The first order of business last Sunday in Paris was a visit to the Eiffel Tower, a structure which still has the capacity to astonish us today and must have done so by a factor of 10+ when it was first constructed. The Eiffel Tower was built for the International Exhibition of Paris of 1889 commemorating the centenary of the French Revolution. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England, opened the tower. Of the 700 proposals submitted in a design competition, Gustave Eiffel’s was unanimously chosen. However it was not accepted by all at first, and a petition of 300 names – including those of Maupassant, Emile Zola, Charles Garnier (architect of the Opéra Garnier), and Dumas the Younger – protested at its construction.
Ecole Militaire seen through the base of the Eiffel Tower
At 300 metres (320.75m including antenna), and 7000 tons, it was the world’s tallest building until 1930. It was almost torn down in 1909, but was saved because of its antenna – used for telegraphy at that time. Beginning in 1910 it became part of the International Time Service. French radio (since 1918), and French television (since 1957) have also made use of its stature. During its lifetime, the Eiffel Tower has also witnessed a few strange scenes, including being scaled by a mountaineer in 1954, and parachuted off of in 1984 by two Englishmen. In 1923 a journalist rode a bicycle down from the first level. Some accounts say he rode down the stairs, other accounts suggest the exterior of one of the tower’s four legs which slope outward.
However, if its birth was difficult, it is now completely accepted and is the iconic symbol of Paris itself. The tower has three platforms. A restaurant (extremely expensive; reservations absolutely necessary), the Jules Verne is on the second platform. The top platform has a bar, souvenir shop, and the (recently restored) office of Gustave Eiffel. From its platforms – especially the topmost – the view upon Paris is superb. It is generally agreed that one hour before sunset, the panorama is at its best.
The scale and audacity of its construction and the lifts accessing it in the four piers still astonish. However, for me it is the ascent from the 2eme Etage to the top is still impressive. Whereas modern towers seem hugely safe and secure there is a real sense of adventure ascending through the improbably spindly steelwork to the top and it is a great tribute to Gustave Eiffel, an Engineer and an Entrepreneur that it is still standing proud and strong in this, its 120th birthday.
After paying tribute to this symbol of Paris it was off to the meet our friend for lunch in the 10th arrondissement by the Canal St. Martin. The Canal Saint-Martin neighbourhood is nestled between Gare du Nord and République in North-eastern Paris, in the 10th arrondissement. The canal feeds into the Seine River in the South and the Bassin de la Villete and the Canal de l’Ourq in the North. Originaly an industrial area with warehouses and workshops it has gentrified over the past 10 years and morphed into an attractive residential area and lung for the city. Napoléon ordered the construction of the Canal Saint-Martin in 1802. It was originally built to link to the Canal de l’Ourq, further north, to supply fresh water to the city and link to the canal systems of Northern France. In the 19th century, the area was mostly occupied by working-class labourers. Only recently has it started to attract well-to-do professionals eager to snag apartments with views of the canal.
Dimanche en Paris is special as swathes of the City are reclaimed by pedestrians and cyclists as the police close off whole areas (including the traffic tunnels) to cars. This is an example of what strong joined up city government can do and contrasts with the shameful spectacle in London when snow fell recently and roads to bus garages and ambulance stations were not cleared resulting in no buses running (this didn’t even happen during the Blitz!) and emergency services only transporting life or death cases. On Sundays, two streets running parallel to the canal, Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes, are reserved for pedestrians and cyclists—perfect for renting a bike and seeing the city from a fresh angle. Another possibility is to take a tour of the canal by boat.
Our destination today was a Bistro called Le Chaland (which means “the barge”) on the Quai de Valmy. This is the type of unpretentious neighbourhood establishment found throughout France with a compact menu featuring tried and tested dishes and where you stroll in without booking for a coffee, drink, a read of the paper or as in our case Lunch or Dinner. Le Chaland was typical with 5 starters, one of which is always a very good lentil soups, 3 classic French salads, 4 meat dishes, a pasta and a couple of fish dishes. The menu is brought to you on a four foot high blackboard (pardon; 1200 mm!) and everything is prepared fresh in house, woe betide the chef who uses a packet sauce in such an establishment! Generally starters are 7 euro and Mains 12/14 euro. The produce and style of cooking is always of the locality. This is why the Food Critic of Le Figaro recently criticised Gordon Ramsay’s establishments as “photocopier restaurants” with the same formula replicated across the world.
