Le Sésame

Hoping to show off the charms of Canal Saint Martin to my mum, whose “beloved Paris” really only includes the Haussman boulevards and cobbled streets of the centre, I wanted to take her to a lunch spot right on the banks of the canal.

A quick Google search later, and we were on our way to Le Sésame. It was everything I had hoped for and more. A cheerful little place with coral awning outside and light blue walls inside, it was the perfect refuge from the rain. We certainly felt a lot more cheerful ourselves when we emerged an hour later.

The menu offers a tempting selection of simple but filling dishes. A large portion of these are available as either a small (around €7) or large plate (around €13), meaning the menu is flexible for whatever levels of hunger. I opted for the vegetable curry and rice: a thick orangey number with aubergines and red peppers which was absolutely delicious. A homemade honey and ginger lemonade provided a refreshing accompaniment.

Mum’s flavoursome vegetable soup came with two little slices of crusty fried bread, and her Cobb salad was judged “top notch”. Next time, I plan to dig into one of the thickly packed, seeded bagels that I spotted being delivered to the table next to us.

As well as the individual options, the team au Sésame  create a whole menu out of the set menus themselves. There are two to choose from at breakfast (€7-12); three at lunch (€8-15); some tasting menus; some apéro deals, plus a brunch ‘formule’. This café-restaurant really does cover all bases.

Beyond the trusty food choices, Sésame regularly holds ‘vernissages’ (art previews) as well as more permanent exhibitions. A programme on their website also suggests they occasionally host live bands too.

Another insight provided by the website was that, for a large part, the café is run by a team of girlfriends. A video montage showing them preparing drinks and sandwiches whilst smiling and hugging each other, to the soundtrack of ‘More Than a Woman’ by the Bee Gees, almost had me running out the office of my internship to hand in my CV…

Above all, Le Sésame says ‘fresh’. Opting to ditch the bare light bulbs sported by so many hipster establishments these days, in favour of the colourful décor and star-shaped night lights, it’s obvious these girls aren’t trying to be anything they’re not.


www.au-sesame.com

 

51 Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris

 

+33 1 42 49 03 21


La Bicicleta Cycling Café and Workplace

Oozing a laid-back atmosphere during the day, La Bicicleta serves as a perfect workplace thanks to its ambient music, streams of natural light, and of course not to mention the all-essential speedy wifi. The large communal tables and cosy worn-out leather arm chairs make it all the easier to chat to the healthy mix of locals and travellers who frequent the joint whilst enjoying a hot drink, natural juice or bite to eat.

La Bicicleta Cycling Café and Workplace serves the classic smashed avocado and poached egg on rye toast, as well as a healthy array of other brunch options, delicious baked goods and sweet treats (all come in hearty portions, may I add!)

If that is not enough for it to qualify at the ultimate hipster temple, by night the space transforms into a bustling bar that serves a mean G&T. And being located in the centre of lively plaza, it is in the perfect location for enjoying a couple of drinks before heading on to one of the many clubs that Malasaña has to offer.

‘But where does the cycling come into play?’ I hear you cry! La Bicicleta boasts a large selection of cycling-specific books, as well as holding regular talks and events related to the two-wheeled world. Enthusiasts can also head downstairs to the workshop where they can store and repair their bikes using the free tool bank.

La Bicicleta also hosts the weekly language exchange called ‘After Lingual’ (every Wednesday from 8.30pm). This allows visitors to practice Spanish (or whatsoever desired language) in a chilled environment.

Madrid’s first (self-proclaimed) cycling café is a social hub not to be missed. And although not the cheapest in the area, the cool décor and unique vibe are well worth the extra couple of euros.


www.labicicletacafe.com

 

Plaza de San Ildefonso 9, Malasaña 28004, Madrid

 

+34 915 32 97 42


Anna Blume

Situated in one of the prettier parts of Berlin, surrounded by boutique shops, colourful buildings, and tall trees, Anna Blume sits on the corner of a wide Prenzlauer berg avenue, taking pride of place as a café, restaurant and, uniquely, florist.

