée Beauvau, whose fabulous smoked fish and seafood salads are perfect picnic-basket fillers.
Back outside, shopping in the boutiques around the market stalls is all part of the experience. One of the most enticing shops is Sabah, whose shelves are lined with fine Middle Eastern and East Asian spices. Or look out for ‘cutting-edge’ knives at the Japanese Knife Company, before stocking up on gingerbread at Le Garde Manger, a quaint Alsatian grocery store. On weekends the whole neighbourhood seemingly descends on Le Baron Rouge wine bar: join in for a post-market tipple of red wine, best sipped on a giant barrel outside.
Overlooking bustling boulevard Voltaire in the up-and-coming Nation quarter, John Gillot’s bright, busy butcher shop is quite simply one of the finest in Paris, enticing people in with the heady aroma of spit-roasted chicken, then sealing the deal with beautifully presented top-quality meats, cheeses and charcuterie hanging from hooks on the ceiling.
Most of the meat is from farms in the Eure region of Normandy. Gillot cherry-picks his
suppliers and stock, and regularly checkinh that everything complies with his strict standards. So the choice is hard – from the pert filet mignons of pork to the marinated lamb brochettes – sacré bleu, it all looks good!
If you’re a steak lover, your pièce de résistance is the mature Vache Normande: heavily marbled Normandy beef that is hung for 35 days and slices like butter. Sausage and pâté enthusiasts are well served too, thanks to head butcher Simon, who invented the recipes for the Italian, Curry and Forestière (mushroom) sausages, and whose family make the rillettes – slow-cooked pulled pork and goose-liver pâté. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s wine – no Grand crus, just decent reds, whites and champagnes (from small French producers) that go down a treat with the meat.
Bread and pastries are staples on any French table: gluten-free versions less so. That may be because not everyone has tasted Thomas Teffri-Chambelland’s creations at his GF bakery, set on a quiet square between bars and antique shops off rue Oberkampf. Everything here – from the leaven breads to the sticky pastries – is made using naturally gluten-free rice flour or buckwheat flour (or both), and tastes so delicious that even people without gluten sensitivities flock. World-famous chef Alain Ducasse even buys Chambelland’s bread for his restaurants.
Gluten (present in wheat) is what holds bread together; remove it from the mixture and you need to find a replacement. And so Chambelland – a former biochemistry teacher – spent two years looking for a variety of rice flour that would give his wares just the right elasticity. Once he’d found it, he opened his own mill in Provence to ensure a constant and consistently excellent supply.
And the proof is in the pudding – quite literally when it comes to the sweet, moist chestnut muffins, or the superlative breakfast Chambellines (sugary oblongs of bread with a crispy crust infused with orange flower). For bread, expect giant, organic square loaves of sourdough, sold by the kilo and best bought big: they keep for a week and freeze very well.
An unassuming grey frontage painted with red wine bottles is all that signals this funky little wine-buff’s hangout, which takes its name from the coveted, double-magnum-sized Jeroboam bottle. On one side sits the wine shop, a rustic-chic boutique flaunting 350 wines (many biodynamic) costing between €5 and €1000 – one of the largest ranges in town. On the other side is the tasting area – a bright, minimalist space where plates of artisanal cheese and charcuterie accompany a choice of 25 wines with real finesse.
The knowledgeable staff are more than happy to serve you, but you’ll have more fun if you do it yourself with a magnetic card – your key to the automatic wine dispenser on the right-hand wall. Just credit the card and pour the wines you want to taste: they come in small 1cl to 8cl samples, so you can give your palate a workout, comparing all the different varieties without getting wildly drunk.
For those looking to widen their understanding of French wine, there are tasting lessons too – from fun two-hour initiation sessions to intensive one- to five-day courses, at the end of which you are awarded a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) certificate.