A long weekend in Paris with Martin Grant

The Australian designer – loved by French glitterati and the Duchess of Sussex – talks to Fiona McCarthy about his neighbourhood’s foodie haunts and cultural havens

Martin Grant on Rue des Barres in his Paris neighbourhood
Martin Grant on Rue des Barres in his Paris neighbourhood | Image: Emmanuel Fradin

“I escaped to Paris in my mid-20s, following a fairly fast ascent in the Australian fashion industry at a very young age, and Le Marais immediately felt like home. It had the same gentle, café-society ambience as where I grew up in Melbourne. I’ve lived and worked in this neighbourhood ever since; my top-floor apartment is just around the corner from where my studio and showroom are located, on Rue Charlot. I love the vibrant mix of Jewish, art, gay and bourgeois communities all living happily together. Architecturally, too, it is extraordinary: there are old foundries alongside 17th-century hôtels particuliers; and with its maze of little streets, it’s the perfect place to walk and cycle around. 

So I often take first-time visitors for a walk through Le Marais, past the trendy boutiques, cafés and galleries, and down to the Rue des Barres, a cobbled pedestrian street behind the Eglise Saint-Gervais – one of the oldest churches in Paris, it still has a functioning monastery. 

The café-bar in Buly 1803’s Marais store
The café-bar in Buly 1803’s Marais store

We’ll continue south along Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe until we reach the Seine, where we cross over to the Ile de la Cité, via Pont Saint-Louis, to arrive at Notre-Dame. This is also the route I take to go swimming at the Piscine Pontoise, a beautiful 1930s pool on the Left Bank that’s been in films like Three Colours: Blue with Juliette Binoche. 

The local lunch spot is the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest food market in Paris, named after the red capes worn by the 18th-century orphans who lived in the area then. With its mix of fresh fruit, flowers and vegetables, cheese and fishmongers and food stalls cooking everything from Moroccan and Lebanese to vegetarian on site, it’s an ideal spot to sit when the sun is shining. Then Bontemps Pâtisserie is a must. It’s designed like a jewellery shop, with cakes displayed on mismatched vintage porcelain stands inside teal glass-fronted cabinets. The speciality is the shortbread; they make biscuits and use it for the base of the most lemony tarte au citron I’ve had, and a delicious crème de marrons, a cream-and-meringue version of the classic Mont Blanc dessert. 

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In or close to the neighbourhood, the restaurants are excellent, and you can trade heavier traditional French fare for lighter, more experimental dishes, as at Iñaki Aizpitarte’s Michelin-starred Le Chateaubriand in the 11th arrondissement. It’s a 1930s bistro, which the Basque chef took over in 2006, with a six-course menu that changes daily – I have the old restaurant’s signage in my apartment. In a similar vein, the small but bustling Franco-Japanese izakaya bistro Soma does finely flavoured dishes like sea-bream carpaccio, dashi-fried aubergine and black sesame ice cream. And Chez Omar is brilliant for light, fluffy couscous served with merguez. For years this was the place for the fashion crowd; designers like Rei Kawakubo, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen would assemble here with their teams during the shows. Today Omar is always at the bar and the waiters are charming, if no-nonsense. 

For the perfect very local spot to hang out over a coffee in the morning or a digestif at night, I send people to Au Petit Fer à Cheval. It’s been around for decades too; the owner, Xavier Denamur, was an early pioneer of the organic movement, so the classics here, from confit de canard to pepper steak, are always great. And the boulangerie at La Maison Plisson, a fairly recent addition to the area, is very good – as is its café, with its pain perdu for breakfast and soufflés, croque monsieur with aged Comté and truffle and hearty salads at lunch. Afterwards, enjoy an espresso and sweet treat at the Beaux Arts-style café-bar in Buly 1803’s Marais store, which sells exquisite body milks and oils, pommades, candles and soaps. The Scottish Lichen scent is incredible.

