Il neige!! Or at least, it did this morning: big, fluffy clumps of white flurrying past the window for a whole three hours or so.
It was a beautiful sight from my sixth-floor apartment. I love the view from my windows anyway – the blue-grey rooftops and terracotta chimney pots are about as typically ‘Paris’ as any cliché-lover could wish for. Add snow intothe equation – dusting the central courtyard and settling softly on the black twists of wrought iron adorning the windows of every apartment – and you’ve got yourself one very happy anglaise indeed.
I didn’t actually make it out until well into the afternoon, largely because I was just too fixated with said snow. When I did venture out, it was initially only as far as this beautifully traditional-looking boulangerie on the corner two streets away from mine. I’ve always wanted to try it out (it really does look lovely), but sadly it closes before I get home in the week and doesn’t open on weekends. I’d been intending to pay a visit with my day off for weeks – and I wasn’t disappointed either.
The place was even lovelier inside than out: the high ceiling was decorated with some kind of coloured fresco and the gilded glass cabinets were filled with an array of perfect patisseries. Somehow resisting the temptation to splash out on enough sugary treats to make a dentist weep, I stuck to the classic croque monsieur I had been reliably recommended and dashed home with the warm bag wrapped snugly in my arms to conserve the heat attempting to escape the brown paper.
Again, I was not disappointed. How such simple ingredients can combine to create such a taste sensation is beyond me, but good grief, it was SO good. The pièce de la résistance was definitely the béchamel sauce, which had a hint of what I think was nutmeg and had been applied in such liberal quantities that it literally oozed out of the sandwich (if such a work of art can be called that) with every bite.
Anyway, at risk of writing an entire post about a croque monsieur, I’ll move hastily on to the rest of my day. Sadly the snow had stopped by the time I had finished my lunch and was ready to head back out, though the temperature certainly hadn’t increased. I spent a bitterly cold 40 minutes or so walking in the direction of St Germain, to the extent that my ears, nose and chin were almost entirely numb by the time I arrived at my destination: Café de Flore.
If you read my post “Paris In The Rain Is Still Paris”, Café de Flore is made much in the same mould as its counterpart on the next corner: Les Deux Magots. The former, like the latter, has been around since the late 1800’s and can also boast a litany of celebrated former clientele, including Picasso (that guy got around with his cafés).
Even on late on a Monday afternoon, there was not so much as a stool available in the main salle, but a gently winding staircase took me upstairs where I installed myself at a tiny square table and admired my surroundings whilst I waited for one of the smartly-attired waiters (think crisp white shirts with black waistcoats and white linen cloths draped over their arms) to come and take my order. I knew what I was having already – I had come with the specific intention of comparing the famed hot chocolate to the glorious stuff served by Les Deux Magots.
The room was an attractive one, wood panelling everywhere and lots of cream leatherette banquettes, all bathed the room in a soft, warm glow. When my hot chocolate arrived, that was attractively presented too: like at Les Deux Magots, it was served in a small silver jug with a delicate cup to fill myself, both emblazoned with the café’s name and set on a silver tea tray.
However, I could tell on sight that this was not going to be quite the same calibre of hot chocolate. The smell rising up from the jug was fabulous and the colour of the liquid was a perfect rich brown. It was, though, quite clearly a liquid. I realise that seems a strange comment to make of hot chocolate – “well, of course it was clearly a liquid, Sherlock”, I hear you say. But the most remarkable quality of the chocolat chaud served by Café de Flore’s competitors on the next corner was hands-down the texture; so impossibly thick that it barely seemed to be a liquid at all. By contrast, there would certainly be no standing up of my spoon in the substance sat in front of me. (That’s also a reference to “Paris In The Rain Is Still Paris”, by the way.)
I don’t wish to give the wrong impression with my somewhat unfavourable comparison, though. Make no mistake, the hot chocolate at Café de Flore is wonderful stuff. Definitely right at the top of its category, it was perhaps the second-best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. And as someone who only discovered the joys of coffee in the last few years and who despises tea (much to the confusion of French and English friends alike), I have tasted many hot chocolates in my time. It really is very good. It’s just that the hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots was in a category all of its own.
Next stop: Angelina. I’ve been advised their hot chocolate is the best in Paris. We shall see.