Thursday, 25 June 2009

Du Pain et des Ideés

A number of Paris’ 20 arrondissements are defined by a single core neighbourhood, architectural style and/or population. The 4th, for instance, is known for its beautiful 16th and 17th century hotel particuliers, and for its upmarket array of shops, galleries and bars. Though it has grown too expensive in recent years for any but the most successful artists or writers, the 6th remains identified with its grand cafes, De Flore and Deux Magots, and their onetime habitués, Sartre, Gertrude Stein and Hemingway. Further south, the 15th is solidly residential and respectably bourgeois.

Others are more difficult to characterise. Though physically compact, the 2nd arrondissement incorporates the Bourse (stock exchange), a red light district, hundreds of clothing wholesalers, an enclave of Japanese noodle shops and groceries and the city’s premier art auction house. The 10th is similarly eclectic. It contains the western reaches of Belleville—a polyglot immigrant neighbourhood of North African Jews and Muslims, Chinese and Vietnamese—and the eastern and southern boundaries of the Goutte d’Or, historic home of the city’s substantial sub-Saharan African populations. Two major train stations, the Gare du Nord and Gare d’Est, connect the city not only to French cities such as Lille and Strasbourg, but to Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland , Germany and the UK. And past another cut-rate clothing district lies the Canal St Martin, an increasingly popular destination for young, artsy types (known somewhat derisively as bobos, bourgeois bohemians), the better-off of whom are buying canal-side apartments and studios, while the rest make do with cafe-side tables for bio (organic) Sunday brunches.

Moored on an innocuous corner halfway in-between the cheap shoe-sellers and the Canal, the ornate, old-fashioned frontage of Du Pain et des Ideés seems a bit out of place. Inside, the bakery retains its original mirrors and display cases. This, along with its unusually small selection (just a few kinds of bread, rolls with unusual sweet and savoury toppings and a handful of fruit tarts) give it an atmosphere which is almost—though not quite—mannered. Add in slightly above-average prices, organic credentials and the collection of antique bread-baking kit in the window, and it could easily be dismissed as a stylised sop to the neighborhood’s new monied class.

But the bread is both delicious and distinctive, particularly the Pain des Amis. Sliced in flat slabs from a huge, foccaccia-like loaf, the crust yields up an aroma of toasted nuts, and the moist crumb is perfect for breakfast (I had it with greengage jam and very fresh goats cheese) and with all kinds of cheese. The bread rolls are, for once, not an afterthought, stuffed with combinations like blue cheese and apricot, green olive and herbs and chocolate and raspberry. And I’ve been told that the chausson aux pommes is even better than the one at Au Levain du Marais.

NB: Lest you think I discovered it, the bakery has received its fair share of acccolades. Gault Millau named it the city’s best bakery in 2008, Gourmet mentioned in its most recent Paris issue and David Lebovitz thinks it worth a detour.

Du Pain et des Ideés
34 rue Yves Toudic 75010
M-F 6:45am-8pm
Metros: Republique or Jacques Bonsergent

Other notable stops in the 10th:

Sarl Velan Stores
Turn off the Boulevard de Strasbourg, full of nail salons, beauty supply shops and fast-food restaurants, into the Passage Brady, lined with a certain globally-recognisable type of Indian restaurant: gaudy decor, laminated menus and desperate waiters. Passing perhaps half a dozen of these, you’ll come to a shop displaying crates of aubergines, curry leaves and, in season, Alfonse mangoes. Inside, you’ll find sacks of rice, every conceivable type of legume and spice, and, in a nod to India’s colonial past, jars of marmalade and boxes containing several years’ supply of PG Tips.

87 passage Brady
M-S 10am-8:30pm
Metro: Chateau d’Eau

Chez Jeannette
This eccentric bar-cafe boasts elegant high ceilings, mural-covered walls and leatherette booths and is the kind of place where it seems right to have a glass of wine at 11 in the morning. The clientele, most of whom don't seem to have office jobs, may stay long enough to require food, though for that I'd recommend stomach-lining at the tiny Turkish soup place, on the same side of the road heading back towards the arch.

47 Rue du Faubourg St. Denis
M-S early morning until late at night
Metro: Chateau d’Eau

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