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A new addition to my personal “Unlikely Discoveries Department” is the tea room, lunch spot and courtyard terrace of Bonpoint, the chicissime clothes emporium for kiddies with well-heeled parents.
The salon’s official name is “Salon de Thé Bonpoint.” It’s located at 6 Rue de Tournon (Tel: 01 56 24 05 79) in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. That’s a short stroll with or without baby carriage from the Luxembourg Gardens.
My wife and I had walked by the shopfront many times over the years. We’d always wondered where the tea room was and what the store, the flagship of the Bonpoint fleet, was all about. I never suggested entering. I’m a notorious frump who doesn’t understand fashion. On top of that, we have no children. So why breach the portals of this fancy shopping paradise for fortunate babies and their parents?
The vast salons of the Bonpoint building are decorated with a kind of neo-baroque display, including tableaux of dried flowers and plush toys. There are racks with children’s outfits and room upon room of quintessentially Parisian displays of accessories for toddlers and bigger enfants. They seem an unusual backdrop for a tea room and restaurant serving lunch.
Recently, after our morning walk around the Luxembourg Garden, Alison and I pushed through the doors and past the décor and, after a mile-long journey through Fashion Baby Land, found our way down into the underground tea room.
The hot dishes turned out to be sumptuous, the service swift, stylish and friendly – astonishingly friendly for Paris – and the setting a surprising delight. The Bonpoint tea room is an Aladdin’s Cavern with an even more surprising outdoor seating area. It’s in a quiet, leafy garden court behind the building. It must be one of the capital’s most appealing hidden outdoor venues.
During our visit it was too cold to lunch outside. We explored the garden, then took a table under the vaulted ceiling in the cellar. The darkly chic designer décor features black banquets, lots of big, soft pillows, a black bar and black just-about-everything-else, except for the colorful painted kilim on the floor. Far too many restaurants in Paris are violently overlit these days, so the darkly chic, atmospheric lighting here was positively soothing. So 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 perhaps six. The array of delicious desserts kept them busy.
In actual fact, many designer moms and dads were seated around us. Some adults without children had braved the sales rooms to reach the cellar. That may be because the word is out: ever since Bonpoint’s tea room was taken over in 2009 by longtime Paris resident Peggy Hancock, a charming American who also operates A Priori Thé (the handsome tea room-restaurant in the Galerie Vivienne), the food at Bonpoint – especially the desserts – has improved radically.
I was delighted to see Peggy’s patented scones and muffins on offer, plus the best New York Cheesecake I’ve ever tasted in Paris (the 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 lots of room left. But the creamy, smooth, curried chickpea soup we shared as an appetizer subverted my designs; 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 the addition of 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 nibble on two brownies before Alison started to talk about gluttony.
It’s said around town that Michelle Obama brought her children to the Bonpoint tea room during a visit to Paris in June 2009. Reports are that she judged the brownies excellent. Whether this is a made-up story or not, I can vouch for the excellence of the brownies. Alison and I will certainly return to Bonpoint as soon as the warm-weather terrace opens. This time around I’ll plan to arrive early – the tea room opens at 11. I’ll start with coffee and scones. That brings me in a roundabout way back to our meal and its delightful finale: we wound up our lunch with a cup of some of the best coffee I’ve tasted in town, an Ethiopian Moka Sidamo, from Cafés Verlet, the century-old artisan coffee roaster in Rue St-Honoré.
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By David Downie
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