The Musée Carnavalet, which is housed in two Marais mansions
The Musée Carnavalet, which is housed in two Marais mansions | Image: Antoine Mercusot

Four times a year, when the fashion circus rolls into town, I lunch with my friend, fashion stylist Catherine Baba, at Loulou, which is in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs; she often brings along other friends like Kristin Scott Thomas. It’s run by the team behind Monsieur Bleu at the Palais de Tokyo; the menu focuses on Italian classics such as vitello tonnato, beef carpaccio and seasonal pastas and risottos. The restaurant spills out into the Tuileries, and it’s a rare treat in Paris to find a leafy outdoor space that doesn’t back onto a street. Come evening, Bar Hemingway at The Ritz offers a dim, slightly louche cosiness that’s ideal for catching up on catwalk gossip with one (or a few) of head bartender Colin Peter Field’s dirty vodka martinis – always with three olives. 

Of course, there are wonderful five-star hotels in the city, but I always recommend staying a little off the beaten track to feel fully immersed in Paris. One option is the series of apartments that the late Azzedine Alaïa created in the same block as his atelier and store; each is furnished with his own collection of contemporary and vintage furniture, including pieces by Marc Newson, Charlotte Perriand and Arne Jacobsen. In my neighbourhood, the family-run Le Pavillon de la Reine is very special, an individual place with a unique country vibe, as it sits in its own private garden off the Place des Vosges, one of the most beautiful squares in Paris. Slightly quirkier is Hôtel Grand Amour, close to the Gare du Nord, which was opened by graffiti artist André Saraiva, restaurateur Emmanuel Delavenne and hotelier Thierry Costes in late 2015. Each room has been designed with vibrant flamboyance – there’s eclectic vintage furniture, contemporary photography and bespoke textiles; and the busy brasserie and charming garden terrace are great even if you’re not a hotel guest. 

The Philippe Starck-designed Ma Cocotte restaurant
The Philippe Starck-designed Ma Cocotte restaurant | Image: Francis Amiand

For a visual fashion fix, I recommend wandering past vintage-fashion-dealer Didier Ludot’s store in the Palais Royal Gardens, if just to admire what is hung in the window, before hitting the French-English bookshop Galignani on Rue de Rivoli for newspapers, novels and the ever-evolving selection of fashion and art books. 

Contemporary art is one of my greatest sources of design inspiration, and Béatrice Saint-Laurent’s Galerie BSL on the Left Bank is a must: she showcases daring designers who are pushing functional and material boundaries to create limited-edition objets, furniture and lighting. Especially worth seeing are the screens and tables by jewellery artist Taher Chemirik, made with stones like agate, onyx and amethyst. At Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery, which I can just see from the courtyard of my apartment, something new and interesting always catches the eye. It is one of the best contemporary art galleries in Paris – and one of the largest, spanning more than 1,600sq m – but it also hosts live music performances from the likes of Massive Attack and Juliette Armanet.

Le Pavillon de la Reine hotel
Le Pavillon de la Reine hotel | Image: David Grimbert

Few know about the amazing Musée Carnavalet, spread across two Marais mansions; it tells the history of Paris as far back as prehistoric times. It’s free and always worth a pop in just to take a few moments to relax in its beautiful rose garden. And even if my friends have no interest in hunting (I don’t), the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature on Rue des Archives is small and quirky, with regular contemporary exhibitions featuring artists like Sophie Calle and Janine Janet, who sculpted elaborate window dressings for Balenciaga in the 1960s from things like feathers, nails, straw and shells. These are set among interesting permanent collections of taxidermy, weapons, decorative furniture and Beauvais tapestries.

On Sunday, I usually send friends out to trawl the antiques dealers at the Paul Bert Serpette section of the Marché aux Puces. You can find incredible things here, from 18th-century-theatre set screens to a gorgeous 1930s wicker day bed, which I’m eyeing. Une Affaire de Famille is perfect for a relaxed lunch, or, for something a little groovier, there’s the Philippe Starck-designed Ma Cocotte. 

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Paris has undeniably evolved, and the vibe of the Marais has certainly become more bobo, with an influx of hipsters in recent years. There are places here now – stores like Ladurée – that would never have been here when I first arrived. But I still can’t think of anywhere else in the world I’d want to live.”

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