Save the best for last, they always say. Respecting that trite maxim, I made sure that my last day in Paris would be filled with its most compelling bakeries and patisseries.
Going to Paris without having macarons from Ladurée is the culinary equivalent of going to London and not watching a production. They're both fairly expensive (a box of seven macarons will set you back €11) and over rather quickly, but they're both extremely enjoyable and make you seem very sophisticated.
Ladurée was bustling with activity; the number of customers trying to purchase a box of macarons at any one time was quite astonishing. And the macarons themselves! An amazing panoply of colours; deep reds, blushing pinks, inky blacks, hazelnut browns, verdant greens and toffee browns all laid out in clear boxes, waiting to be scooped out of their plastic nests and into the anticipating hands (and mouths) of the impatient customers.
There were so many macarons in that small space that a diabetic could have become hyperglycaemic simply by breathing. Some of the must-try flavours from Ladurée include their orange blossom, chocolate, strawberry and pistacchio. Steer clear of their réglisse and mille et une nuits unless you're fond of liquorice and harissa.
75 av des Champs-Élysées
Metro George V
Lunch was at L'Etoile Vert, apparently a bistro that's been serving reasonably-priced meals for the better part of two decades.
I've never seen soup served in a metal bowl before, but I suppose when one pays less, one should expect fewer accoutrements as well. In any case the tomato soup was hearty and robust, and a welcome change to the many bowls of pumpkin soup I'd already had.
My main course was another braised beef dish - this time with carrots and potatoes. I am very fond of braised beef, because slow-cooking really coaxes the flavours from the meat and breaks down all the tough sinews that sometimes can plague even the best cuts of meat. It's almost like external digestion. While not terribly sophisticated, that's the whole point - braised beef announces its rustic charms, and nothing says rustic like potatoes and carrots. My only beef (sorry, couldn't help it) was that the accompanying sauce was a bit too thin for my liking.
Dessert was a simple, straight-forward chocolate mousse, which was airy without being ephemeral. Again served in a metal container, this was starting to bother me at the point.
13 rue Bre
Metro Charles de Gaulle-Étoile
After lunch, we paid a visit to the oldest boulangerie in Paris, Poilâne. I was somewhat surprised and disappointed to find that they occupied such a small shop space; I had expected them to be an immense, bread-making factory straight out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Although famed for their huge, 2kg miche Poilâne, I contented myself with a small, savoury apple tart from the venerable, world-famous bakery. Somehow the irony appealed to me.
8 rue du Cherche Midi
Metro Sèvres Babylone
While I did stop by Le Bon Marché's Grande Epicerie, the smorgasboard of fresh produce and gastronomic products was slightly gratuitous by this point, especially since I wasn't actually buying any of it. Definitely worth a stop if you're in the area though.
Le Bon Marché
24 rue de Sèvres
Metro Sèvres Babylone
By late afternoon, it was time to pay a visit to the one chocolatier and patisserie in all of Paris I'd been dying to go to, named for its eponymous owner and enfant terrible of pastry, Pierre Hermé.
Unlike Ladurée, Pierre Hermé is located in a very modest district, and can take several tries to find. Despite this, the boutique is no less busy, and there is a constant queue for his macarons, which at €9.50 for 8, are cheaper than Ladurée's.
Naturally there was no way I was going all the way without trying Pierre Hermé's signature Ispahan; the famous rose-flavoured palm-sized macaron, encrowned with deep crimson raspberries. One bite into the crisp pink shell, and even before your teeth sink into the rosewater-scented cream, before you feel the explosions of slightly-tart sweetness as the raspberries burst upon your lips, you become aware of the incredible complexities of this classic. The immaculate blending of textures; from crunchy to soft, the perfect mixing of flavours; rose, cream, raspberry and lychee, and the most beautiful scent all strike your senses and linger even after the macaron is long gone.
It is this dedication, sensitivity and artisanal quality that you find in all of Pierre Hermé's macarons that truly set them apart , and it is then you understand, if you haven't already, what the fuss is all about, and why the culinary world goes slack-jawed at every new creation. If you're looking for a culinary experience, or the best macarons you've ever had, you'll probably find both at Pierre Hermé.
72 rue Bonaparte