By John Fraser
For moi, the most creative and wondrous nosh to be found in any restaurant will emanate from the pastry section.
And, certainly, any attempt to recreate/franchise/imitate/syndicate/clone the glory of Parisian patisseries in sunny SA must be welcomed.
Never having ventured into its sister Melrose Arch establishment (if a place also called Paul can be described in the feminine) I was delighted to see that a new Paul bakery has popped up in the highly-poncy Morningside mall.
Fortunately, my favourite PR lady in all the world suggested we give it a try, although we had earlier arranged to meet in the neighbouring Tashas, and I had already been seated there when she arrived, only slightly late. Without ordering, we crossed the House to the opposition benches.
As we approached Paul, we were greeted by the allure of a glass-fronted display cabinet of pastries, and a few smiling staff, many of whom seemed to have been christened Paul, as they had that actual name on their aprons. Impressive recruiting, mes braves.
The pastry display was attractive, yes. But lacking that extra wow-factor. The same day I visited Spar and Checkers outlets, and neither had a pastry choice that looked too shabby compared to that of Paul. As they should have done.
The service was very welcoming, but notre garçon seemed a bit slow in producing our simple order.
It wasn’t yet lunchtime, so Mademoiselle opted for what I assumed was a Croque Monsieur, but which looked over-bready and heavy to me. I was told it was OK. No need for lunch.
I opted for a chocolate éclair, the stuffing of which was over-sweet and which had a topping layer of chocolate which looked as if it had been applied by a kindergarten finger-painting class.
It was certainly edible and was certainly eaten. But elegant Parisian patisserie perfection? Non.
As I was leaving, I ordered a takeaway of two pains au chocolat (pronounced “chocolate cross-aunts” by the locals). Both were excellent. However, they were entombed in a cardboard box, itself inside an enormous paper bag. Several forests had died so I could walk away with my twin patisseries. This probably means that the doggy bags from Paul are large enough to accommodate an actual Alsatian.
The coffees – filter and cappuccino – were excellent, each coming with a minute biscuit. And for some reason, we were also given some delish bread rolls and butter. I didn’t see the bill, but I assume they were free.
I did glance at the rest of the menu, which elevates the place from a bakery to a restaurant, and I will certainly pop in again to sample a more substantial meal. Pasta, burgers, sandwiches, a cheese board and even more hearty fare are on offer.
Looking at the wine list, the mark-ups seemed very high, but they are not unusual for the neighbourhood. Shame that a bottle of wine of reasonable quality would force a diner at Paul to rob Peter so they could, er, pay Paul.
With a thoroughfare truncating the place, it is not quite as warm and welcoming as I would have liked, and I suspect there may be heating challenges when winter approaches. The tables are a bit close together, as we discovered when a toddler at the next table decided to break the sound barrier.
However, I understand it was the first day the place had been open, and ours was an enjoyable visit. (Maybe the three small bread rolls with butter had been an opening-day gift?)
Add a bit of polish to the paltry pastries at Paul, and I suspect that neighbouring Tashas (where I find the coffee much, much less enjoyable) could find itself in serious trouble.
Rating: I give it 4*
Key to the Ratings:
1* Dog food is nicer
2*. Cat food is nicer
3*. Not bad if Woolworths is sold out of ready meals.
4*. I like it
5*. I love it. Not to be missed.