A new generation of gourmet grocers is helping food lovers rediscover France’s far-flung gastronomic pleasures in chic, welcoming spaces that raise food shopping – and no-fuss dining – to the level of art. Upgrading the traditional French épiceries du coin (corner grocers), this new generation take their wares and ethic seriously, answering the burgeoning interest in meticulously sourced, sustainable and artisanal products, while keeping discovery, pleasure and delight at the forefront of their approach.
Each of the shops covered herein possesses its own signature style, but all of them share one thing: the wish to convey their love for French gastronomy and a passion for the country’s unparalleled culinary richness.
It’s impossible to resist the siren song of this charming épicerie-cantine, which opened last December, just steps from the Canal Saint-Martin. Set on a pretty side street, with flowers spilling over the sidewalk from the florist next door, Myrthe’s relaxed, welcoming vibe and airy interior encapsulate everything that makes the Canal Saint-Martin neighbourhood so beguiling.
It was also love at first sight for co-founders Marion Depigny and Laura Leclère, who’d left their respective jobs as a lawyer and advertising executive and were searching for a spot in the east of Paris to open their dream boutique.
“For us it was a true professional turnaround,” the duo say, “born of a desire to create a neighbourhood enterprise around quality products, exclusively French, in a warm and convivial setting.”
After two years of planning, and with the help of an architect friend, Depigny and Leclère opened their stylish, light-flooded space, featuring a hand-picked selection of fresh and packaged delicacies from every region of France. The main floor offers colourful tins of Normandy sardines, fine olive oils and vinegars, a selection of natural wines, beer from the Deck & Donohue microbrewery in nearby Montreuil, farm cheeses, the famous beurre Bordier and artisanal charcuterie – everything is top notch and French.
Up in the mezzanine cantine, diners can linger over market-fresh salads, sandwiches, savoury tarts, the soup of the day and decadent, gluten-free desserts, or have them packed up to take away. All-day hours, from 10am to 8pm, make this the perfect place for a fine cup of coffee (from Belleville Brûlerie roasters) and a breakfast or teatime pastry.
There’s plenty to fit in your suitcase, too – buttery Breton biscuits, fruit-rich La Trinquelinette preserves and foie gras from Duperier in Landes, just for starters.
10 rue de la Grange-aux-Belles, Paris 10th. Tel: +33 9 86 24 40 22. Web:www.myrtheparis.fr
Foodies at heart, Maud Zilnyk and Lucio Hornero left their day jobs to pursue a shared passion: the love of good food and the wish to bring healthy, high-quality and delicious products to the citizens of Paris.
Forsaking a glamorous career in fashion, Zilnyk, with her family in tow, spent a year scouring the French countryside for the “crème de la crème” of organic farm-to-table products – those with a pedigree of which she could be sure.
Although Zilnyk and Hornero were initially intent on opening in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood, they found the perfect little storefront just over the border of the 7th arrondissement, among the elegant homes and shops of the sleepy Rue Verneuil. With thechouette as their symbol – in French, it means both an owl and something really nice – the bright, contemporary Épicerie Générale opened in 2011 and proved an instant success.
The duo’s philosophy is strictly sustainable, organic, ethically produced and artisanal, but there’s nothing sanctimonious about it. The founders and their
team are gourmands to the core, taking unabashed delight in the bounty of the countryside and travelling far and wide to bring it to their customers.
This bounty includes smoked tuna from the Île d’Yeu, Le Prince de Paris jambon (made using the 17th-century recipe, and the only ham produced in the capital), nutty Camargue rice from Provence, Caviar des Pyrénées, artisanal cheeses and much more. The take away options include crisp veggie salads, sandwiches and luscious, gluten-free pastries.
Late last year, a second, larger branch of L’Épicerie Générale opened in a newly fashionable area south of Pigalle, offering all the delights of the Rue Verneuil original plus a larger produce section, an indoor-outdoor juice bar and a tiny comptoir for eating-in. The €13 lunch menu includes a sandwich of the day (for example, homemade pesto, heirloom tomatoes, marinated zucchini and mozzerella), a gluten-free dessert and a fresh-pressed juice (such as a melon, watermelon, ginger and lemon combo).
