Pretty much exactly a year ago today I was in Paris. I was walking around, almost running, trying to get to as many of the hot chocolate spots on my wish list before taking the TGV from Montparnasse to go to Bayonne. The plan was to cross the river Seine, say hi to some of the spots I used to spend a lot of time at on Ile de la Cite (including the spot where my husband proposed), walk over to the 6th to visit Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac and then basically run straight up Boulevard Montparnasse to my train.
My plan worked out perfectly. I passed La Samaritaine, what used to be my favourite department store until it “temporarily “ closed now decades ago it seems. I walked down the steps to the tip of Ile de la Cite, near Pont Neuf, where I used to have many picnics with friends enjoying cheap (it tasted great at the time) wine, beautiful cheeses, and still warm baguettes. I took a glance over at Notre Dame Cathedral, smiled and nodded in respect as I always did when I lived close by, and then turned away towards the sixth. Little did I know that at that exact moment it was starting to burn.
Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac is down a quiet little road just off the hustle and bustle of the 6th arrondissment. The street itself may be little, but it has a big name; Rue du Dragon. It is a small unassuming shop, especially considering that to me Cyril Lignac is quite a bit thing. That’s mostly because I loved watching him on TV (he was the host of the French version of The Great Bake Off) but also because he isn’t just a chocolatier and pastry maker extraordinaire. He also has several restaurants (including a Michelin star) and even bars so he really has got you covered.
The main reason I came though was actually to taste the Ourson au Chocolate, a bear shaped marshmallow covered in milk chocolate. This is a popular treat in France and every year different newspapers and magazines will have contests to see who has the best Ourson. This one comes up at or near the top of all of them. I ordered a large one but you can even buy miniature ones in fancy packages, all dipped in different types of chocolate. This is no ordinary bear, trust me and I enjoyed it to the last crumb and bought a handful more to take along with me to share (but never did end up sharing them). The marshmallow is beautifully fluffy and fresh, not overly sweet and you hear a clear crack when you bite off a leg or arm (that’s the well-tempered chocolate…please…what were you thinking?).
There was one hot chocolate on offer, the chocolate chaud, which unfortunately is only served in a paper cup. You all know by now how much I hate paper cups. They smell and taste like paper which isn’t great paired with chocolate. But still this was a beautiful hot chocolate. It is made from dark chocolate and had a rich nutty flavour and, like most French chocolates, was not overly sweet. Unfortunately, the staff disappeared out back the whole time I was there and I wasn’t able to ask them anything else about it. It came with a little plate full of dark chocolate fish. We also had the choice of dozens of incredibly beautiful and decadent looking desserts to choose from but considering how much chocolate I had already eaten that day, I thought I’d save them for next time.
This little shop, which unfortunately is now closed (he has a bigger location now in the 11th with more seating, and more chocolate), not only displays all of his chocolates but has a really interesting wall where he has framed the whole creative process behind the logo and branding of his chocolate shop which was fascinating to look at. I almost felt I was in on some sort of secret. I hope this has been moved to the new location.
As I made my way towards the train station, I could see the smoke but couldn’t figure out, and didn’t have the time to think too much about it. I think all the French, and everyone who has lived or has a deep connection with Paris, will always remember where they were when they heard the news. I was in the train and heard the news buzzing through the train carriage as, one by one, everyone started receiving the texts, calls and news on their phones.
I was thinking about this today. Life is such a strange thing. We can plan all we like but we really don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, and that is a scary thing but also a fantastic thing. Who knew then what would be happening today…but also, who knows what will come of what is happening right now to all of us, around the world. I’m choosing to focus on, and look forwards to, the silver lining, the innovations and new ideas and connections that will come of this. I hope that every hot chocolate spot that I have reviewed on this blog will still be there ready for us to enjoy when this has all passed.
Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac, now open at 25 rue Chanzy, Paris, 11ieme, The chocolat chaud will cost you 5euros and a giant marshmallow bear 4,50 €