For fans of cakes and confectionery, Baking Mad pastry chef Eric Lanlard gives his guide to the best patisseries in Paris
I don’t have a sweet tooth but, for me growing up, the most exciting part of the week was going to the patisserie because it was so glamorous and exciting. Any village in France will have at least one or two patisseries and, mostly on Sundays, people will go and buy some cakes for the family or for guests. The patisseries are like jewellery shops, with beautiful interiors, and when you go to a patisserie in France it’s almost like going to Louis Vuitton or Prada to buy an expensive handbag or jewellery. Service is sophisticated, everyone’s smartly dressed; it feels special. And that atmosphere is expected – people are prepared to spend a lot of money on cakes and they understand how much work is involved. It’s a highly rated profession.
In France, the people behind the patisserie counter do an apprenticeship for two years to sell cakes. They’re not students doing it part time or just doing it for pocket money – that’s their career. People sometimes call me a baker but I’m a pastry chef and they’re completely different disciplines. There’s a rivalry between bakers and pastry chefs. Pastry chefs consider themselves alchemists and think bakers just mix flour and water. When I was an apprentice if I created a cake and it wasn’t a good job my boss would say: “That’s the work of a baker.”
In my shop, Cake Boy in London, I see British customers are more hesitant to spend that much on cakes and they’re not as open-minded as the French are. It can be tempting to just choose a cheesecake but there are lots of options out there. Paris is a good place to discover patisseries at their best because it’s where the most innovative and glamorous brands are based. The interiors can be incredibly beautiful and the experience feels so indulgent but it’s not inaccessible. Going to a patisserie in Paris is more relaxed than going to a restaurant and usually it’s very relaxed and friendly – it’s not like going to a restaurant or brassiere.
La Patisserie des Réves, 93 rue du Bac & 111 rue de Longchamp
This is the most innovative patisserie in Paris. It’s a totally different patisserie concept to what’s come before it. The cakes are beautiful and avant-garde, so even if you buy something traditional, like an éclair, the shape and topping will be different. It’s not an éclair as you know it – it’s special. Many Parisian patisseries have huge displays of cakes but in La Patisserie des Réves there’s just one table on show, with a small selection of maybe six to eight individual cakes placed on it. They’re all stored under glass domes that are lifted by pulleys and a staff member is positioned by the table so they can tell you about the cakes you’re looking at. If you want a closer look they can lift up the domes by using the pulleys and the effect is dramatic and extravagant and theatrical. Once you choose a cake you’re given a receipt and you go to a counter in the back of the shop. There’s a shutter door there and your cake is delivered from the kitchen – they keep just one cake in the display area and the others are stored in a special freezer so they’re as fresh as can be. It's quite cool.
Ladurée, 75 avenue des Champs Elysées
Ladurée has branches all over the world now but the original one is still the best one. It doesn’t matter if you open in Harrods or wherever and you try to recreate the original décor and atmosphere – you can’t beat the real one on the Champs-Élysées. If you’re shopping in the area it’s the best place to stop to have a tea or a coffee and it’s what you expect from an old patisserie – quite dark, all wood; it looks like something which has been for 100 years, which is the case. Once inside you have to queue to choose your cakes and the staff members spend hours explaining everything to you. Then you join another queue and have to pay to get your cakes, then you have to queue again to collect your cakes, which have been wrapped beautifully. The whole experience is time-consuming but fantastic and they’ve got a salon de thé, a modern bar and upstairs there’s a private dining room. Despite its age and heritage the patisserie is still very innovative. It’s got an old location but with very modern cakes. It shows what a patisserie should be and it’s a good place to stop for champagne and cakes.
Patisserie Stohrer, 51 rue Montorgueil
Patisserie Stohrer is the oldest patisserie in Paris. It’s tiny and the cakes they do there are very classic, almost to the point of being baker-style cakes. If you’re French their cakes bring back memories of childhood because they sell the kinds of cakes we used to have years ago. Their speciality has always been the Rum Baba. There isn’t too much going on in terms of how they’re decorated and so on, but they’re very, very good. In contrast, the interior of the shop is decorated like Versailles. It’s full of paintings and it’s all gilded. The ceiling looks like a ballroom ceiling and it’s all a bit flamboyant.
Pierre Hermé, throughout Paris
Pierre Hermé revolutionised the traditional French patisserie, he was one of the first young chefs to give a breath of fresh air to the industry. The French can be a bit stuck in their ways but he challenged how things were done. He used to be the head chef of Fauchon patisserie and that’s where he built his reputation. Now he’s famous worldwide and he’s still very edgy in what he does. He has a few shops in Paris and they’re definitely edgy too; they’re scary to visit because they’re quite sterile and clinical and the girls behind the counter are immaculate and wear four-inch stilettos. You’d never dare to say a bad word in that patisserie because you know you’d be told off. It feels special there and people pay a premium for that – you could spend €100 on one cake there.
Fauchon, Place de la Madeline
Fauchon is a French institution – it’s the best food hall in the French capital. The patisserie department is fantastic, with very innovative cakes that come in weird shapes and flavours. It’s all about luxury and indulgence there and the service is out of this world. I am quite happy sitting outside and watching the world pass by; the area’s quite chic and there’s plenty to see. My favourite thing to order is the chocolate éclair with an imprint of Mona Lisa’s eyes on it. Fabulous!
The late Gaston Lenôtre was the Godfather of French patisserie and started a big cookery school. His innovative style and his desire to share his passion made him a respected chef in France and abroad and, after his death in 2009, there are still a number of his shops to be found all over Paris. If you want to buy some good-quality cakes the selection isn’t as extreme as some of the others, in terms of decoration, but the quality is excellent. He has left a wonderful legacy.
Interview by John O' Ceallaigh Telegraph.co.uk