Two weeks ago I was in Paris flanning around Oberkampf et environs and planning to write all about it. But as regular readers will know, having seen my posts from Nepal, our daughter was living in Kathmandu. When we heard about the quake we were on a train from Montparnasse to Rambouillet to partake in some tasty wines. It took lunch, and several nice bottles (including a Chandon de Brailles Aloxe-Corton 2006 on song and a Monmousseau Clos le Vigneau 1990) for it to sink in. Anyway, that all resolved happily for our family (if not for many others), but before writing about wine I can’t carry on without saying something about the Nepal Earthquake. Below is the Hotel at the End of the Universe in the hills at Nagarkot, owned by friends of our daughter, and where we spent two wonderful weekends mere weeks ago. It no longer stands. Thankfully everyone is safe.
Nepal is a wonderful country with friendly people – friendly despite it being one of the poorest countries on earth. Poverty is sometimes caused by food shortages and lack of development and sometimes by corruption, but often it is made worse by the indifference of wealthier nations. Nepal has given so much joy to trekkers who have experienced her culture and mountains. Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites have been either damaged or flattened, especially around Bhaktapur and Changu Narayan, though of course this means nothing set beside the thousands of lives lost and the tens of thousands whose livelihoods and homes have gone. It makes me shudder to think that I was sitting on our daughter’s terrace in Kathmandu just seven weeks ago looking at a distant tall peak, Langtang, that was near the epicentre of this massive quake.
It’s so good to see some of those people who have been so enriched by Nepal, along with many others, responding so generously to the various appeals to help the victims. But I’d love to see a greater international development effort after the quake has moved out of the headlines. Nothing crazy. Just make sure these people have access to safe water and electricity for starters (there’s no lack of resource here, just the usual things hindering progress). I make no apology for asking everyone who reads this to think about what I’ve written here. For twenty seven years, since my first visit, Nepal has been a country close to my heart.
The purpose of the Paris trip was in part an attempt to source some wines for a Beaujolais dinner in July, in London. There’s no doubt that the UK is well behind the curve in respect of what’s going on in the hills south of Macon, though to be fair we are catching up (and if Jura is anything to go by, we’ll get there in the end). So our first few days involved a trawl/crawl around some of the shops and bars that many Paris aficionados will be familiar with. The following are really worth a visit if you are a fan of wines of a more “natural” disposition. If not, then really it’s better to stick to Lavinia, or to the refurbished wine departments at Galleries Lafayette and Bon Marché, which now offer fantastic ranges of the finest (sic) wines of France..
Caves du Panthéon (174 rue Saint-Jacques), a stone’s throw from the Luxembourg Gardens and (of course) the Panthéon, is not only a treasure trove for the adventurous, but also one of the most friendly wine shops in Paris. It was a pioneer in the natural wine scene, along with the nearby Café de la Nouvelle Marie, which can easily be forgotten as the epicentre for this movement seems so well established now in Eastern Paris.
Verre Volé is perhaps best known for its original (in both senses) eatery on rue Lancry (Canal Saint-Martin area), but there is now a small wine shop, on rue Oberkampf, perfectly located for those lunching at the exciting Pierre Sang (of which , more in another post), or at the more upmarket Le Villaret (in the nearby rue Ternaux, with one exciting wine list and great food, a real Parisian’s restaurant). Verre Volé really should be on the list of any wine geek, but whilst the food may draw you north to the canal district, there’s more wine for sale here on Oberkampf.
Septime Cave (3 rue Basfroi) doubles as a wine bar and shop, a tiny place, it also serves an exciting range of wines which covers Italy as well as France (not common in Paris). This is a good place for some unusual and often hard to find items. Isabelle Legeron reckons they are a good bet for Radikon. I didn’t see any this time, but if you do, pounce.
La Buvette de Camille (67 rue Saint-Maur) is about as stripped down a place as you’ll find and in some ways you could not find a better example of a new style bar a vins. The food here is as simple as it gets, excellent cheeses, beautiful sardines etc, along with a range of wines which would mostly be considered highly specialist in the UK (definitely hot on Loire and some Rhones). We were there a bit early, and to be fair we were probably a wee bit older than the usual clientele. Camille was not in a talkative mood, but I’d still recommend going. Especially as a friend with similar tastes said it was the nicest bar he visited on a recent trip. It’s tiny, as are all these places, and I’m sure it hots up later in the evenings. The bill (below) for three plats and four glasses of wine is reason enough. But I reckon you’d be pushed to seat more than ten with a few more standing at the bar. The pavement is a natural overflow.
One thing to note – licensing requirements mean that these bars must sell food with any wine consumed on the premises. That’s why they all do simple plates of mainly cold food. But as the food fills a space and slows down the inebriation process, it means you can drink more and still walk home, so I’m not complaining.
Other places to seek out if you are in the vicinity of Bastille and fancy a good wine shop and a nice meal of a different type – Les Caprices d’Instant (12 rue Jacques Coeur) which majors on Burgundy, and Bofinger, which although it will likely be full of tourists provides a taste of brasserie cuisine (it is Paris’ oldest brasserie, estab 1864) in an exceptional building. And on the natural wine front, La Cave de L’Insolite (30 rue de la Folie Méricourt, the first ever “natural wine shop” I visited, a true original).
And Paris would not be the same without indulging in what most might think a peculiarly English activity, afternoon tea. A trip to Marriage Frères (rue Bourg-Tibourg in the Marais is our favourite branch) proves that the French can do tea as well. What they lack in scones they make up for with a tea list to rival the wine lists at the finest Michelin establishments.
Of course there’s always so much to see and do in Paris, and you need days just to wander the streets, but if you can catch the Bonnard Exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay, we enjoyed it very much (ends 19 July, I think). If not, we loved the Musée Guimet, the museum of asiatic art, and our “new museum” of the trip. Shame the Nepal and Tibet Galleries were closed due to “lack of staff” when oddly the incomplete Chinese Galleries (with some empty cabinets and unlabelled exhibits) were not. Forewarned?