Gary Rose discovers a genuine taste of Paris, just a few hours away by new and better Eurostar.
“Previously it was very strict,” says Michel, the general manager at Alcazar in the Paris district of Saint Germain. I think he means “austere” but my A level French pales in comparison to his English, so I keep my trap shut.
He’s talking about his restaurant’s new decor. It’s been revamped by architect Laura Gonzalez, who was given the brief of making it feminine, green and Parisian. It’s clear Michel is impressed with the results. I am too.
Arranged over two levels, the first floor skirts around the space’s periphery like a picture frame, enabling cocktail slurpers to peer down from the balcon at the diners on the ground floor. Sprouting up through the centre is a forest of what look like, to my horticulturaly challenged eyes, palm fronds and apricot trees.
Spherical lampshades descend from the ceiling like fluorescent tarantula eggs. The bar is contemporary art deco; black and white prints by the photographer Bruce Gilden complement the olive walls with characteristic subtlety.
Even though I no longer partake, I’m impressed to see a smoking room. Inside, it feels like an ashtray converted into a sauna Ã¢â‚¬â€ but in a comfortingly Parisian way, if you know what I mean. I spy the DJ booth and ask Michel what kind of music they play. “Always happy music. It can be any style but it’s always happy,” he says. A bit non-committal, so I presume it’s probably upbeat jazz. Can’t go wrong with upbeat jazz…
I must admit it’d never occurred to me to leap on the Eurostar to go for lunch in Paris. No, that’d be far too adventurous. Usually the Frenchest I get, during office hours at least, is the local Pret.
It’s only two-and-a-half hours to the Gare du Nord by train, followed by around 30 minutes’ taxi ride to the hip streets of Saint German. So, bearing in mind you lose an hour in transit, you could split from St Pancras around 9am and be at Alcazar, or any number of chic restaurants, easily in time for lunch.
Of course, it’s a fine area to flaneur around too, with narrow streets that hug the Seine like hairs on a caterpillar. Alcazar lies in the thick of the bohemian, arty area. A short walk north, with the Louvre in sight, you’ll get a more touristy vibe: accordionists, Chat Noir posters. You know the deal….
Alcazar’s menu is modern and eclectic. Like the decor, it’s stylish but accessible. Lots of seafood, beef and duck.
The crab cakes with house spiced ketchup kick off my lunch. Except they don’t quite kick off as much as expected. I wanted a punch of herby freshness or a slap of lemon tang. Those crabs just needed a bit more pinch in the claw.
It’s not the most elegantly presented dish on the menu either, looking like diminished onion bhajis waiting at traffic lights stuck on red. By contrast, my friend’s ceviche of sea bass with grapefruit and granny smith is a delicate work of art. Round one to her.
On to the ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and Dublin Bay prawns, with smoked garlic espuma. Surprisingly, parsley dominates the garlic here, while the surrounding foam has a life of its own, moving independently of its pasta-cloaked host. It surpasses my starter, and I’m again impressed with my companion’s choice of seared scallops with tarbais beans and chorizo.
But the Palme d’Or, so to speak, goes to dessert. Poached pear with gingerbread and vanilla ice cream. Wow. This is gingerbread how it’s supposed to be: soft, bready, delicately spiced, rather than crunchy and stale with bow tie and buttons. The pear is infused with mulled wine, and suddenly I’m infused with the festive spirit in the middle of April.
Aah, Christmas in springtime in Paris. I reckon I’ll be doing this again.
62 Rue Mazarine, 75006, Paris
- Eurostar operates up to 21 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare Du Nord with one-way fares starting from £29 (based on a return journey)
- Fastest London-Paris journey time is 2hr 15 minutes
- Tickets are available from www.eurostar.com or 03432 186 186
- Seamless city centre to city centre travel, with stations located in the heart of destinations (no need for expensive lengthy journeys out to airports)
- The extra baggage allowance you get on Eurostar vs planes (Eurostar offers each person 2 suitcases and 1 piece hand luggage at no extra charge)
- Fast and convenient check-in Ã¢â‚¬â€œ passengers are requested to arrive only 30 minutes before departure (or 10 minutes if travelling Business Premier)
- Comfort and space on board to work or unwind
- No queues or baggage reclaim upon arrival Ã¢â‚¬â€œ simply take your bag with you on board
Wifi and onboard entertainment
· Eurostar passengers can now connect mobile phones or tablets to the free on-board wifi, customers can unlock more than 300 hours of popular TV shows and movies
·Coaches with new features
· Ergonomically designed reclining seats
· Extendable seat cushion giving extra comfort to those with longer legs
· UK and Continental power sockets at every seat, as well as a mirror, device holder and individual reading light in Standard Premier and Business Premier
· Extra storage and a slimline table give passengers space to spread out and work or stretch out and snooze
· Touch-free glass doors that open automatically – perfect for when you’re carrying luggage or a glass of bubbly