old salut!

Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

December 19, 2006

And the winner is......

This site has now moved to Salut!

Q: What kind of baker has his own press attaché? A: One who makes the best croissant in Paris.

And who says Pierre Hermé's croissants are tops? The team of six judges assembled by Le Figaro's midweek magazine Scope to munch its way through 64 of them.

All the competing croissants were bought on the same morning across the capital and then judged according to appearance, smell, flavour, price and even the welcome received by those doing the round of bakers and - let me be fairer to M Hermé - pâtisseries.

Actually replicating Le Figaro's operation presented obstacles. At any rate, it did when it came to Salut! second guessing the judges by paying its own visit to the winner's shop.

Scope helpfully gave M Hermé's address as 72 rue de Bonaparte, which threads through the Latin Quarter to St Sulpice and beyond.

Maybe Salut! was having a bad day. It cannot, of course, hope to have a bad hair day.

But look for yourselves. Would it not be entirely possible to see no 72 from the other side of the street and conclude that the magazine must have made a mistake?

For here is a shop that sells croissants and cakes but has a façade that looks rather more like that of an upmarket jeweller. It took a return trip to confirm that those small windows contained not necklaces and bracelets in 18 carat gold but M Hermé's less durable creations.

I hate to quarrel with a winner. But questions really need to be asked about an item associated throughout the world with breakfast but not sold before 10am.

In fact, even 10am proved a variable sort of opening time.

The door was not unlocked until four minutes had gone by after the sounding of the bell atop the nearby 6th arrondissement town hall.

If M Hermé feels this was a trivial delay, he may be interested to learn that by then, half the queue - OK, two people - had also gone by. They didn't even look back.

Once inside the shop, however, you found that service came with a broad smile. My four croissants, costing 1.20 euros each, were packed by the pretty, cheerful assistant as carefully as if she were wrapping delicate porcelain.

But it took another 10 minutes to pay. Pretty, cheerful assistant was not interested in receiving payment; a colleague at the till was in charge of that. Inconveniently for me, she was also in charge of taking Christmas orders.

The town hall bell for a quarter past rang out soon after I left the shop. It seemed a long time to have spent making such a small purchase in an uncrowded shop.

Had Mr Hermé been present, and willing to interrupt his labours for a couple of minutes, I would have asked what was the secret of his success, why he opened so late and whether I was right long ago to think croissants absolutely had to be served hot.

But he was not present. "Pas ce matin," the assistant replied. Oui, mais plus tard? Non.

Thinking it would then be a simple matter of arranging a quick telephone interview, I outlined my mission. "I'll give you a number for his attaché de presse," came the response.

The questions, therefore, will have to wait. Salut! cannot afford airs and graces but also has no wish to start negotiating on small print for an interview with a croissant-maker. Next, he'll be wanting copy control or banning any reference to flakiness and crumbs.

In any case, we can surely rely on Scope sufficiently to trust the thoughts attributed to him after the results were pronounced. The great croissant, M Hermé confided, needed a dry and crunchy texture. The buttery taste had to betray a perfect balance between salt and sugar.

When M Hermé wandered off into "I hear the cry of the croissant....it's alive, the soul of its creator" territory, I felt it was time just to get on with eating the wretched thing.

So, just after 11am and in the knowledge I would soon be meeting friends for lunch, I had my late breakfast.

It was good, very good, and I was content to eat it cold.

But I would have had more difficulty thsn the judges in finding it so much better than all the rest. Or in relegating last year's winner - Julien, located on the rue St Honoré - to seventh place, or last year's third placed contender (a Paul branch on the rue de Seine, not far from M Hermé) as low as 24th. Unless, of course, Paul served the undercover buyer a 2005 croissant.

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This site has now moved to Salut!


At December 19, 2006 7:08 PM, Blogger Love said...

Wow, I think that is neat you live in Paris. I bet the food their is awesome, much better than here. :)

At December 19, 2006 11:17 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Not to change the subject after Love's cogent and well-argued comment, but Louise (over on her rather violent blog, Chocolates & Cuckoos & Don't Point that Alpenhorn at Me, You Swiss Roller) seems to be suggesting that you've been playing an undercover role there. Perhaps even as that "other" Colin, the one who knows all about Sugar Frosties.
Shome mishtake, shurely?

At December 20, 2006 5:31 AM, Blogger Louise said...

I'd just like to add that I am not responsible for my blog being violent.

Bill is having serious doubts about inviting you to Rome for the New Year.

At December 20, 2006 10:19 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

I wonder that M Hermé doesn't add an 's' to his name to complete his aspirations to pretentiousness.

At December 20, 2006 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Louise.You are however responsible for gross language to remain posted on your blog.(Anoyhampster)

At December 20, 2006 6:33 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

Eating café and croissant is undoudtedly one of the great pleasures in life. I love the breakfasts in quaint little hotels which we frequent on weekends. Fresh croissant and baquette. Orange pressée. A delightful pat of butter.Home made confiture. A gorgeous bowl of café au lait. A chat to the patron and time to enjoy life. Sublime.

At December 21, 2006 6:14 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Gross language may have remained on my blog but it was not me who put it there in the first place - I thought about trashing it and then decided that whoever put it there should live with their gross comments - we don't know who this courageous person is, but they do - and I hope they squirm.

At December 21, 2006 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odious words on Louises' blog.
She keeps them as trinkets in her crushing claw.
To advise us the author she hopes will squirm.
Now who is the greater sadistic worm.
No Christmas Spirit? Release the words.
Then write us an apology for being absurd.

At December 22, 2006 6:03 AM, Blogger Louise said...



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