I’m still waiting for the baby to arrive. Being a fairly organised, A-type person, waiting is not something that comes naturally to me. In fact, I am pretty darn impatient and anxious to know ‘when’ it is all going to happen. But one of the advantages to having time on my hands now that I have started maternity leave from work is that I can finally catch up with female friends and ‘do lunch’. And on this occasion, we decided to be decadent and lunched at one of the shopping mall locations of famous French bakery chain, Paul.
Paul was established in northern France as a family business in 1889, and now has 436 stores in over 25 countries worldwide. Its first Taiwan store opened along the Ren’ai Road circle four years ago. It has now expanded to include a second venue on the second floor of the department store, Shinkong Mitsukoshi A9. It is a popular place, especially amongst those who enjoy its authentic French breads and cakes, and I think I am one of only a few of my work colleagues and friends who is not a regular. Although they are essentially a high-end bakery, they also have an extensive lunch menu that features homestyle meals such as baguette sandwiches, crepes, quiches and croque monsieur-style fried bread sandwiches.
We strolled in mid-week without a booking, but were still able to secure a table for two. Not the most comfortable table one that I would have liked, but it was cosy enough. We were introduced to our waiter of the day, who explained the specials and informed us that there would be a two-hour limit for lunch. Since we were relatively early (just after noon) and the restaurant was not exactly packed, this was an odd introduction. But as two hours for lunch seemed reasonable, we agreed and proceeded to order.
After much studying of the lunch options for menu, I chose to order crepes with salmon, spinach, bechamel sauce and fennel. It came as part of a set meal for NT$385, which included soup of the day, side salad, baked tomatoes (Provencal, but basically just baked) a fried egg and a beverage. I thought the addition of a fried egg was a little odd for lunch, but was happy with my substituted scrambled eggs.
It was harder to chose a suitable beverage to accompany the set menu. Most of the choices were geared towards coffees, and there were few cold drink options (not even iced tea, although they provided ice-cubes on request). The fruit juices were at a lower price-point than the coffees, and although squeezed fresh daily were not prepared on the premises. In the end I ordered fresh grapefruit juice, which was slightly sweet and not too sour but not exactly generous. Feeling thirsty afterwards, our waiter provided some complementary hot water (and ice-cubes to cool it down), but informed that otherwise the only water they serve is mineral water from a bottle.
From reading blog entries, the soup of the day often ends up being a variant of cream of mushroom as it was when we visited. While it was a shame that they were serving such a rich dish in the height of summer rather than incorporating seasonal produce, I thought it was actually quite good. While there was a slight hint of cream, it was not overwhelmingly rich. And the grilled cheese baguette floating soaked up the flavours while still imparting a robust contrast.
I enjoyed my main dish order of salmon and spinach crepe. Although there was only a single crepe, it was larger than my photo indicates. And they were relatively generous with the salmon; they used fresh fillet rather than the more usual smoked salmon and it was cooked gently rather than pulverized. I would have liked slightly more fresh spinach, and the bechamel tasted a little too smooth to be fresh (although perhaps it was), but at least the crepe was not gratuitously smothered in poor-quality creamy sauce. The baked tomatoes were also surprisingly good, and my scrambled egg was well-done as requested.
My friend ordered a grilled Croque Madame. I was a little distracted by the sight of the sunny-side egg peering up at me (you can probably tell I am not a fan of undercooked eggs). I must admit that we were so busy gossiping and chatting that I forgot to ask her what she thought of it, but the empty plate at the end was probably indicative that she enjoyed it.
Given that we had been ogling the cakes on display as we entered, we decided to upgrade our set menu to include something sweet. This put our dedicated waiter into a bit of a spin, as he had already finalised and explained the itemized bill to us (presumably in a bid to herd us out the door within the two hour allocated timeframe).
We chose to share a trio of macarons, usually priced at NT$250 but offered at a special discount of NT$150 when combined with a set meal. I loved the bright contrasts of the randomly-selected flavours: cranberry, pistachio and something that tasted like brown sugar but which was probably some kind of nut liqueur. The macarons were perfectly round and bent under the fork to reveal beautifully soft fillings. The only downside was their miniscule size, with each one only slightly bigger than a NT$50 cent piece. My frugal sensitivities were somewhat shocked by the extravagance.
The branch of Paul we visited was at Level two, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A9, Songshou Road (新光三越A9‧信義新天地 台北市松壽路9號2F — directly facing Vieshow Cinemas). For reservations phone (02) 2722-0700.