I’ve heard it said that living in Paris spoils you for life. Maybe… Its charms are legendary, and legion: the cafes, the food, the markets, the art, the fashion, the shopping, the eating, the walking, the gardens, the architecture, the rain, the sunset, the lights, the cobblestones, the bridges, the doors, the wine, the baguettes, the Métro, the #68 bus, the Vélibs, the pouting, the unstinting melancholy, the shrugs, the scarf tied just-so, the tarte au citron with a Pompadour of a meringue on top. Sigh–all that. Irreplaceable. But it’s bye bye Paris. A bientôt. A plus tard. A la prochaine. Je m’en vais. Hello Sydney! It’s been a while. 18 years. You look good. Not exactly Paris, but then again, there are similarities…
The Harbour Bridge. Just like the Eiffel Tower–only horizontal and, ahem, in that way, bigger. Impressive ironwork, a nice rivetting job and stirring views from both, but in place of the staggering queues and lifts jammed with snap happy tourists at La Tour, Sydney’s ‘coathanger’ has pods of vertigo-resistant climbers in boiler suit and harness clambering atop. Now if only someone would attach 20,000 sparkling light bulbs.
What can measure up to Jean-Paul Hévin’s momentous chocolate mousse? Adriano Zumbo’s mint-coloured Mylo can, erm, can.
What to do when the strawberry tart with orange flower jelly from Des Gâteaux et du Pain can’t be had, queue up at Black Star Pastry for a summer berry, yuzu and plum meringue tart, or the blueberry and lavender.
All too often the coffee in Paris can bring to your knees, but not in a good way! Bitter, burnt, long-life milk. Dire. Enter a new generation of bars (with many an Aussie behind them) and baristas who take their coffee making very seriously. Coutume Café in the 7th, Ten Belles and La Caféothèque in the 4th, KBCaféShop and Café Lomi in the 18th. Creamy flat white in Paris? Mais oui. An espresso that doesn’t have the effect of a salt lick. Done! Sydneysiders, unlike Parisians, came late to café culture, but they are now officially coffee obsessed. Snobbish even. Bean fiends are everywhere. Crêpes might be queue worthy in Paris, but coffee is what you line up for in this city. On the run, on a pavement stool, at the bar or on a bench, it’s all good at Marrickville’s Cornersmith, made more appealing by the emphasis on sustainable, locally sourced goodies and a penchant for bartering for backyard produce, and Coffee Alchemy; Baker Brothers and Mecca Espresso in the city; Bread & Circus in Alexandria, Ruby’s Diner in Bronte. If I get an itch for an oozy omelette aux fines herbes, I scratch it with poached eggs and smokey eggplant relish at Cornersmith, an egg and bacon roll at Pig & Pastry, or ignore it altogether with chunky toast, avocado, roast tomato and apple balsamic at Ruby’s.
Alas a 5-minute walk for that French baguette with the look, the crust and the crunch from Secco is a thing of the past. Gone too, dark and chewy Poilâne sour dough planks in my toaster. Now it’s a car job for decent bread, but at least there is some! Sourdough from Bourke Street Bakery, Iggy’s and Sonoma and the latter’s country white baguette eases French bread cravings. Still on the hunt for something divine like Du Pain et des Idées’ Christophe Vasseur’s Rabelais, a sweet bread with chestnut honey, saffron, nuts from Perigord and turmeric, though.
Meals ’n Wheels
Paris has a motorcade of cook-up vans nowadays, from the fat, juicy burgers, fries and coleslaw of Le Camion Qui Fume to Cantina California’s tacos, dude burgers and cup cakes, from the empanadas of Clasico Argentino to Mum Dim Sum’s dumplings and soups. But ooh la la look at Sydney’s wheelie dealers: Sarazine crêpes has buckwheat beauties filled with free-range ham and egg, Swiss brown mushrooms, Tasmanian gruyere, and Dijon mustard. Close your eyes, stream Charles Anznavour into your headphones and you could be in Paris. And, they’ve got celebrity sugar hits in Edith Piaf (homemade fruit compote and whipped cream) and Gerard Depardieu (homemade salted caramel and chocolate sauce with whipped cream). Elsewhere in the city there are buns of chorizo and chimichurri from Caminito, pork buns, prawn gow gees and vegie spring rolls from Let’s Do Yum Cha, wood-fired pizzas from Happy as Larry, vegan or haloumi burgers from the Veggie Patch Van, and waygu beef nachos, fish tacos and Eton mess from Agapé Organic.
