A Whirlwind Work Trip: Summertime in Paris

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The next part of our trip brought us to Paris where we stayed at Le Grand Hotel, run by the InterContinental. It was indeed a nice hotel with typically Parisian and very opulent rooms. There were soft beds (which my head of delegation didn’t like – oops) and plush carpets. There was also peeling wallpaper and the shower flooded the whole bathroom.

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Something weird happened: as I was settling in, room service rang and set up this elaborate set of drinks and cookies in the room. It was well and good until I excitedly rang my boss and asked if he was enjoying the complimentary drinks. (He wasn’t.) Then I realised that the welcome card had the wrong name on it! Horrified, I called our local representative office who booked the rooms for us to check if that was the name of the secretary doing the booking. (It wasn’t.) So I took their advice to “just whack.” and did exactly that. If you didn’t mind the odd service, the InterCon Le Grand is a nice though horribly over-priced place to stay. Thankfully, we had a free upgrade so the rooms were expensive but not quite horribly expensive for the company.

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We had a while to wander about town and enjoy some cakes at Laduree, which was thankfully still open on a Sunday.

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It’s such an institution there and if you haven’t tried their macarons, you haven’t really tasted one before. Their desserts are all very yummy too.

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Laduree
16 rue Royale 75008 Paris (there are also other branches in Paris, CDG and Versailles)
Tel: +33 (0) 1 42 60 21 79

Thereafter, we went for a bit of a meander through town, passing by the Place de la Concorde and the gardens in the area. There were so many people out in the later afternoon after the shops were closed, simply enjoying the sun. While it was inconvenient for us that we weren’t able to shop in the little time we had in Paris, I liked the idea of life going on in the daytime in spite of the dearth of shopping and commerce.

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I took the requisite touristy photos at what I think is the Place de la Concorde and its obelisk.

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And I grabbed some other pictures of the beautiful buildings sitting pretty in the afternoon sun.

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One of them could be Hotel Crillon, but I can’t be sure. The weather was too beautiful for it to matter.

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On the day with business meetings, it was a rush from stop to stop, with quick photos taken out of the rented car window.

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And this is the only decent shot I got of the Eiffel Tower, taken in the distance.

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When we finally got back from our business meetings, it was only to get a quick round of shopping before the shops closed. One of the incongruous ones I saw was this thoroughly modern Apple shop in an obviously old and well-preserved building.

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We finished off our Paris leg of the trip with a lovely meal at Oscar Restaurant, a favourite of our local representatives. I started with a lovely giblet salad topped with a duck liver terrine. It was typically Parisienne and a much wiser decision than my earlier choices of stodgy food in Milan.

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I was feeling quite heaty from all the travelling and eating (and being stuck in a boardroom for a whole afternoon without getting even a sip of water – poor organisation on the part of the hosts). The beef tartare as a main was very welcome. It was the best one I’ve had, the fresh and tasty raw beef being seasoned just right and not being overwhelmed by the pickle and onion chopped into the mixture. The fresh herbs and side salad helped lots too. By now, my dining companions were looking askance at my rather different choices and wondering what I was going to have for dessert.

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I eschewed the usual chocolate puddings and ice cream and gunned straight for the Faiselle, a type of sweet cheese topped with creme fraiche and accompanied with berry coulis. It was just the right creamy ending to my dinner.

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Oscar Restaurant
6, rue de Chaillot 75116 Paris
Tel: +33 (0) 1 47 20 26 92
Closed for Saturday lunch and on Sunday

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Two Odd Vodkas

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Vodka is traditionally made from grains like wheat and rye. Trust the French to make it with grapes.  The five times distilled Cîroc I had was another novelty item at what was really meant to be a whisky night. I know it’s unfair to the vodka to say that it was bland in comparison, but that’s what vodka is like. Here, the usual clean and rather smooth spirit had a whiff of floral aromas, the usual smell of grape ferment. I wish I could describe it further but I wasn’t paying attention and was too distracted by the excellent single malts on offer that evening.

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Just to prove that I’m not such a vodka fan, this 50 cl bottle from Mongolia has been sitting around my kitchen for the past eight years. Despite doing the usual vodka shots and vodka watermelon at parties, it just hasn’t shifted. I think it means more that I need to have more parties.

Chinggis Khan is a wheat-based vodka. (In case you were wondering, Chinggis Khan is the way Genghis Khan really should be pronounced, it’d somehow got lost in translation/phoneticization.)  It’s pretty much top quality, exceptionally clean and smooth. Not much in terms of nose, unless you count the sting of alcohol. It was very warming and immediately set to work by tickling the back of my palate. Nice and tingly.

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[edited: 15 April 2009, 3.50 pm]

Jazz at a Smoky Bar

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Thanks to anti-smoking laws, we don’t get smoky bars in Singapore anymore. While it’s great that we get to pickle our livers and avoid the risk of lung cancer at the same time, jazz bars lose a certain sense of romance without the cigar smoke. (Not that our jazz bars had much cigar smoke in the first place.)

Now in KL, there are lively, just smoky enough jazz bars. Perhaps because most of the smokers were on cigars and cigarillos, Alexis Ampang was such a place. I wish I could post the photos of the revelry but my friends would probably kill me first. Sorry!

The jazz was decent and the wine accompanying the music was even better. I started off with a Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Cuvee Gerard Potel (2006) from France. It was pale yellow with a gentle bouquet of honeysuckle, apricot and peach. Lots of soft fruit in the medium dry wine, well-balanced by slight acid on the tongue and had a long mineral finish. I liked it very much. Incidentally, Jancis Robinson gives a stamp of approval of sorts: she counts Nicolas Potel as a quality-conscious négociant. It would pair very well with seafood. Something quite restrained like seafood risotto. Rating: 5/5

For my second glass, I stayed with the whites and ordered a South African KNW Chenin Blanc (2007). It was the palest yellow you can imagine, with a lovely lime nose. It was medium dry, had a rather chewy sort of flavour, and had the mineral finish I like so much. Rating: 4/5

One of my friends had a Brightwater Nelson Sauvignon Blanc (2008.) from New Zealand. It was pale straw and had a big fruit nose. Lots of fresh lychee, peaches and honey in there. It was sweet, well-balanced with a pleasing floral finish. One of those flamboyant, straight forward, in your face wines. Rating 3.5/5

Damage done for two glasses of wine and a great night of jazz and chatter: RM 55

Alexis Bistro Ampang
Great Eastern Mall
303 Jalan Ampang
Kuala Lumpur

Key to ratings

0  Wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole
1  I’d rather drink beer
2  If there’s nothing better
3  Just one glass is fine
4  More, please!
5  Where can I get a case?