Despite the floral accompaniment, it isn’t the smell of fresh flowers that hits you when you first walk in the door, but the sight of huge, homemade cakes displayed within the service counter. Immediately appealing to that ‘eyes are bigger than your belly’ problem; alongside the impressive cakes, the Anna Blume menu has a lot to offer and we tried and tested a fair amount of it. Our order included toasted cheese croissants, chicken and mushroom ragu, Orrecchiette pasta, and even their specialty brunch tier stand, which is fit genuinely for royalty. Drinks also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with recommendations of the cold chocolate milkshake, frothy hot choc, and house beer.

Anna Blume has a wide and heavily decked out terrace with chairs and tables at the front for warmer days, or for those who are willing to brave the Berlin chill during the winter months, there are various patio heaters to huddle around.

Although we were a group of seven arriving at a very busy time, they didn’t turn us away and tried to accommodate us as quickly as possible. It must be said that service was friendly and at their best attentive throughout. However, if a larger group… I’d advise booking (see number below).

Later on the Anna Blume café turns into a nonchalant and easy-going evening bar, with a visibly increased uptake of their extensive drinks list. Warm or cold cakes and food are available until 10pm.

It is also worth noting that cakes can also be ordered for events or special occasions.

Enjoy!


www.cafe-anna-blume.de

Kollwitzstraße 83
10435 Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg

+49 30 440 487 49


La Bellevilloise

As officially my favourite place in the whole of Paris, La Bellevilloise has turned my current career prospects upside down. Forget journalism, now the plan is to start a place exactly like it in Bristol or London. One day, one day.

Why? Firstly, having restored and reopened it in 2005, the three actors who run it have established it as a real artistic hub in the very cool area that is Belleville. I get the feeling it very much contributes to the spirit of the neighbourhood.

Secondly, the setting is unique. Built in 1877 by 20 labourers as the first cooperative in Paris, it feels like an old warehouse space. The main focal point of La Bellevilloise is the signature ‘Halle aux Oliviers’. This giant room with its hangar-height corrugated plastic roof (which lets in the sunlight), mezzanine, bar, and tables set round olive trees, is where most of the restaurant-related activity takes place.

Add to this the club room, the courtyard, the exhibition hall, and the upstairs terrace, and you’ve got a veritable citadel of fun.

Thirdly, due to this diverse setting, the aforementioned fun on offer really covers all grounds. The weekly jazz buffet brunch – so popular you have to book in advance – is hands down the best possible way to spend a Sunday morning. I’ve been twice now, so impressed was I by the unlimited eggs, sausages, curly chips, salmon fillets, smoked salmon, mediterranean salad, cured meats, tomato salad, waffles, brownies, crepes, île-flottant, fruit salad, juice, hot drinks… plus a live jazz band.

Gilles Peterson does a regular ‘tea-time’ Sunday DJ set in the club room; Stormzy played his first gig in France there in 2016; there are sometimes bigger all-night events. The exhibition hall holds a regular affordable art fair; the upstairs terrace is home to yoga classes in summer. I’ve been told the Sunday salsa evenings are also unmissable.

I do have a tendency to exaggerate everything and call every place ‘my favourite’, but hopefully by now, I have justified myself. This really is my favourite.


www.labellevilloise.com

 19-21 Rue Boyer, 75020 Paris
+33 46 36 07 07


A.Horn

Down by the canal in Kreuzberg lies one of Berlin’s best small cafés. Serving outstanding home-made bagels and the best banana bread I have ever eaten, A. Horn is relaxed and homely with big windows looking out on the the Landwehrkanal. One of the coolest things about the café is that it’s back wall is a huge window looking directly into the bike repair shop next door, complete with big theatrical curtains that make it look like some kind of surreal stage set.

