Perspective and Great Coffee at Le Bal Café

2 May 2011
le bal café Paris

Saturday morning I sat down with a student from NYU to answer questions pertaining to her ongoing research for her thesis. She’s looking at the modern expat experience in relation to that of the 1920’s and 30’s as well as the perception of Paris as fantasy vs. reality. Embedded in her work are questions of identity, isolation, integration and home – all issues I’ve grappled with since I arrived five years ago. Her questions allowed me to articulate every aspect of my experience thus far, from the highs (euphoria) and lows (disillusionment) to the local evolutions I’ve seen around me.

Perhaps the most noticeable evolution has been in food and drink with the warmly welcomed arrival of foreign talent. American diners and burger joints aside, the spate of Anglo eateries can largely be attributed to the searing success of Rose Bakery. I had my doubts years ago when I first heard about the internationally-staffed organic canteen – how good could English food be, really? I know. I judged without trying, convinced that it couldn’t possibly be as noteworthy as everyone claimed. Expensive though it may be, it’s one of my favorite places to go for warm cheese scones and fresh vegetable medleys. Their green tea cake isn’t bad either

le bal café espresso machine

Rose began in London, hopped over to Paris on rue des Martyrs, expanded to the Marais and most recently settled into a 3rd location within La Maison Rouge foundation in the 12th. Its appeal was virtually immediate and RB quickly established itself as the spot among hipsters, artists, celebrities (the likes of Natalie Portman and Julie Delpy, who I spotted last year) and tourists for organic, English fare. But after Rose, there was a gap. 

Those American-themed bistros and bagel shops I mentioned snatched up competitive food real estate and seduced locals with their thick burgers, Caesar salads and creamy cheesecake.  Then came the cupcakeries and Merce and the Muse with their respective retro and New York City vibes. 

le bal café paris

At this point I was growing circumspect. I certainly didn’t move to Paris to be surrounded by shops that reminded me of the U.S. But as I shared with my interviewer, I began to perceive the foreign influence as a positive – it meant more choice, more variety and would perhaps lead to a demand for more foreign food products. So by the time I first heard of Le Bal Café, commended for their superior coffee and traditional English brunch menu, I was more than ready. 

Tucked in charming alleyway behind Place de Clichy in the 18th, le Bal Café is the product of former Rose Bakery and St. John’s Bread and Wine Franco-British chefs and sits just next to Le Bal, an ultra-cool art space and gallery. Rest assured, this is not your typical museum café. Pancakes and fried eggs and bacon are on offer but so are dishes you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere in Paris. 

cappuccino, le bal café paris
kedgeree, le bal café

Welsh rarebit, scones with butter and jam, kippers with toast and lemon posset go down smoothly with freshly squeezed juices and tea. Our British brunch guest highly recommended we try kedgeree (flaked haddock, boiled rice & parsley, hard-boiled eggs and light curry), a dish she knew well (and later confirmed was prepared just as it should be). 

apple crumble, le bal café

But what really won me over was the cappuccino. Erica of Haven in Paris recently showcased the best spots in Paris for excellent coffee – still somewhat of a novelty for those accustomed to lamenting the expense and poor quality of the stuff readily available. 

Finishing off the meal with a hearty apple crumble, I left convinced that some of the city’s best food isn’t French at all. And you know what? That’s just fine. 

6 Impasse de la Défense
75018 Paris
No reservations
Métro: Line 2, Place de Clichy

{More photos available HERE}

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