Talking Food: An apt address

My French is still a work in progress, but even my sketchy knowledge can hazard a guess that Rue des Vinaigriers, a street in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, just off the Canal Saint Martin, has something to do with vinegar.

The road of the makers of the vinegar apparently. And, rather aptly, four years ago it also became the home to the first fish and chip shop in Paris, The Sunken Chip.

Sitting at one of the restaurant’s long wooden benches, Mikael Attar, one of its four founders, laughs when I check my translation of the address. “It’s very funny for a fish and chip shop,” he says.

Fish and chips

Fish and chips [Credit: The Sunken Chip]

The French take on a very British tradition was set up by Attar, his college friend Jeremy Attuil, and two British chefs, Michael Greenwold and James Whelan.

Attar, Attuil and Whelan had already worked together, opening a since-closed bar called L’Inconnu.

Every time we finished work, James would say he’d like to eat fish and chips,” Attar recalls. “He couldn’t understand why, in Paris, there was no place to eat fish and chips. In London, on every corner he could eat that.”

An idea formed, but at first, Attar wasn’t convinced. “I said, ‘if there’s no fish and chips in Paris, there’s a reason’,” he says.

But they saw an opening at a time when food culture in the city was rapidly changing.

“There are a lot of restaurants opened by young entrepreneurs like us. Before it was only brasserie-type restaurants, in families for generations. Now there’s a lot of young people, who don’t want to work at a desk, who want to open their own small place,” he says.

For a French audience, some of the quirks of a British-style ‘chippie’ take a little explaining. Attar gestures to large glass jars lined up on a shelf set into the white-tiled wall behind him.

“This, the pickled eggs and onions, for the French guy, it is very strange,” he says.

In a pickle

In a pickle [Credit: The Sunken Chip]

“English food for the French has a bad name. We try to change this,” Attar says.

The Sunken Chip gets a lot of French customers, he says. “And a true community of English people who live here.”

Earlier this month, The Sunken Chip catered for a garden party at the British embassy in Paris, flagging the event on social media with the hashtag #fishandchipsforthequeen.

Events such as this are now a big part of the restaurant’s business. A year after it opened its doors in July 2013, it expanded with a food truck. Twice a week The Sunken Chip van appears at La Défense, a rambling business district to the west of Paris, and serves lunch to office workers. You’ll also see the truck, emblazoned with the distinctively British slogan ‘jolly good fish’n’chips’, at festivals and events.

“We have a lot of people who ask for private events in the restaurant,” Attar says. Given space constraints, often the response has to be no. “So we launched the food truck.”

Fish and chips, he says, are easy to eat on the street. “The street food is part of our business,” he explains.

The Sunken Chip gets a delivery of fresh fish every morning. The only thing that isn’t made on site, according to Attar, is the bread for the fish burger. It doesn’t have to travel too far though, coming from the Liberté bakery next door.

The most popular dish? “The classic,” Attar says. “It’s hake, and the batter is a very classic batter that you can eat in England.”

The menu has a good selection of fish options, including smoked haddock and a catch of the day option. Plus there are some quintessentially British sides: mushy peas, chip butties, pickled eggs.

Attar believes that there’s an energy to the Paris food scene, driven by young entrepreneurs who are trying to do something different.

“It’s very good for the city. There are restaurants opening every week. That’s cool. Everybody talks about all the openings but in the meantime, there are restaurants closing too,” he says.

However, he sees less innovation in night-life in the city. “I see the night-life down in Paris. I think there’s a lot of offerings until 23:00. After that it is boring. It’s a little boring for the nightlife but very exciting for the first part of the night.”

With a laugh, he says: “It is not a problem for me, I wake up very early so I don’t go to the bars anymore.”

Preserving breakfast

Growing up in 1980s Ireland, breakfast generally involved cereal from a cardboard box, sometimes with the added bonus of some kind of toy hidden inside. Sometimes with a side of toasted slice pan, or perhaps, a boiled egg. And always with a cup of tea.

In reality my routine has changed little in the last three decades. Breakfast comes in a bowl midweek, porridge hot or cold, depending on the season. At weekends, when there’s more time for food preparation and lolling over a meal, eggs are usually on the menu.

But in an era of food as a fetish, even the humble breakfast isn’t safe.  Porridge with milk and maybe some apple or raisins to liven it up a bit simply doesn’t cut it these days. No, breakfast now comes with unpronounceable ingredients like acai. And, by decree of Instagram, must be green.

I’m as guilty of jumping on a bandwagon as the next person, and I do like trying out new ingredients or recipes. But when it comes to breakfast, I’m very much a creature of habit.

Which is why, I’m not convinced on the merits of a smoothie for breakfast. And definitely not if it comes in a bowl. Why would you want to eat a drink with a spoon?

But, I capitulated last week due to unseasonably hot weather and the allure of something resembling an ice-pop for breakfast. My first attempt at a smoothie bowl was a blend of frozen berries, milk and oats. Next I added some nuts, more frozen berries and coconut.

It was very refreshing, but not very filling.  Another sticky hot morning encouraged me to have another go, this time with raspberries, oats, cashews and lime zest.

I’ll agree with Instagram on one thing. Smoothie bowls look lovely once tarted up with nuts and so on. A very pretty breakfast. But my ideal breakfast is less pretty, more filling.

I remain devoted to porridge.

A pinch of spice

Ever since I can remember, I have loved the taste of salt. On chips (along with a good dousing of vinegar), in butter, and liberally sprinkled on lots of other things too.