Popular with the Kreuzberg locals, the café is always humming with life and activity and is particularly busy around brunch time on the weekends, so make sure you get there early if you want to try their signature ‘A. Horn Frühstuck’. This consists of a bagel (poppy seed, sesame, cheese, sun dried tomato.. the list goes on…) with and a platter of ham, salami, cheese, salad and jam. It is very filling and very delicious, hence why it is sometimes hard to bag a table at peak times- but always worth a wait.


http://www.kaffee-ahorn.de/

Carl-Herz-Ufer 9
10961 Berlin (Kreuzberg)
+33 30 60059888


Bob’s Juice Bar

Walking down rue Lucien Sampaix on a Saturday morning, in the quirky area east of the Canal St. Martin, the neighbourhood is pleasantly quiet. That is, except for the queue tailing out of Holy Belly and the eager brunchers heading to Pancake Sisters for a feast they probably booked a week in advance. As we realised, a ‘spontaneous brunch’ wasn’t going to happen.

Well, after wandering around for a while and about to give up, we found ourselves outside a tiny juice bar, close to the corner with boulevard de Magenta. With just a couple of tables (one inside and one outside), the space here is rather limited, but seeing as it’s not an obvious place for brunch, we got lucky and found a slot between customers.

As the name suggests, the setup is designed with drinks ‘to go’ in mind, rather than the big sit down meal we were aiming for. Nevertheless, our hungry tummies were happy to discover that bagels, muffins, granola and even sushi were also on the menu, just as fresh and home-made as the juices. A large box sits on the wooden counter overflowing with colorful fruit and vegetables ready to be crushed, and the shared canteen-like table creates an intimate setting where conversations are accompanied by the sound of the juicer.

Though not that cheap (4€), the jus mixé was just what we needed after a night out in République, and the vegetarian bagel and blueberry and apple muffin hit the spot. It was much healthier and refreshing than stuffing ourselves with pancakes or a fry-up, and customers can help themselves to unlimited coffee, something to take full advantage of. If what you need is a healthy detox breakfast or a fresh fruit juice to wake you up in the morning, head to this little bar and you won’t be disappointed.


www.bobsjuicebar.com/

15 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010
+33950063618


Le Voltigeur

On a corner in one of the most popular areas of Paris, this place doesn’t really need any more marketing or praising publicity, yet a few words of advice and a couple of complimentary remarks won’t go a miss.

What this place is good for: undeniable atmosphere, its tasty quiches and its perfect outdoor seating for those sunny days or those moments when you could happily sit back and watch the world go by.

Located in the 4th arrondissement just up from the beautiful, grassy Place des Vosges, this corner spot is lucky enough to attract those famished wanderers as they walk through the pedestrianised roads on Sundays. Within listening distance of the striving street acts, merry brass band players and the city’s compelling art scene, Le Voltgieur has positioned itself in the heart of stereotypical Parisian culture.

A few tips: the food is more the ‘light bites’ variety and I would advise coming here before you get to the stage of hunger, because the service isn’t the quickest in the book. However, the waiters and waitresses will run around as quick as they can so you can have that TO DIE FOR hot chocolate (melted chocolate with hot cream and milk, all delivered separately) as soon as possible.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings before 11/ 11.30am you should find a table without a problem, any later, you may be up against the rest of the review-reading world. An early evening drink, or even a post-dinner tipple, Le Voltgieur is not a fine dining restaurant or a classic bistro, yet a perfect stopping spot for any moment in your day. When you need to relax, chat, eat or drink at an average price in an impressionable environment, this is your establishment.


45 Rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75004 Paris
+33142769706


Pancake Sisters

I am so full, it feels like five fluffy teddy bears are having a nap in my stomach. This is what a ‘weekend brunch’ at Pancake Sisters will do to you.

I’m not complaining. Two hours of babysitting last night armed my purse with enough cash to push the boat out and pay €23.50 to treat myself. This was lucky because on Saturdays and Sundays, this weekend brunch set menu is the only option available. It may seem pricey, but considering what you get for that small fortune, at the end you will indeed feel quite fortunate.