During the spring and summer, you can also choose from six ‘Les Paniers Pique-Nique Bio’, which are based on a theme or region of France. They’re hugely popular, contain everything you need for a gourmet picnic under the sun and what’s more, Épicerie Générale can even deliver.
43 rue de Verneuil, Paris 7th. Tel: +33 1 42 60 51 78 / 1 rue Moncey, Paris 9th. Tel: +33 1 48 74 30 56. Web: www.epiceriegenerale.fr
During early May, this elegant épicerie opened just down the street from the uber-chic concept store Merci, on a stretch of the Boulevard Beaumarchais that’s quickly become one of Paris’s edgiest fashion epicentres.
Founder Delphine Plisson modelled the sleek, 480sqm space, which houses a gourmet grocery on one side and a café-restaurant on the other, upon the specialty food shops of New York, where she lived for a time during the 1990s. However, the products, which Plisson spent nearly three years tracking down and tasting, with an informal panel of gourmands of all ages, are almost all French.
The épicerie spans two floors, with the fresh produce – fruits and vegetables, farm cheeses, yogurt and butter, smoked fish, charcuterie and cured meats – at street level. Downstairs, the bright grocery section features rigorously sourced staples for the gourmet pantry, including pasta, condiments, jams and honey, tinned fish and conserves, fruit juices, cookies, chocolate and choice wines from around France in a nicely stocked cave à vin.
Judging by the lively crowds which have gathered here since day one, the Maison Plisson’s roomy café has deftly hit the mark. The eat-in or takeout menu of gourmet sandwiches, inventive soups, warm dishes and prepared salads was overseen by superstar chef Yves Camdeborde, the founder of the legendary La Régalade bistro, and Bruno Doucet, his successor when he left to open Le Comptoir de Relais.
Late hours and a flexible, well-priced delivery system, along with an app to help with proper food preparation and conservation, covers pretty much every culinary base.
93 boulevard Beaumarchais, Paris 3rd. Tel: +33 1 71 18 19 09. Web:www.lamaisonplisson.com
La Grande Épicerie de Paris
Hardly a corner grocer, but in many ways the mother of them all, La Grande Épicerie started out in 1923, as a tiny niche in Le Bon Marché, the Left Bank department store. At first, its stock was limited to such fine French products as teas and conserves, plus attractively arrayed, seasonal showcases of products from the French countryside.
In 1978, the grocery was expanded and upgraded with a new concept: to be the Left Bank’s one-stop purveyor of fine foods. Following the LVMH conglomerate’s 1988 takeover of the fabled store, La Grande Épicerie was again upgraded to reflect Bon Marché’s brand of highbrow chic. The stock was extended to encompass a lineup of choice gourmet foods, including the best French fruits, vegetables, cheeses, baked goods, chocolate, tea, coffee, spices, meat, charcuterie and wine. In addition, ‘international’ aisles of hard-to-find exotic ingredients and nostalgia products from the UK and US – such as Weetabix, Marmite, canned pumpkin and all of the ingredients required for a Tex-Mex feast – served to attract expats who are hungry for the kinds of comfort foods which were historically all but impossible to find in Paris.
Over the last two years, La Grande Épicerie has buffed its image to a high gloss, giving the wine store a huge area all of its own, complete with a swank bistro; upgrading the fresh food departments; and adding automated checkouts, a rarity in Paris. It also remains one of the best spots in Paris for the sheer variety of cuisine on offer, and also for the huge range of prepared foods, which include gourmet sandwiches, fresh vegetable and fruit salads, and just-pressed juices.
38 rue de Sèvres, Paris 7th. Tel: +33 1 44 39 81 00. Web: www.lagrandeepicerie.com
From France Today magazine
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