While a little bit of everything in moderation is fine, too much salt is not generally regarded as a great idea.  So, instead of using as much salt as I used to, I now try to experiment more with herbs and spices.

A selection of spices

A selection of spices

A good selection of dried herbs and spices are great friends to have in your kitchen. On those days when your cupboards are bare, and you’ve very little to work with ingredient-wise, spices will work miracles — livening up a sad fridge-leftovers omelette, adding some oomph to the tin of chickpeas lurking in the press, making a quick marinade for some freezer meat.

My current favourite is smoked paprika, which has a Tex-Mex type of flavour and is really nice on sweet potato chips. I just have to resist the urge to sprinkle lots of salt on them too!

Picture this

Succulent red tomatoes, crispy golden bread, berries bursting with juice, a sizzling BBQ.

Words can only go so far when it comes to describing food. But a good photograph? With that you can smell the smoke rising from the BBQ, almost taste the burgers.

I started this blog because I enjoy eating, cooking, reading food magazines and listening to food-related podcasts. Writing is my day job, so the words part of blogging wasn’t too daunting. Photos, however, are not my strong point.

I snap away on my iPhone (I don’t have a camera). And I play about with colour and light and all that stuff. Really though, I haven’t got a clue.

In a bid to improve, yesterday I spent the afternoon at a workshop on food photography and styling with the lovely Elise, also known as The Pineapple Chef.

Before I got there, I was a little wary that most of the stuff would be far beyond the capabilities of my iPhone and I. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the same basic rules apply to a good photo, regardless of the device.

Elise offered great tips on how to improve photos, which will hopefully mean better images on these pages from now on. And after the fun of playing around with photos and styling, then there was plenty of time for cake eating too…all in all a lovely Sunday.

Some of my images below…

Fancy apple tart

Fancy apple tart

Lemon macarons

Lemon macarons

Berries and macarons

Berries and macarons

 

 

 

 

Dahl for dinner

Failed recipe-following attempts can be frustrating. Despite following the instructions carefully, you end up with something a million miles from the tasty looking picture you’d set out to recreate, and are left wondering where you went wrong. That was the case in my kitchen yesterday.

A red lentil dahl was on the menu, using this recipe from the Fit Foodie blog. As with all of Derval O’Rourke’s recipes, it was easy to follow and fuss-free. The problem was not with the recipe, but with my execution of it.

I chopped, diced, added, stirred and simmered to my heart’s content. However, the finished product was less creamy, and sadly less tasty looking than I’d expected.

But, there’s always a solution. A drizzle of natural yogurt added moisture, and I chucked on some lemon juice and chilli flakes too in a bid to spruce up my dinner.

Lentils

Lentils

Similar to many people who like to cook (or simply eat!), I’m prone to the odd Instagram wander. I’ve fallen down that rabbit hole many times, scrolling through endless images of delicious looking dishes, set against a backdrop of gleaming, light-filled kitchens.

Last night’s dinner certainly wasn’t one for Instagram. But despite a dubious texture, it was surprisingly tasty. And healthy. And quick. And cheap.

And sometimes, that’s exactly the right recipe.

Obsessed with eggs

There’s something very comforting and nostalgic about a dippy egg, soft yolk spewing as a buttered soldier dives in.

A perfectly fried egg, crispy and runny at once, served with chips and ketchup is another favourite memory of mine, one I associate with ‘quick dinners’ and canteen lunches.

I’ve tried some lovely vegan dishes recently in a bid to boost my intake of veggies.  But I could never become a vegan. Firstly I lack the inclination, and secondly, I’d miss eggs too much. Meat and dairy too, but especially eggs.

Boiled egg

Boiled egg

The best part about eggs? Versatility. They work for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Boiled, scrambled, baked, fried, poached…all equally as tasty.

I’m partial to a quick omelette for a lazy dinner, and also love eggs for breakfast, especially at the weekend.

 

Talking food

I’m kicking off something a little different today, with the first post in a new Talking Food series. I’ll be interviewing people from the bustling Paris food scene, and sharing their stories here. First up is Christine O’Sullivan, a pastry chef from Cork, who runs a pastry shop in Paris with her partner Chris Wilson. Continue reading

Paris rooftops

Cake by cake

I appear to have developed a habit.

Not the worst of habits, as vices go. But a deliciously decadent one: cake.

Wandering the streets of Paris over the last few weeks, as the city warmed up with the caress of spring’s fingers, I’ve found myself nibbling sweet treats on almost a daily basis.

I’ve lots of other pastry, chocolate and cake shops earmarked for a visit, but so far there’s been no shortage of tasty treats.

Eclairs have always been a favourite of mine. My grandmother made gorgeous ones, and seeing so many lined up in the windows of bakeries here has brought back some lovely memories of her homemade eclairs, oozing with freshly whipped cream.

The best cake I’ve guzzled so far in Paris? A salted caramel eclair from L’Eclair de Genie, a swanky bakery with every eclair flavour you can imagine.

Eclair

Eclair

Another highlight was a gooey, nutty, crunchy masterpiece from a small bakery in Montmartre that I happened across on a lazy stroll. Its take on the popular Paris-Brest cake (choux pastry with a praline flavoured cream) was quickly devoured in a little park.

Cake in the park

Cake in the park

I imagine there’ll be plenty more cake as myself and Paris continue to get acquainted.