It is 22:02 and from the back of our cab to our left-hand side, we watch the skyline of Paris illuminate with the Eiffel Tower, her shimmering floor length gown bathing the horizon with a thousand bulbs of sparkling light. We are in the wealthy 16th arrondissement, just off the Av. George V, on our way to dinner and caught up in a heady bubble of well-stirred conversation.
There are five of us in the car, and for 30 seconds we all stop to stare as the bright beam of white scans the city’s similarly twinkling environs. This image lends itself well to our evening’s purpose – a journey through this, the (upturned) Parisian cocktail glass. With it comes a suggestion of glamour, of parties past and more specifically one of this city’s current favourite chef-suggestions, the Café Gourmand. We are here for a mere 24 hours, so every minute matters.
Upon arrival into Paris we check into The Hoxton – the second incarnation of the eponymous hipster hotel group’s latest ventures outside of London. Housed in a beautiful 18th century building, on-point Hoxton design is very much omnipresent whilst Parisian chic is subtly also interwoven – a grand sweeping staircase, imposing front façade with rounded rooftop windows, and a cobbled inner courtyard that binds the building’s different ‘wings’ together.
Fresh from the Gare du Nord, we finish grey-goose decorated bottles of ‘secret recipe’ Bloody Mary, chargers to our early morning body-battery fail, and grab a brief bite for lunch at the hotel’s Rivié Brasserie. The menu is strong on British fare, with a few French switch-ups –including the must-try, aptly named ‘Hox-monsieur’. The vibe is friendly and in keeping with the 2nd (arrondissement) – one that boasts cool boutiques, nearby theatres, and creative co-working spaces. Opposite lies a healthy deli-café whose line extends long into the connecting narrow street.
With coffee on our minds we soon find ourselves in Belleville, a much-loved bohemian quartier of Paris where songstress Edith Piaf once resided. We are here for a coffee cupping masterclass – a dedicated preoccupation of many a barista worldwide, and those forever seeking that ‘step-up’ cup. Coffee tasting is not dissimilar to wine tasting – the aromas must be inhaled, the bouquets analysed and then the flavour profile on the palate scrutinised for flavour and finish – some more bitter, fruity or fuller bodied than others. As also with wine, acidity is important, for getting the right balance of flavours. Equally, each coffee comes from its own unique ‘terroir’.
Studious, we are at La Brûlerie de Belleville, an artisanal roastery coffee house, bedecked with cool low slung copper-encased lightbulbs and a shop window etched in large gold lettering. In the company of Tomas Lehoux, a French barista who has worked all over the world including Australia and has spent time in London as a bartender, we taste through their just-roasted wares. “Respecting the seasons is important” he says, when it comes to choosing a coffee bean at its most optimal. We are also joined by Yann Menguy, pâtissier and ex-Head of Pastry at Ladurée to propose an array of appropriate petit fours once our coffee cocktails are shaken (because why just stick to coffee when you could drink something more lively), arriving at the ultimate ‘Café Gourmand’ serving. He matches own creations Le Citron, La Noix de Pecan, La Vanille de Madagascarand Le Chocolat de Madagascar – each using ingredients to work with the subtleties of the coffee profile.
With our muscles flexed and hands clasped around the cool silver body of the cocktail shaker, we learn that the Espresso Martini was invented by Dick Bradsell at the Soho Brasserie in 1983. Made for one ‘cool’ customer (allegedly Naomi Campbell) who having just arrived off a long flight from New York, demanded a drink to ‘to wake me up and f**k me up’. The rest, is cocktail history. For the perfect espresso martini a fruity coffee is required – and, like any other culinary creation, salt is also essential. “A dirty martini, for example, gains it’s saltiness from the olive brine”, providing a salty, sweet ‘umami’ experience, so our blue-overalled hosts continue to explain. The vodka used is Grey-Goose – creamier in profile than many, and polished to perfection in France’s own region of Cognac. This adds a delicious, rounded silkiness that complements our martini glass’s salted coffee kick.
A quick late-afternoon turnaround leads us on our way to pre-dinner cocktails, mixed, shaken and stirred in the Hemmingway Bar at Paris’ iconic Ritz Hotel. Here, a location sated in literary history and creative conflab, the burgeoning café and cocktail culture of Paris shows no signs of abating. Coffee, conversation, and downright hard, mixed liquor have influenced history here in France over the course of centuries. Our own exchanges tonight draw on the history of vodka itself, begun, in situ, with a ‘Gypsy Queen’. First served in the Russian Tea Room in New York in 1938, this classic vodka cocktail is composed of Benedictine and bitters with lemon rind, honey and spice.
Vodka only arrived into The States just after prohibition, during which time many bartenders fled to Europe seeking alcoholic refuge. Russia too has a lot to answer for. At the turn of the century, wealthy Russians would typically pair their vodkas – what was once known as ‘bread wine’ or Polugar, with seven or eight courses, making it the sophisticated beverage of the era, whilst the first cocktail ever recorded was named ‘The Russian’ and appeared at the St.Charles Hotel, New Orleans. ‘Flames of Love’ soon arrive at our table, a cocktail famously created for Dean Martin by Pepe Ruiz at Chasen’s in Beverly Hills. It became such a hit that Frank Sinatra once ordered one for everyone in the entire restaurant – over 200 hundred people. Tonight, ours are individually garnished with a single white rose – something to ignite all hearts, souls and stories against a fiery, Fino sherry rinse, and flamed slice of orange peel.
Late, we return to the hotel bar – Jacques’ – after dinner at Yeeels, one of Paris’ hottest nightspots, where we naturally finish on our new favourite ‘third course’ – the coffee and petit desserts providing sweet encouragement for further nocturnal activity. Through the evening’s final pink French 75 cocktails arriving into our glasses (all of Moroccan inclination, as devised by the Hoxton’s award-winning Quixotic mixology team), we are newly filled with a sense of yesteryear romance and an allure that this most famous of global cities can’t help but conjure. From capital haunts like these in which Hemmingway, Sartre and Picasso amongst countless creative others grew and stamped their personalities, who knows, this generation’s next greatest artists could be sitting closer than we think.
For more information about Grey Goose vodka, including a range of cocktail recipes, visit www.greygoose.com.