Le Petit Parisien
17 Wicklow Street, Dubin 2
Tel: 01 6717331
Paris joie de vivre, tarts and lipstick
When it comes to my favourite cities in the world, Paris and New York are in a match to the death for the title. Paris might just shade it because of all the romance – whenever I hear an accordion, I can't help but swoon. Still, Woody Allen's neurotic courting amidst the New York skyscrapers is not to be sniffed at.
I am, at heart, a pathetic Francophile. I dance around the house to Yves Montand and Brigitte Bardot; I love films by Francois Ozon and Jacques Audiard. I've even been to Café Des Deux Moulins where Audrey Tautou's Amelie worked.
Whenever I go to Paris, I always take a moment to stop in a tiny café and sit by myself at an even tinier table to absorb the defiantly Parisien atmosphere. Paris's footpaths are lined with scores of these tiny tables and chairs so smokers can sit and revive themselves with a cup of coffee before heading onwards. This is one of the few times when I mourn the fact that I am not a smoker (the other time is when I'm left minding the drinks in the pub while the smokers frolic in the beer garden).
So it was with some delight that I read about a new French deli and bakery on Dublin's Wicklow Street, Le Petit Parisien (named after a now-defunct newspaper).
The café is inspired by the French coffee shops of the 1920s. The décor is wonderfully atmospheric, with upholstered dark wooden chairs, dark walls with a gilt shimmer and an even darker ceiling (to mimic the cigarette-stained ceilings of old).
It's tightly appointed, but not uncomfortably so, which makes it feel very authentic, just like Paris, where you eat elbow-to-elbow with your neighbour and have to be very careful when leaving or else you might drag the entire contents of their table away on your coat tails. (Another possible reason why French women are not fat.) This closeness of the seating gives diners a very conspiratorial look. It forces everyone tête-à-tête, as if we are all having intensely interesting conversations, when really it's all just: "How is your salad?" "Mine is very good, thank you."
As soon as you arrive, you're faced with a row of tantalising pâtisserie, glossy with glazed fruit and gelatin, sitting behind a gleaming glass counter. There is a bench with high stools on your right, strewn with newspapers, and the tables are towards the back.
The menu is a mix of Irish tastes and French classics – lots of hearty sandwiches and the food is certainly on the heavier side of French fare. The women of Paris would be consumed with self-loathing if they were to eat a calorie-laden Croque Monsieur. The last time I visited Paris, I was amazed to see you could order a plate of grated carrots for €12. €12! (Another reason French women don't get fat?)
I was in town on New Year's Day, so decided to pop in to Le Petit Parisien.
This is really the perfect way to experience the café – as a respite from a busy day, a place to recharge your batteries before heading out into the world again.
I dragg the boy along with me. He's more of a Spanish lover, but I assure him he will enjoy the French atmosphere.
When we arrive, however, because of the day that is in it, the café is closing up early. Unlike most cafes you encounter close to their closing time, there is no hostility about having a quick bite and a coffee.
The waitress flashes the kind of gorgeous lipsticked smile that makes men fall in love and we are smitten. In fact, all of the waitresses are wearing red lipstick, which seems to me like an ingeniously simple way to add a touch of Gallic glamour to a café.
We try to go French. The boy settles on the duck rillette (€8.50) and I go for a Croque Monsieur (€7).
Our waitress's face goes through a series of emotions before she says, there is no croque monsieur, no duck rillette . . . okay, what about a sandwich? There are no sandwiches left. Hmm, a salad? (Perhaps this is the reason French women don't get fat. They are forced to order salad.)
We finally order a Caesar salad (€8.95) and a quiche Lorraine (€6.50). I don't mind much about this, I have to admit. It is New Year's Day after all and they are closing in 30 minutes. It's natural they might run out of produce (it also suggests their food is freshly prepared and when it's gone, it's gone).
However, the quiche Lorraine is only reheated to a luke-warm level, which is better than nuke-warm but somewhere in between the two would be nice. The Caesar salad is good with lots of warm chicken and bacon.
The bread and water never arrive. We eat quickly and order a lemon tart, from their own bakery, to take away. The tart is absolutely spectacular – a buttery and firm pastry crust, filled with lemon crème pattissière and topped with bitter red berries.
I feel like I have caught them on a bad day, so I return the next day, just before noon. The place is already full, with just one table left, so I dive for it and order the much longed-for croque monsieur and a steaming cup of black coffee. The same waitress with the lipstick smile is there. The atmosphere is warm and busy and much nicer today. I feel as if I could sit here for hours.
I do the crossword and my sandwich arrives. It is a perfect mix of crunchy and gooey, with its grilled cheese, béchamel sauce and ham. I leave feeling refreshed, as if I have somehow managed to pause the world and duck out of the harum-scarum pace of life for a few moments of much-needed reflection.
How very Parisien. If only I smoked . . .
Recommended: The pâtisserie and the coffee – both superb
The damage: €22.05 for one salad, one quiche, one tart and one coffee. €9.60 for a coffee and a croque monsieur
At table: Couples, workmates and tourists who have stumbled out of Brown Thomas
On the stereo: Camille, Yves Montand, Hollywood film classics