One of Paris’ best kept secrets is a lunchtime venue in the cellar of La Madeleine or more formally; L’église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, the Madeleine Church. If you didn’t know to look for it, you would never just happen to stumble across it.
Afraid I was too late and missed the deadline, I walked from the metro, practicing in French: ‘is it that I am too late to have lunch’?
Entering through the discret green door, I was a little apprehensive that I wouldn’t be able to make myself understood. I had researched that if you become an annual member for €5.00, it is cheaper than just turning up for lunch, either way the difference is only €2.00. As other diners poured in through the entrance, my fears of ‘am I too late for lunch’ were put to rest. Next step was the card.
The very kind, patient volunteer, presented me with my very own membership card, I was understood! I paid for my lunch and was promptly lead down the busy, vaulted corridor, of what is the restaurant, to a table with two men, I had read that it was normal, to share a table.
Feeling slightly uncomfortable, they lowered their voices and were clearly enjoying their private conversation, I asked if I could move to a table on my own and it was not a problem, in fact nothing seemed to be a problem.
Ran entirely by volunteers, an elegant older woman, who seemed to be going out of her way to ensure I was comfortable, presented me with a choice of entrees on a tray, salads. I wasn’t sure what it was but it was bright purple and had a little fish sitting on the top, I chose that.
Moments after I finished the delicious salad, the plate was swept away and I was asked what I would like for the second course, escalope or a croissant. She was not convinced I understood, ‘venez’ come, she says and I followed her to the waiters station, escalope with a choice of beans or pasta or a croissant filled with ham and cheese. I went for my initial decision, escalope, it was juicy, cooked well and with the accompanying pasta and sauce, was better than I had eaten in some overpriced restaurants.
Observing the volunteers, cheeky retired women, flirting with younger, male patrons, I think I worked out what she had in mind, putting me with the two young men.
This was a fantastic find, looking up and down the long corridors of the cellar, eating my lunch, given the location and prices, it surely beat eating burnt quiche, in over priced tourist filled restaurants. The diners here were all French, business men, elegant, older couples and groups of women.
Not one but three of the volunteers gathered around me, to present dessert, possibly to aid one another, incase a translation was necessary. Packaged yoghurt was easy.
After my three course lunch, I asked if I could take some photos, not only was I allowed but the elegant, volunteer offered a tour. I was led from one end of the long passageway to the other, only to discover, around the corner there is also a cafe, tucked under what is the front of the magnificent colonnaded church, Madeleine.
With a big smile on my face, leaving the warm restaurant, and stepping out to the chilly, but brilliant blue sky day, my membership card, tucked safely in my pocket, I thought; this was certainly not the Ritz, but it was a fantastic, friendly, inexpensive and yummy experience and gave me a great opportunity to practice some French.
This evening, cool jazz and delicious tapas, was on the menu, at another secret hideaway in Paris.
It was nice to pull off my boots and jeans and slink into something more glamorous for a change, after a month of walking around Paris in sensible clothes.
Leaving the warm, cosy apartment and hitting the street, wearing heels and stockings, into the crisp night air, I felt almost naked and absolutely freezing.
The temperature had plummeted in the last couple of days and the wind was icy, 1 degree. The French Translator, asked me to meet her inside the metro exit, as opposed to outside, in case of rain or snow. Last time we met, I was late, this time I wanted to ensure I was on time.
A mere five minutes of waiting, In a wind tunnel, I was grateful, that at least, she was on time.
We scurried along together, shivering all the way to our jazz venue. When we arrived, I was reluctant to put my coat in the cloak room, not from the fear of someone taking it, but I was still freezing. Slowly but surely, with the aid of a glass of wine and the warmth of the grand rooms, my body started to thaw.
The French Translator loved the venue and was pleasantly surprised and I was so relieved that she did. Not only was I excited to visit the wonderful venue again but I was looking forward to sharing it with her.
Finding a place to sit was difficult, the room was already packed with people, as luck would have it, two lovely ladies, beckoned us to their table and we had front row seats as the musicians started to play.
While we sat, directly next to the band, in the intimate room, warm and cosy, listening to cool jazz, sipping on wine, and eating good food, slowly I warmed up and unwound.
Glancing around the room, I discovered, we were not only fortunate to have front row seats, but a birds eye view of the Grand Roue, the giant ferris wheel, and the Eiffel Tower, through a window, across the room.
Paddy Sherlock, an Irishman, living in Paris, is a great musician and a fabulous performer, accompanied by an Australian pianist and a young and talented Swedish singer, had us tapping our feet, and clapping in time, well almost, in time, to the music. If you are living in, or visiting Paris, I recommend you track him down.
A few surprises were thrown into the mix. A fellow musician, arrived and jammed with the band and at one point in the evening, during a slow sexy number, a guest, impromptu, jumped up from her seat and gave us a dance performance.
Our table companions were a pleasure to sit with, we chatted the night away, listening to cool jazz, eating fine food and sipping on nice wine.
It seems the more I visit Paris, the more nice people I meet and tonight, was no exception.
Not only did I run into two people I know, the four of us girls all agreed, we would meet at the secret jazz venue, same time next year.