Speaking of reading a paper in a Bistro Ireland had conquered “Les Bleus” in Rugby Football the previous day at Croke Park in Dublin and I noticed with amusement the headline in the French sports paper L’Equipe “Croques en Croke Parques” which means chewed in Croke Park! Inside there was four pages of analysis on how the French Squad could not beat the referee!
Now for the serious business in hand, a white wine was chosen for the starter and a red for the main course. For starter myself and our host chose Croustillant de chèvre; this is good goat’s cheese encased in millefeuille pastry and deep fried and served hot on a simple green salad (normally small romaine leaves) with a dressing of vinaigrette, capers and herbes de province. The contrast between the warm, salty cheese in its very light pastry case and the crunchy salad makes this a very satisfying dish. The present wife chose a plate of Assiette de Charcuterie, a selection of freshly sliced cold meats served simply with cornichons or miniature French gherkins. She pronounced them excellent.
For the mains our host ordered the Boeuf Tartare with frites. This is finely chopped top quality steak (normally rumpsteak) served with raw egg on top and with capers, chopped onions, parsley, Worcestershire sauce and freshly ground salt and pepper on the side. You then mix it yourself at the table to taste. The Sage has not ordered it for some time since he eat it in Bertroli’s in Floral Lane, London many years ago and his companion decided there and then that she could not have babies with a man who eat raw meat. There were no such considerations today but I ordered the Magret de Canard. This means Duck Breast in French where a breast filet (including the fatty side piece) is pan fried with pepper, put to one side and the pan deglazed with cognac which is flambé and then cream is added to make the au poivre sauce. The Magret (which is still pink inside, “au point”) is then sliced and served with the sauce over and in this case with Duchesse potatos. Classic, simple and delicious. Mrs. Sage went for a veal chop with pasta with a fresh peppery tomato sauce which she pronounced excellent.
Satiated by our generous plats we shared a cleansing apple ice cream with our calvados and coffee’s before strolling along the canal to enjoy this relaxing day in Paris. Le Chaland is a Bistro Tenant and very much part of the neighbourhood. You rarely find places like this in England with the chains serving their standardised offerings or the Gastro-Pubs being overwhelmed by pretension and the Braying Chablis Swilling Classes loudly vying for attention.
A word about our amiable and erudite host for he was none other than the famous “Mr. Quiz” of Paris! An Irish expat who is a long time resident of the 10th arrondissement. His bi-lingual Pub Quiz is a Parisian phenomenon as is his stern hosting of the Wednesday night Quiz at the Green Linnet near the Hôtel de Ville. Have a look at the website;
His fame has spread far and wide as Pub Quiz’s were not common in France before he launched them and here is an article from The Times no less on this cultural import to France;
Mr Quiz lectures at the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris and runs Eblana offering language training, translation and business support services in Paris;
Eblana is the name of an ancient Irish settlement believed by some to have occupied the same site as the modern city of Dublin. The earliest reference to Dublin is sometimes said to occur in the writings of Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy), the Greek astronomer and cartographer, around the year 140 AD, who refers to a settlement in Ireland called Eblana. Like James Joyce and The Sage, It seems Mr. Quiz has left Dublin but Dublin hasn’t left him!
So if you are looking for authentic Bistro Fare in Paris you could do worse than roll up to Le Chaland (closed Monday) and if you do so on a car free Sunday you have the added bonus of seeing this charming quarter along the Canal St. Martin at its best. Bon Appétit as they say in these parts!
163 quai de Valmy
tél. 01 40 05 18 68
Métro : Château Landon Louis Blanc
fermé le lundi