The feast starts with a smoothie and a wooden board of three sweet scotch pancakes – two with melted chocolate chips inside, one plain. Each table is equipped with very full jars of berry compote, chocolate spread, and maple syrup. I enjoyed smothering one of these on each fluffy (and gluten-free, because we rung ahead in advance) pancake.

This ‘starter’ alone would have satisfied me, but thankfully the Pancake Sisters serving us knew that a long break was necessary before the next course. I was pleased to not be rushed, especially on a Saturday when this sort of Retro/Rustic Brunch Café has queues out the door. On that note, we’d advise booking, or arriving before 11am. Any later, and you’ll be wasting away in that queue.

For mains, we were served a scrambled egg, parma ham and chivey cream cheese sandwich – with pancakes, or giant blinis, as the bread. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed this combination of flavours and textures. The pudding consisted of a ramekin of fresh fruit salad, and a bowl of yoghurt with apple compote and muesli… stop I’m full, full stop.

My only complaint would be the poor choice of hot drinks for a café. Filter coffee only? I may be relative newcomer to the coffee consumption club, but even I know that this is not quite right. They also didn’t do hot chocolate and served my friend’s tea as a mug of milk with a tea bag. I’d still recommend the the place for the food, but I feel this is something they could work on.

Pancake Sisters has been going for a year, and it’s bright yellow shop front seems to be drawing in more and more punters. Although independent, it is very similar to every other brunch café in the independent, Retro/Rustic Brunch Café revolution: pared-back decor, with mismatched vintage chairs and those bare lightbulbs with giant filaments inside. If this is your thing, head to Rue Lucien Sampaix near Canal Saint Martin – the street we have termed ‘Brunch Boulevard’. You’ll be in paradise.


www.pancakesisters.com

3 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010 Paris
+33 9 83 33 30 23


Brew

For the ultimate bohemian brunch, this is where you need to be. Replacing that café that no one really new the name of, Brew has made a name for itself simply on the quality of its toasted bread. (Something they do with a honey dressing I am lead to believe….)

They offer a selection of lunch/ brunch options at an affordable price. You can expect to pay around £7.50 for their take on an English breakfast – ‘Brewfast’ or even ‘Vegfast’ for the veggies amongst you. It is an order at the counter kind of place, which makes it that rather bit difficult if you think you’ve made up your mind before you reach the till. While waiting in the fairly speedy queue there is a selection of colourful, homemade salads, sandwiches, wraps and cakes to cause the fickle part of you a bit of a palaver.

Like many similar places, Brew café prides itself on using locally sourced produce. They have used numerous local suppliers and up-cycling methods in their shop design, and above all want their principle is to ‘be independent’.

It’s not a big place and can get quite busy in winter, without the outdoor seating on the decking. However, everything is fresh, made in house and the coffee is v. good. Struggling to find anywhere else in the university area that competes on taste or price, this place will be witnessing more than just one return visit.


brewcoffeecompany.co.uk

45 Whiteladies Road
BS8 2LS
Bristol
+44 117 973 2842


Le Poutch

Coming to Le Poutch wasn’t our original Sunday morning plan, yet with the queue for Holy Belly running down the road and Pancake Sisters stuck on a rigorous booking system, Le Poutch, despite a little wait, was willing to take us. HOORAY! FOOD!

Opening just over a year ago, this quirky café is set just a few roads back from the banks of Canal Saint Martin, seemingly sitting in the brunch hotspot of Paris. Despite being a small place, it was bustling with atmosphere and upon entering we were taken back to the 1970s, with the retro furniture and colourful tiled flooring. Giving up on the wait for the inside tables, we perched ourselves outside in the perfect people-watching spot.

In denial about our student budget, we resided ourselves to the fact that we were going to go all out, and surprisingly it didn’t come with a huge price tag. After the usual deliberation, we finally decided on the ‘Formule Brunch’ (set menu) and the ‘Assiette Brunch’ (mixed plate) to share between two.

