Welcome to vegetarian Paris

We went to Paris for my birthday – it had been a while since our last visit. We expected a lovely weekend of walking and seeing interesting things: we did not expect a weekend of vegetarian choice. Much has changed in the last few years.

The flavours of fRAWmage. Not cheese.

The flavours of fRAWmage. Not cheese. Still, I enjoyed our adventures in Rawfoodland.

We last visited Paris nine years ago, also for my birthday. Christopher used to go every year in November to attend Cartes!, a huge chip exhibition. Since he moved out of that field, neither of us have been.

Last time, we had dinner at La Grenier de Notre Dame, a fun and funky vegetarian restaurant not far from the famous church it’s named after. It was small, had an interesting if somewhat dated menu and made the kind of kir I like: potent. I had many salads and more organic red wine than anyone needs.

This time, we had dinner in a classy raw restaurant, a friendly vegan Vietnamese and a vegetarian burger joint, as well as more traditional corner cafés. It depends on where in town you are, but the 9th arrondissement serves the plant-based population well.

Mille feuille guacamole, s’il-vous plait

We’d been in town no more than a couple of hours when we found our first vegetarian restaurant: VG on Rue Lafayette. We were hungry and decided to have lunch there. We hadn’t done our research and I didn’t know what I was ordering. I’d also forgotten how to speak French so I’ll forgive myself for not expecting a burger.

Mille feuille means ‘thousand layers’. It makes me think of pastry and cream and fruit. Here, I knew I was looking at something savoury with a patty, guacamole and salad between some kind of cereal.

Vegetarian burger. Because you can get that now.

Vegetarian burger. Because you can get that now. With guacamole.

We ordered awkwardly, took a seat and waited for our meals. They did not take long to arrive. They were maybe not the best I’ve ever had but were decent, filling vegetarian burgers (Right! Burgers. That makes sense. Can I blame jet lag?), mine with salad instead of fries. It wasn’t a gourmet burger place but the service was friendly, kind and efficient, and we enjoyed watching the other guests and getting our ear in. We left full and ready to meet a friend of mine for cocktails  at Le Syndicat, swapping white walls for gold lurex hangings.

My soup is cold!

Saturday night was the night we wanted to dress up and go somewhere fancy. In the end, we didn’t dress up but went as we were, crossing our fingers and hoping that 42 degrés would have a table for two.

The restaurant name refers to the fact that in raw cooking, no ingredients can be heated about 42ºC. It was a rather elegant-looking place, a narrow dining room with the kitchen exposed in back. They have one physical menu in English and that was with the table next to ours. Luckily, my French is good enough to read a menu. We decided to have the gourmand menu, a four course affair with fRAWmage between main and desert.

I started with a Japanese medley. Christopher had mushroom soup. Again, we didn’t quite get what we expected. We weren’t thinking. Christopher said to me “my soup is cold” and I cocked an eye-brow with a ‘what do you expect from a raw restaurant?’. I then picked up a piece of sushi and thought, “oh, the rice is weird, it’s like it hasn’t been cooked”. Soaked rice has a very different texture from cooked rice. The sushi was nice, the soup was amazing. It had great depth of flavour.

We swapped mains the moment they arrived. The spinach cannelloni looked great and was served on a gentle curry sauce. The vegetable plate contained a lot of cauliflower, Christopher’s #1 vegetable dislike. It was a sophisticated salad of finely shaved cauliflower and other vegetables lightly dressed and served with pickled vegetables and nuts.

What you can do with a bit of creativity and the ability to dry but not cook. One of my favourite desserts of the year.

What you can do with a bit of creativity and the ability to dry but not cook. One of my favourite desserts of the year.

The fRAWmage came in three flavours: plain, mustard and herbs. It was served with a kale crisp and a figgy type of bread. It was a nice break between meals but if  I ever go vegan, I’ll give up cheese. The substitutes never get close enough.

I finished with armagnac and ‘four views of fig’, a fabulous dessert of raw figs, dried figs, ice cream and puré. It was lovely: a great way to showcase seasonal ingredients.

The XL portion, please

Our last night, we decided to have Vietnamese and went to La palanche d’Âulac. We were the second people in the restaurant – Britts eat early. Our meal ended up all about noodles and seitan, the gluten-based protein so beloved by European vegetarians. I started with a salad: crunchy, sour and sweet. Christopher started with a springroll, a crispy pastry tightly rolled around a chewy, umami-filled seitan.

Did you say seitan? Yeah, we've got some of that. Also noodles.

Did you say seitan? Yeah, we’ve got some of that. Also noodles.

For mains, I had the four seasons kebabs: seitan four ways, from light and sesame-flavoured, to rich and dark. It came with glass noodles and vegetables and was very tasty. The noodles were plain but the skewers had great flavour and texture. Christopher, who’s used to the vegetarian option being the smallest thing on the menu, asked for an XL noodle bowl. Seitan is very filling and there was a lot of it in the bowl, flavoured with a sweet and rich dark sauce, as well as a mountain of noodles and veg. Only I had room for dessert.

Bits and pieces

We walked around our area quite a lot and saw non-veggie restaurants that had vegetarian not just options but sections on the menu. It was amazing. We didn’t go all vegetarian/vegan. On the first day, we thought lunch was sufficient but then realised that we were hungry after cocktails. So we went to a local corner restaurant and had steak tartare (not the best ever but a completely blissfull experience regardless) and, for the veggie, penne with Gorgonzola. I asked for a white wine to go with that and the waiter laughed. Never mind. I wanted white, dammit.

We found a small patisserie that sold the most amazingly coloured and flavoured shortbread. We bought a slice of sponge called l’autumne de Versailles: it was violet and peach flavoured, the insides swirled purple and orange, the top covered in a delicious grey streussel and decorated with a pink meringue. Loved it. Also rather loved the violet shortbread. And the Russe (crunchy base, meringue with chocolate and dates on top. Chewy. Fabby). Wanted to go back. Didn’t have time. Sadness.

L'autumn de Versaille (autumn in Versaille, if you hadn't guessed.) Loved the colour, loved the flavours.

L’autumn de Versailles (autumn in Versailles, if you hadn’t guessed). Loved the colour, loved the flavours.

We had breakfast in a coffee roasters where they tried to sell us coffee on the way out. Points for willingness to sell. That’s where I learned that tartine is bread not a small tart.

This is what I want for breakfast every day. You can keep your full Scottish.

This is what I want for breakfast every day. You can keep your full Scottish.

We had rose and pistachio cake in a café that was supposed to be weird. We loved the cake and thought the café closed too early.

Pistachio and rose cake: the very thing to get you settled after a journey.

Pistachio and rose cake: the very thing to get you settled after a journey.

Walking around Montmartre, we stopped in at a bakery so Christopher could have a guacamole sandwich. They sold the most amazing-looking bread and I wanted so to buy one of their levains. But I knew we wouldn’t eat it so was sensible. Kind of regret that. The crumb would have been perfect for soaking up our tears at Montmartre graveyard.

We went to Les Printemps at 10 o’clock Monday morning before going to the airport purely to look at the glass dome. It was an exquisite, glass of champagne sight. I had coffee because the Swede in me cannot accept alcohol before noon.

I’m not going to leave it another nine years. I really like Paris and now that there’s plenty variety for C, there’s no reason to stay away.

Springtime in Paris? I figure I could handle that.

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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