Small Spaces, Sweet Pleasures in Paris

Sunday, 01 March 2015

Small Spaces, Sweet Pleasures in Paris

I love the grand cities of the world – London, Paris, New York and more – and when I am in these great places, I take enormous delight in searching out the small pleasures. Sometimes, these small pleasures are quite literally found in petite venues, tucked into corners and on side streets, waiting to be discovered.

On another recent visit to Paris, I opted for the small end of the scale and I was not disappointed by what I found.

I stayed in a sweet boutique hotel called Pavillon des Lettres. It's part of a trio of distinctive boutique hotels – along with Pavillon de la Reine and Hotel du Petit Moulin. Before checking into Pavillon des Lettres, I popped into Pavillon de la Reine for a drink. This exquisite hotel is in an exceptional location, sitting discreetly on the perimeter of the historic Place des Vosges. I walked through a gorgeous private courtyard with high, ivy-covered walls and into the hotel. To the left and right I discovered two guest lounges – the library room for champagnes and wines, and the fireplace room devoted to the fuller range of spirits... An honour bar system was in effect for guests. I sank into an inviting couch in the fireplace room, and while I enjoyed a glass of wine I felt completely comfortable in this warm, intimate setting that was very much like an elegant home.

Later, I made my way to the Pavillon des Lettres, the modern and more bohemian sister hotel. The small lobby and long lounge with tall windows looking onto the street are decorated in a contemporary style, in colours of taupe, charcoal and orange. Conveniently there are 26 rooms, matched against the 26 letters of the alphabet, each one standing for a famous author. I stayed in room "C" for Calderon, a seventeenth century Spanish dramatist and poet. Stretching across one wall of the room, Calderon's words were stenciled in French, providing inspiration for the mind! The rooms are a standard size for Paris, and very intelligently designed with built-ins and efficient bathrooms making the most of every inch of space. My room had a perfect balcony - large enough for a table and two chairs, with a view over the rooftops to the Eiffel Tower in the distance... an inspiration for any writer! The location of Pavillon des Lettres is especially great for fans of fashion, who can nip over one block to traverse the full length of the famous Rue Fauborg Ste Honore.


I don't know if it is the smallest restaurant in Paris, but given that its name means 'postage stamp' in English, Le Timbre definitely sits at the tiny end of the scale. I decided to check it out. The small room has an open kitchen overlooking a grand total of 24 seats! The husband and wife proprietors (he's the chef and she's out front with the guests) have devised a seasonal fixed price menu where you may chose 3, 4 or 5 courses. I chose three courses and was very satisfied with the quantity and quality of food. The starter was creative contrast of flavours with a poached egg in butternut squash foam garnished with cecina (cured dried ham). A seared pork filet on a potato flan, with shallots and roasted chard comprised the hearty main course. Agnes has been in the wine business for years and makes excellent recommendations – Cazeneuve Les Calcaires from Languedoc was a perfect complement to the pork. Dessert was a lovely plate composed of homemade brioche ice cream with chocolate sauce, clementines and an almond biscuit. Le Timbre is a tiny, perfect spot for great food made with care.


To round out my experience of the small spots, I visited a compact, classic French bistro in the heart of Paris. For the "vrai chose" (the real thing) you can't go wrong with Aux Bon Crus! It's a modest, authentic bistro where the two partners Stephane and Lionel create a light-hearted atmosphere of fun. Passionate about bringing simple French food and wine to their guests, they love to talk about why these classic menu items originated.

"Bistro fare is made by working people for working people," Lionel said. "Inexpensive cuts of meat and seasonal vegetables are left to simmer for a long time, while all the other work gets done."


My tranche de gigot d'agneau a l'os (lamb on the bone) was tender and delicious, served alongside a colorful array of vegetables. As I finished my meal and the bistro prepared to close to the public for the night, I noticed young waiters who had just come off their shifts at other restaurants slip in the side door for the conviviality and company of good, easy-going friends at Aux Bon Crus.

From boutique hotels to pint-sized eating establishments, I found great pleasure in these small places full of authentic Parisian charm.