Every Paris neighbourhood has its own marché volant (flying market) where ribbons of food stalls effortlessly descend a couple of mornings per week. While the lettuces dished out by songbird Monique at Marché Saxe-Breteuil, slippery fresh sole from fishman Monsieur Bourgeois at Marché Grenelle, and the buckwheat galettes at Marché Président Wilson might be gone for now, Sydney can sate a market craving, but only on a Saturday. My local Orange Grove Market in Balmain Road offers up French cheese–beaufort, comté, double cream, and camembert–sliced up by a dapper Parisian (under the watchful eye of his garrulous Californian boss), as well as French sausages–Toulousain, spicy merguez, dried and cured saucisson–all made in Australia courtesy of charming Montpellier native Jean-Marc. He also has pork rillettes, Dijon mustard with cassis, foie gras, and La Rustique camembert on the menu. Vive la France! Although billed as an organic market, not all produce tows that line. There’s lots of “hand-picked”, “farm fresh” and “natural” signage above trays of vine-ripened cherry toms, buckets of velvety yoghurt, baskets of greens, barrels of olives, planks of flour-speckled breads, and tubs of Grandma’s addictive baba ganoush alongside generous squares of rosewater Turkish delight. Egg and bacon rolls, fair trade coffee, laksas, dim sums, Japanese pancakes, and beetroot-cured trout stand in for roasters jammed with chicken and fat-crisp potatoes, Alsatian choucroute, spicy couscous, and Carribean accras. Equally delicious, the Eveleigh Farmers’ Market in Carriagework’s heritage listed Blacksmith’s Workshop; Seventy+ stallholders serving the season’s best, from organic meats and diary to baskets of fresh picked fruit and veg, from chunky sourdough to chutneys and jams via black truffles from Hartley, steaming porridge, Billy Kwong pork buns drizzled with chilli, and of course, coffee in all its guises. On Saturdays only though 8am-1pm.
A Window on the World
African Queen: The Goutte d’Or neighborhood in Paris’ 18th Arrondissement is all about Africa: Dejean Market with everything from manioc to fish heads and luminous batik fabric, or a touch of Marrakesh at Azhar Hamman & Spa (a vigorous brush with a kessa glove, and a soothing mint tea), and dates stuffed with almond paste in rue Myrha. Sydney has Auburn. Folks from 119 countries, speaking more than 67 languages means tastes of Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Ethiopia, and Turkey via restaurants, bakeries, food stores and the totally applaudable Eat, Learn and Greet Cooking Classes led by refugees and asylum seekers. Passage to India: It’s bindis and biryani all over in Passage Brady in Paris’ 10th, while Sydney is no slouch in the Hindustan stakes, offering up Wigram Road in Parramatta’s Harris Park. Orient Express: South of rue de Tolbiac in the 13th is all out Asia: Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian and Laotian eateries, even a Buddhist temple down in a car park. Or there’s Belleville for handmade Chinese noodles & chilli aubergine (so good at Wenzhou). In Sydney think Cabramatta, Canley Vale and Canley Heights for Vietnamese pork rolls, pho and egg noodles. It’s slam dunk for the harbour city when it comes to contemporary Asian fare, with the likes of Cho Cho San, Surry Hills Eating House, Longrain, Spice Temple, Mr Wong, Moon Park, and Billy Kwong. Australia part of Asia? Deliciously so!
Street art is pretty much everywhere today, across social media, auction houses and even in retrospectives in major museums. In Paris, despite strict laws and the need to get permission to daub, it thrives in Belleville’s rue Dénoyez, near the perennial Les Follies café, along Canals Saint-Martin and de l’Ourcq, as well as in rue Oberkampf and Ménilmontant. In Sydney, it’s big in the inner west–Newtown, Chippendale, May Lane in St Peters, and the Sydney Uni graffiti tunnel, with forays into Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. My current favourite: the Black Anzac mural in Redfern.
Two Wheel Drive
Little compares to cycling along the closed quays of the Seine on a Sunday. Skirting the Tower, the Grand Palais, Place de la Concorde, the Orsay, the Louvre, Notre Dame, all those bridges, the café barges of Bercy, and then if you’re game, out of the magic 20 arrondissements on to Charenton, past the monstrous Chinagora building and then along leafy river banks to Saint Maurice and Maisons Alfort. Contrastingly, Sydney is all about the big blue. Water, water everywhere. As in the Bay Run, a 7km trundle around the watery edges of Iron Cove Bay through the urban landscape of Drummoyne, Five Dock and Leichhardt. Or, the Glebe Foreshore around Rozelle Bay overlooking Anzac Bridge and the city via Bicentennial, Federal, Jubilee, and Blackwattle Bay parks. No Opera House vista yet, but Sydney Council has plans for continuous access from Circular Quay via Walsh Bay, Darling Harbour and the Pyrmont peninsula through to Rozelle Bay. Not quite the same league of monuments as Paris, but better water views! Wow factor goes to the cycleway crossing the Harbour Bridge, leading on down past the laughing face of Luna Park to pretty Lavender Bay.