I know it sounds like sacrilege, but we’re self-catering in Paris. It’s not that the home of haute cuisine has lost its culinary edge. It’s just that the pound has, sadly, sunk so low that the cost of a coffee at a pavement café, once you add on the croissant and orange pressé, is rather too oh la la. Taking the whole family out to eat, three times a day, makes me thumb through my French phrasebook for the very worst words. Let’s just say, Paris can be prohibitive.
But we’re staying in a high-rise apartment, where we can push down our own cafetière and squeeze our own juice. The kids fight each morning to take turns to go to the local boulangerie and make the sumptious selection from the pain au chocolat and brioche. They already expect us, putting aside some pain aux raisins – our favourite – so we won’t have another fight when we get back to the apartment over who gets the last one.
It’s not only the baker’s wife who welcomes us, but the man at the market stall where we buy our fruit and Monsieur Bigot at his charcuterie, where we taste the rabbit terrines and pork rillettes. With self-catering, we can linger around the neighbourhood shops and dawdle in the markets with real purpose. Instead of packing those little string bags of shallots and smoked garlic bulbs in our suitcase, we eat them on the spot, cooking them up in our fully equipped kitchen, washed down with rose-scented lemonade and sirop de grenadine. There’s also the utterly unrecognisable seafood, urchins and razor clams included. We can be this adventurous in our menu, as we aren’t committing ourselves to dragging it all the way back to London wrapped in plastic bags so its doesn’t leak all over the dirty laundry.
It’s been the best education in French food the seven-year-old twins could have. Not only are they learning to eat it, they’re learning to buy it. ‘Un demi-kilo, si vous plait,’ is now in their limited French vocabulary.
And, as we sit at our Paris apartment dining-room table, breaking the baguette, spreading the unsalted French butter, and shucking oysters, we look out our huge window at the Eiffel Tower. As the evening moves slowly on, the kids get sleepy and doze on the sofa, still grasping a bit of broken baguette, just as the lights of the Tower begin to dazzle. For a view like this from a restaurant table, you’d pay more than the whole weekend has cost us. And I doubt the food would be any better.
Dea and family stayed at the P & V Adagio City Aparthotel Paris Tour Eiffel.
See also Fiona Joyce's feature on visiting French markets with kids.
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