Six months into 2014 and I’m only just beginning to feel like I have a grasp on how the rest of the year might play out. That I am, in fact, beginning to find joy in both the little and momentous occasions in my life crystallized at last in May – a month that was both full of its own stresses but rich with opportunity that I can happily say I seized to the fullest. A quick snapshot:
A Weekend in London
One of the advantages of attending a graduate school with such an international cohort is that everyone ended up settling in different corners of the world. Travel to South America, the Emirates, the United States or almost anywhere in Europe and there’s a familiar face waiting to show you around. One of my closest friends moved to London to pursue a PhD shortly after we graduated and has remained firmly planted in the east/southeast end ever since. I make at least one trip a year across the channel and have stayed with her numerous times. This trip, I got a feel for 3 very different neighborhoods: Knightsbridge, Canary Wharf and Bankside. Here are a few highlights:
– Lunch at Bar Boulud, chef Daniel Boulud’s accessibly-priced restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental hotel and his first in Europe. It’s equal parts American steakhouse and French bistro with the mixed menu to prove it: house-made charcuterie and terrines, gussied up croque monsieur and croque madame, coq au vin and an array of seasonal, rustic French dishes and skews American with its New York grilled beef burgers – transplants from the New York City outpost and undoubtedly one of the chef’s signatures. I went with the aptly named Frenchie burger (minus the pork belly) on a peppered bun which replaced dependable cheddar with morbier cheese for heightened flavor and punch. Thick, juicy and served with a generous side of crisp fries- a burger lover’s delight. This behemoth was bookended by a plate of excellent crudo de thon and a peppermint coupe that sent me over the edge, to be sure, but was worth the afternoon lethargy.
-Grab-your-camera views of London from the 10th floor rooftop lounge at the Four Seasons Park Lane Hotel. (See top photo: taken from lounge balcony). Great for a pre-dinner cocktail or afternoon coffee (or both).
-A coffee or productive work day at CitizenM Hotel. I stayed here for a night with my travel companion and immediately understood why it had won so many industry awards. Known for its modular design, each room feels like a pod (and reminded me on Yotel in New York) – small and practical with no space left unoptimized. Rooms are outfitted with Samsung tablets which control everything from the lights, shades and alarm to the television which comes stocked with free movies. If the rooms are compact and modular it’s because the ground floor lounge and café is meant to serve as each guest’s living room. It’s a perfect, comfortable space for guests and non-guests alike to come work. Even better, the hotel is only a five to ten minute walk from Borough Market.
For more, see photos from my friend Ashley Ludaescher
-Afternoon tea and scones at Claridge’s Hotel. This was an improvised afternoon stop so we didn’t have reservations for proper high tea in the main dining room but were able to snag a cozy spot in the fumoir for tea and a plate of fantastic scones. It’s far more old-world posh than I’m accustomed to but a must for any London visit.
-A swim in the Four Seasons Canary Wharf pool – this is actually attached to the adjacent gym and overlooks the Thames. If I had a view like that, I’d swim every morning and be in far better shape. Dommage. Fun little factoid: it made its big screen debut in the James Bond film,Skyfall, moonlighting as a rooftop pool in Shanghai.
Chambelland Boulangerie (Gluten Free)
If my quartier continues evolving at this pace, there will literally be no reason for me to ever go beyond a 1km radius of my apartment. On May 20th, Oberkampf welcomed a new bakery to the neighborhood, nestled between a delicious juice shop and vintage furniture stores. But unlike the four other bakeries in and around the same street, Chambelland is 100% gluten-free. This wasn’t a marketing strategy or an attempt to cater to dieting fads (I’m talking to you, every single ladies interest magazine conflating gluten-free eating with weight loss). Co-owner Thomas Chambelland is a biologist (and founder of the Ecole Internationale de Boulangerie) who spent the last eight years toiling with recipes that would be strong enough to merit the spotlight in a dedicated space. The result: a beautiful bakery focused on bread with a small café corner for breakfast and lunch and a compact selection of gluten-free goods in their epicerie.
To produce their moist, fiber-dense breads and sweet tartelettes that easily rival their gluten equivalents, Thomas and co-owner Nathaniel Doboin use rice and buckwheat flour from their own mill in the South of France. When questioned about the taste and ability to attract diehard French bread lovers, Nathaniel explained that their bread offers an entirely different experience and isn’t meant to approximate wheat-flour breads. “It’s not consumed the same way but can of course be appreciated all the same!” (my husband attested to this: at first bite, he wanted/expected a taste similar to his favorite grain baguettes. At second and third bite, a different treatment). For now, they’re not making the foray into croissants as perfecting a gluten-free puff pastry recipe has proven challenging.
As for the space itself: nearly all traces of its shambolic predecessor have vanished, save for a framed photograph that owners Thomas and Nathaniel held onto as a reminder of their bakery’s drastic transformation. We’ve already been to Chambelland for an early morning breakfast (bread comes served with butter and jam) and loved the little dining corner – highly recommend.
Celebrating French citizenship and escaping apartment renovations at L’Hôtel du Temps
I got a feel for this stunning boutique hotel in the 9th arrondissement while I was researching hotels for my latest Conde Nast Traveller story and fell under its charm. The owner’s romantic fondness for vintage plays out beautifully at the ground floor lounge and cocktail bar which are kitted out with sleek marble tables, plush leather booths, geometric tiling and gilded sconces in what feels like a modern nod to Frank Lloyd Wright. A few sips of the house cocktail (the ‘cocktail du temps’) and it’s easy to forget it’s even a hotel. So it was the perfect location to celebrate my newfound Frenchness (ça y est, it’s official!) with colleagues. We all enjoyed ourselves (perhaps a bit too much) and vowed to make it our go-to spot for drinks.
Not even a week later and I returned under different circumstances and to spend the night. Our living room renovations finally commenced this month and left each centimeter of our grand 37m2 apartment under tarp, dust and reeking of paint. Vacating the space for the entire duration of the work wasn’t financially feasible but one night to feel comfortable again was more than doable, it was necessary (seriously, how to people renovate their houses?! Just awful). Waking up to a beautiful, sun-dappled room and a copious breakfast – croissants and pain au chocolat from Delmontel, freshly squeezed juices, Ferme des Peupliers yogurt, etc. – was just the mid-refurb cure we needed.
Hôtel du Temps, 11 rue de Montholon, 75009
Dinner at Le Richer
In the category of modern bistros that offer a market-fresh menu and non-stop service as of 8am, there is only one spot worth mentioning. Le Richer is consistently good (I had the best, most tender suprême de volaille I’ve ever had in this city), the service is alert and pleasant and the space is comfortable (read: not trying to be trendy). Reservations aren’t accepted so if packed, head a few doors down to L’Office, their sister restaurant.
Le Richer, 2 rue Richer, 75009
Métro: Poissonnière (line 7) or Bonne Nouvelle (line 8 and 9)
Those gorgeous snowball-like treats you see above? They are chocolate, praline, hazelnut, coconut and dried cherry encrusted meringues filled with whipped cream. And they were one of five different sweet specialities I was testing and researching for a forthcoming article (more on that soon). I rarely hear visitors talk about Aux Merveilleux de Fred, the home of these meringues, as the much-mooted macaron perpetually trumps all else. But I can assure you, the Merveilleux are far more satisfying.
Update: the result of that research!
Have you tried any of the above?