Between us we ended up with two ‘frittatas of the day’ on a plate with some roasted sweet potato and classic potatoes, and a bit of added salad (nicely dressed, must be said). Alongside one rather large chunky chocolate cookie, which we dipped into a small pot of homemade breakfast granola, was a basket of bread, a vanilla latte and a ‘jus du jour’ – apple, fennel and lemon. I’m not normally a fennel fan, but it was the perfect addition to the slightly salted potatoes. Also on the menu was a selection of lunch dishes, salads and some tasty breakfast muffins.

Overall, wanting a proper Sunday brunch in the heart of Paris, €20 for a lot of food and drinks included wasn’t too bad. Despite a minor chill and the developing queue of people forming outside the door who watched us eat every single mouthful of food, this place was great. Best before 12pm, or after 2pm, in that case you won’t experience the staff running off their feet too much.


www.lepoutch.fr/

13 Rue Lucien Sampaix
75010 Paris
+33 9 53 70 90 83


Bespoke

Just a few roads away from Faubourg St Antoine, in the trendy area of Oberkampf, we came across Bespoke, one of those ‘rustic’ restaurants that tries to stand out by playing down.

We visited this hipster hangout, as some might call it, when the weather was practically baking. Sadly the limited seating outside meant we were led to the back of the restaurant, where the lighting or lack of was a stark contrast to blazing sun outside. Note to self: save for a rainy day next time.

The staff were very friendly – they’ve clearly been to charm school – and also very accommodating of our hangovers by providing a constant water supply.

The waiter, trying to play it cool, chose not to use a notepad when taking an order. This is always so admirable when it works out, but not when they have to come back and check the order and then still the wrong food arrives.

My friend and I went for the baked eggs, with tomato, chorizo and thyme, a simplified take on a Shakshouka, if you may. However, when the correct food eventually came, we ate four spoonfuls and the meal was finished. It’s always a shame when it’s not the filling lunch you were hoping for.

On a more positive note, though, my two other friends ordered contrasting savoury and sweet waffles, which looked absolutely delicious and apparently were. The drinks list was endless, and the menu was on the whole quite creative, maybe if a little overpriced. So in summary, perhaps this place is more suitable for an evening of sipping sophisticated cocktails than for a lazy afternoon lunch.


http://bspk.fr/

3 Rue Oberkampf
Paris, 75011
+33 1 58 30 88 59


Rainbow Café

There aren’t many proper family-run businesses left these days, or so it seems. If you miss those good ol’ days (or weren’t born in time for them, like me), head to the Rainbow Cafe in the heart of Clifton Village. Established as a ‘community café’ in 1971, a local mother and daughter run have been running it since 2010. In the most gentrified area of Bristol, stuffed with smart delis and organic coffee shops, this is a breath of fresh air.

‘Unpretentious’ is the buzz-word. And unpretentious comes with cheap. It’s just £6 for a full English which comes with a whole side-plate of toast, £2 for a milkshake and just £1.50 for a pot of tea. The food is simple but done well. My salmon with scrambled eggs on toast came exactly as it said on the tin, with a home-cooked feel to it.

‘Unfashionable’ is the second buzz-word, if that’s allowed. And for that, I am smitten. The walls are a pale lime green, as are the checked oilcloth tablecloths. There is colourful, lovably bad art for sale on the walls, which adds to the character. There is a crammed bookshelf, and a sofa covered in a knitted patchwork quilt. And more knitting in a basket next to it, for anyone to pick up and do. What’s more, they have recently started a Piano Bar in the evenings, Wednesday to Saturday, where locals and students play and guests enjoy tapas and a well stocked bar.

Best thing: the 10% discount for students.

Only warning: don’t go in a big group. My 13-strong birthday brunch party was waiting a while for our fry-ups, but we were fully warned in advance: they only have one grill.

Avoid large numbers and head along. You’ll enjoy a cosy coffee and breakfast, and your wallet will enjoy it too.


www.rainbowcafeclifton.co.uk

10 Waterloo Street
Clifton Village
Bristol, BS8 4BT
+44 117 9738937