Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Paris is a competitive city. The fierce rivalry between Paris’ Left Bank and Right Bank dates back a long way. The former is known for its artistic, bohemian ways. The latter, being more upscale, is a bastion of the establishment.
I have never had much of a preference for one bank over the other. Each is unique in its own way, and has an abundance of cultural destinations, restaurants, museums, and sightseeing on offer.
Over the weekend I spent four days in Paris, and had ample opportunity to explore both sides of the river. It was enough time to decide on a favorite.
I started my trip on Paris’ Left Bank. After arriving at Gare du Nord and checking into my hotel in the 8th arrondissement, I walked over the Pont d’Iena to stand face-to-face with the Eiffel Tower. But while Gustav’s miracle in steel was one of Paris’ most famous landmarks, it wasn’t my ultimate destination.
No, I was headed to the Musee du Quai Branly. It was a museum I had never visited before, but after seeing a poster for an exhibition on the Dogon country in Mali, I headed straight there. My trip to Bamako last year was still fresh in my mind, and I was excited to see art and artifacts from one of my favorite African countries.
The exhibition was great, and had a remarkably thorough range of historic statues, masks, everyday wares, and religious and ceremonial objects. After visiting, I explored the rest of the museum, which had indigenous art from everywhere from Latin America to Asia.
The museum was the only one I visited on this trip to Paris. The rest of my time on Paris’ Left Bank was spent doing my two favorite Parisian pastimes: walking and eating.
I spent the entire day on Saturday meandering through the streets of the Latin Quarter and beyond. First I went to the Jardin du Luxembourg. The park was awash with beautiful flowers that graced its gardens. Everywhere there were children sailing tiny boats in fountains, couples admiring the mythical Medici fountain, and friends relaxing in the many metal chairs along the paths.
After the garden, I walked past the Pantheon and over to Rue Mouffetard. The famous street was packed with the usual creperies, cafes, and creative culinary counters.
Speaking of which, I did my fair share of eating while walking. First I had lunch at my favorite breakfast place, Cuisine de Bar. I had always wanted to try their tartines, and they were every bit as good as I knew they would be. With Poilane bakery right next door, how could they not be amazing?
Later that afternoon I stumbled across the Mosquee de Paris, which had a popular tea house and restaurant. I sat down in the courtyard under a pretty tree and enjoyed a steaming glass of mint tea in an atmosphere that reminded me of Tunisia.
Back in St Germain, I had dinner at Le Timbre, a traditional French restaurant near the Jardin du Luxembourg. It had been written up in numerous blogs and guidebooks, including the Hg2 to Paris, of which I was offered a complimentary copy for my trip. I was excited to try the food there.
The shoebox of a dining room had tables so close together that diners had to make a conscious effort not to socialize. Behind it was a tiny open kitchen where a single chef cooked meals so good they were hard to believe, and a single waitress served ten tables with the dexterity of a Michelin starred restaurant’s armada of staff.
Le Timbre was one of the best culinary experiences I’ve had in Paris. From the terrine de campagne to the duck confit and the millefeiulle, my meal was a veritable symphony of flavors. The restaurant turned tables quickly, though, and when my dessert was finished, the chef himself came out to say good-bye and usher me out. It was only then that I learned he was English.
Another Paris Left Bank restaurant experience was at a starkly different culinary establishment. This one was a new and noteworthy place that had been written about as extensively and enthusiastically as Le Timbre, and was also recommended in the Hg2.
Ze Kitchen Galerie was as spacious as Le Timbre was small. Its large dining room was fronted by a glass wall looking out onto the street. The cuisine was modern, and it was done well. My starter of cold green soup with egg was impressively good, as was my main of zucchini flowers stuffed with crab. The wine list was refreshingly reasonably priced, too.
Ze Kitchen Galerie certainly wasn’t a traditional Parisian restaurant, but it was a nice departure from the status quo. I was glad I went.
My final Paris Left Bank restaurant adventure took me to a different branch of a place I always go on Sunday nights: Relais de l’Entrecote. The restaurant is my favorite pre-Eurostar spot because the fixed menu of steak frites is one of the only ones in Paris that allows you to have a proper meal with enough time to catch the train back to London.
Usually I go to the Relais de l’Entrecote on the Right Bank’s Rue Marbeuf, but this time I tried the location on the Left Bank’s St Germain. It was every bit as good as its counterpart, but the outdoor seating was a great bonus on a hot summer evening. It was glad I tried a new location of one of my favorite Paris restaurants.
Speaking of which, I had some equally new and exciting restaurant and sightseeing experiences on the Right Bank of Paris during the weekend. But those are the subjects of my next post. To be continued…