by David Downie
Paris, Paris Delighting in Discovery
Unlikely Discoveries Department: the tearoom, restaurant and courtyard terrace of Bonpoint, the chic clothes emporium for kiddies with well-healed parents.
The official name is “Salon de Thé Bonpoint.” The address: 6 Rue de Tournon (Tel: 01 56 24 05 79). That’s in the 6th arrondissement in Paris, a 2-minute stroll or roll-by-baby carriage from the Luxembourg Gardens and the French Senate in the Luxembourg Palace.
Alison and I had walked by this tony address a zillion times in recent years, and had wondered what it was all about. Did I suggest entering? No way. Why would a fashion-loathing frump like me with no children breach the portals of this paradise for bourgeois babies and budding bobos?
From the street I could see that the vast salons of the building are encrusted with the kind of neo-Baroque decorations and tableaux that make me sneeze: dried flowers and plush toys galore. Racks with pricey kiddie outfits, and a quintessentially Parisian display of accessories for toddlers and those in the tantrum stage, had always been enough to cause me to flee.
But last week, after our morning gallop around the Luxembourg, having been informed by an old friend that an unusually fine inner sanctum for food and refreshments lay beyond the accoutrements, Alison and I pushed through the forbidding doors and, after a mile-long journey through Puericulture Land, eventually stumbled down into the subterranean tearoom.
The hot food turned out to be delicious, the service swift, stylish and friendly – astonishingly friendly for Paris – and the setting a surprising delight: an Aladdin’s Cavern in the cellars of the Bonpoint store. Even more surprising was the stunning outdoor seating area in a quiet, leafy garden behind. This must be one of the capital’s most appealing hidden outdoor venues.
It was too cold to lunch outside, however. So after poking around the garden we took a table inside, under the vaulted ceiling. In our distinctly un-chic jogging outfits we tried to blend into the darkly chic designer décor: black banquets, lots of soft pillows, a black bar and black everything-else, except for the colorful painted kilim on the floor. Pleasant too was the darkish spot-lighting. So many places in Paris are violently over-lighted these days; the obscurity here was soothing. So too was the classical music, on at a low volume. We were able to converse without going hoarse. Our fellow diners were startlingly quiet, despite the average age of what? Six? Ten? The goodies kept them busy.
Actually, designer moms and dads were seated around us in number, and even some adults without children. That’s probably because the word is out: reportedly, ever since Bonpoint’s tearoom was taken over in 2009 by Peggy Hancock and her crew (from A Priori Thé, the lovely tea room-restaurant in the Galerie Vivienne), the food at Bonpoint – especially the desserts – has improved radically.
We had no way of comparing the current regime to what came before it. But I was delighted to see Peggy’s patented scones and muffins on offer, plus the best New York Cheesecake in Paris (that lemon zest in the biscuit crust is to die for), not to mention the famous dark-and-white chocolate brownies, and much else. Much, much else.
My secret plan was to reach the dessert stage with plenty of room left for over-indulgence. But the creamy, smooth, curried chickpea soup we shared as an appetizer soon subverted my diabolical designs; and then came the Tourte Annina, a savory tart made of baby spinach, farmstead chèvre cheese, lots of fresh tender lettuce, and grilled pecans. Alison ordered the Shanghai au chaud, a classic chicken roll with confit of lemon and fresh cilantro, and too many other veggies to list. By the time I’d helped her along, I barely had room for dessert, and only managed to gobble two brownies before Alison threatened legal action against me for gluttony.
It’s said around town that Michelle Obama brought her kids to the Bonpoint tea room when the American “Royal Family” visited Paris in June, 2009. Reports are that she judged the brownies excellent. Whether this is an apocryphal story or not, I can vouch for the excellence of the product. We’re definitely going to come back as soon as the terrace opens. Next time I’ll arrive early – the tearoom opens at 11 – and start with coffee and scones. Which brings me in a roundabout way back to our meal: it wound up with a cup of some of the best coffee in town, an Ethiopian Moka Sidamo, from Cafés Verlet, the century-old artisan coffee roaster in Rue St-Honoré.Salon de Thé Bonpoint, 6 Rue de Tournon, 75006 Paris, France, tel. (33) (0)1 56 24 05 79 A Priori Thé, 35, Galerie Vivienne, Paris, France 75002