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

Rustic French

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Work has been wearing me out lately, so DC decided to take me out for a weeknight splurge at Le Bistrot du Sommelier. It has a very traditional country-style French menu with surprisingly large portions. We ended up sharing a soup and a for-two main course.

The garbure soup was pretty excellent. The base was chopped vegetables in a light chicken and duck stock. On its own, it’d be a really boring vegetable soup. What made it pretty darn sublime were both the ravioli and the chicken dumpling. The mini ravioli were perfect little parcels stuffed with savoury cheese. Against the bland foil of the soup, the slightly chewy morsels gave out bursts of salty pleasure with each bite. And then the chicken dumpling. It had a lot more chicken than flour in it and was incredibly soft and delicate. I wasn’t sure of the slightly grainy texture of overdone chicken breast, but the flavour was deeply chickeny. One of the best bits of the soup was the crispy croutons. I don’t know how the grilled chunks of country bread retained the crunch even though waterlogged, but they did and… bliss.

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We went for the Baekenofe pork casserole for two made of different cuts of pork: cheek, trotter, belly and bacon. There were two large pieces of each in the claypot interspersed with carrot and turnip chunks as well as new potatoes. This dish is one of the few that made me like new potatoes (which I obviously normally detest). The whole dish was awash in white wine, with some cuts, especially the trotter, redolent with alcohol. It was lovingly braised so that the pork was tender. The best cut was the cheek, which just about didn’t require much chewing to enjoy. I just let it sit in my mouth for a moment to savour the taste and let it disintegrate slowly into a fragrant heap. (Pardon the red cast of the photo, we sat under the sign board lit in red so there’s no helping the hue of the photo. Sorry.)

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This place has great food. It’s too bad that it’s not exactly the cheapest place around and the service can be quite take-it-or-leave-it French. Even though we were the first to arrive on a weeknight they flatly refused to let us sit inside, claiming that it was all reserved inside. Mysteriously, we noticed only one table inside over the time we had our dinner. The outside doesn’t have the best atmosphere because of all the construction work going on opposite.

[An aside: If you’d like great atmosphere, just step two units down to the Creperie Des Armes. The Brittany atmosphere is amazing, made me feel like I was in a corner cafe in Europe. What was better was the warm welcome of the French couple running the place. Here, the couple smiled so much and tried so hard to please that I couldn’t help fall in love with the place. I practised my dormant French here, to the lady owner’s delight. It’s a pity that another place I like has far superior crepes. Also didn’t help that the crepes came out one by one, so not good for impatient or hungry hordes. ]

Le Bistrot du Sommelier
46 Prinsep Street #01-01 Prinsep Place
Tel: 6333 1982

A Constellation of Prata

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I don’t know what cunning folly took us when we decided to go to The Prata Place for Sunday lunch. My brother topped up the petrol specially for the long drive out to Upper Thomson. It was pretty crowded from the breakfasting masses when we arrived at about noon on Sunday. A pair of regulars were chased off to a smaller table to accommodate our party of five at the crowded cafe.

Even though each of us ordered something different, we hardly had a quarter of what was on the menu. We started off with crisp uppatham (pappadum) redolent with whole cumin. The paper thosai arrived next, a crisp cone accompanied by four types of curry and chutney.

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Everyone enjoyed the paper thosai. Most of it was crispy and the thicker base veered towards soft and chewy. I enjoyed that part the best because the thicker parts showcased very well the characteristic fermented rice flavour.

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The masala paper thosai was made of the same excellent stuff.

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The difference was that it had a delicious masala filling of spiced potato and frozen mixed vegetable.

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Now the curry chicken was top notch. It was thick with spices and was incredibly rich and, well, chickeny. The plus point was that it had a different spice mix from the other curries, so we didn’t feel like we were eating the same side curry for the thosai and prata. I alternately dipped¬† my thosai with that and the other curries.

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I haven’t had murtabak for a while and was quite surprised to see this thin crispy version instead of the traditional thick and soft one. The change made it a far more manageable portion, though I suspect the calories were about the same from the extra oil. There was plenty of well-marinated chicken from good parts, unlike other places that serve you dried up leftover chicken.

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It was good quality and I enjoyed it, though deep down I still prefer the traditional thick version.

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We also had paper prata and mushroom egg prata. Both were good with crisp outer layers and soft chewy inner layers. My brother liked the mushroom one because it had lots of large size mushroom slices. I wonder where they sourced their jumbo canned mushrooms.

For dessert we had the banana prata. It worked so well because of the cooked banana pulp inside. They used local bananas so it had a slight sour tang which really hit the spot. I can imagine it working well with chocolate sauce or condensed milk too.

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We couldn’t resist the chocolate prata. It was a special paper prata with chocolate sauce and chocolate rice on top.¬† It tasted like a local and extra unhealthy version of chocolate crepe. (What’s the difference between paper prata and special paper prata? They fold the special prata into the roof shape and charge you 20 cents more.)

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To wash all the oily, artery-clogging goodness down, we had teh bing and teh halia. The teh bing was the best I’ve had in a long while. I had to stop myself from drinking the smooth, fragrant brew at one go. It was just the right sweetness too. Those who had teh halia said theirs was good too. Plenty of ginger fragrance but not too biting on the tongue.

Five drinks, two packs of uppatham, two thosais, one murtabak, four pratas and one chicken curry cost us $33. Excellent value.

The Prata Place
1 Thong Soon Ave
Springleaf Estate