Gastronomic excellence in France is often based solely on tradition. Timeless techniques and flavours aren’t to be messed with. And while every chef still learns the basics with the French masters in mind, a certain stubbornness, or perhaps even arrogance, has led to a slump – a stagnation in creativity. London and New York raced ahead. Paris got left behind.
Yet in recent years, the restaurant scene in Paris has changed. Bistronomy – haute cuisine in a bistro setting – has revived the reputation of the city as a place for innovation in food. And so, on a recent visit, rather than frequenting restaurants with the most Michelin stars, my hit list included the likes of Bones, Frenchie, Le Chateaubriand and Rino. And the infamous L’As du Fallafel.
This change of pace – or revolution as some have called it – is also evidenced in new pâtisseries. Two such spots going against the grain are L’Eclair de Génie and Pâtisserie Ciel (first and fourth pictures). The first I stumbled upon while shopping in the Marais, the vibrant lines of colourful eclairs (second picture) instantly catching my eye. Pastry chef Christophe Adam prepares intensely flavoured, beautifully decorated eclairs, as well as truffles, craquettes and pâtes. Flavours change seasonally – there were even ice-cream eclairs on my visit – and are unexpected and delicious. I tried the praliné noisette (third picture) first – the rich chocolate filling, candied hazelnuts and gold decoration making every bite an utter indulgence – but it was the apricot éclair that surprised and delighted most. I’ll be back for the passion fruit and raspberry.
On a sugar high, and intrigued by this new breed of pâtisserie, I sought out another cake shop with a spin on tradition. Pâtisserie Ciel specialises in angel cakes: impossibly light sponge cakes with a cream centre. Unlike L’Eclair de Génie, which discourages lingering customers with a lack of seating, Ciel is a serene space with a small bar that’s open day and night (fifth picture). Daytime treats are paired with green tea (sixth picture), while in the evening, teacups are replaced with cocktail glasses and an impressive range of Japanese whiskies. The Japanese influence can also be seen in the angel-cake flavours: more traditional vanilla and raspberry varieties sit next to matcha, black sesame and yuzu.
Short on time, and keen to browse the ceramics at Astier de Villatte before leaving the city, I bought a mini trio of angel cakes to take home. They didn’t make it that far, but I can confirm that the Eurostar is infinitely more interesting when there’s cake on the menu.