As I turned off the end of Grafton Street and walked along Wicklow Street I passed by a shop window filled full of the most beautiful looking pastries and breads. There were loaves of brioche and sourdough bread, baguettes, sandwiches and little tarts adorned with beautiful, glazed fresh fruit and soft cream. I had to go in.
Stepping inside the doors of Le Petit Parisien is like being transported back in time and across seas to 1920s Paris. There are small marble-topped tables and an eclectic mix of bentwood chairs on which to sit. The café is exceedingly small, but there is something very quaint and appealing about it despite the lack of space.
I took a seat and a waitress, attired in a vintage maid’s uniform, handed me a menu to peruse. As it was early in the morning, breakfast was still being served (it finishes at 11.30am and the lunch menu then starts) so I ordered French Toast made with Brioche served with Crispy Bacon and Maple Syrup. With this, I asked for a pot of tea which came in an adorable china teapot and out of which I easily got three cups of tea.
French toast is divine when made with slightly stale brioche which serves to soak up all the eggy custard without disintegrating. This was very good French toast; soft, slightly sweet and very comforting to eat. The classic accompaniments of crispy bacon and maple syrup were just perfect and I was more than happy with my choice.
On leaving, I bought a tarte au citron, a pain au raisin and an almond croissant to enjoy later at home. These were also absolutely delicious. The breakfast, lunch and afternoon menus have quite a few options on them so it’s not difficult trying to find something to suit most palates. Yes... there are plenty of places serving similar fare, but with Le Petit Parisien, it’s as much about the surroundings as anything else.
Looking at the menu, I noticed that one of the dishes on offer was a Croque Monsieur – a toasted sandwich made with ham and a cheesy béchamel sauce; when topped with a fried egg it becomes a Croque Madame! An authentic Croque Monsieur is not merely a toasted sandwich… as far as I am concerned; it must include the rich béchamel sauce! I absolutely love them when properly made; served with some salad, they make such a satisfying meal.
Prompted by my visit to Le Petit Parisien and with my head full of memories of past eaten Croque Madames, I decided to cook myself one for lunch a couple of days later.
As I have already said, this is not your run-of-the-mill toasted cheese sandwich. Key to its success is good quality ham, a generous smear of Dijon mustard and a béchamel sauce with plenty of gruyère included. Words cannot describe how something containing such humble ingredients – bread, ham, and cheese - could taste so good. I always serve a home baked ham along with the turkey for Christmas dinner, and this would be a lovely dish to make with any leftovers and is a great way of elevating the humble ham sandwich to something a little bit more luxurious. Here’s my recipe…
4 slices of white sourdough bread
20g plain flour
75g gruyere, grated
A little Dijon mustard
2 slices of good quality ham (good quality)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
A little extra gruyère, grated
A little vegetable oil
Method:1. Preheat your grill to a moderate heat. Place the slices of bread on a baking tray lined with foil.
2. Place the butter in a small saucepan over a moderate heat and allow to melt. When melted, use a pastry brush to brush a little butter over the topside of each piece of bread. Place under the grill and toast until the bread is just turning golden brown (do not allow to burn). Remove and set aside.
3. Add the flour to the rest of the melted butter and stir with a small whisk. Allow to cook for one minute to get rid of the raw flour taste. Gradually add the milk, whisking all the time, to create a smooth sauce. Allow to simmer gently for a few minutes, until it starts to thicken.
4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add half the grated gruyère and stir until it has melted into the sauce. Taste and season as necessary. Set aside.
5. Spread the untoasted sides of two of the slices of bread with some Dijon mustard and lay a slice of ham on each, followed by the remaining cheese, dividing it equally between the two sandwiches. Place under the grill and allow to cook until the cheese has melted.
6. Top each sandwich with the rest of the bread, making sure that the toasted side is facing upwards. Dividing it equally, spread the béchamel sauce on top of each sandwich and sprinkle over a little extra grated gruyère. Grill for about 5 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and has turned a rich golden colour.
7. If liked you can top the finished sandwich with a fried egg. Heat a little oil in a small frying pan and fry an egg to your liking. Place on top of the cooked sandwich and serve immediately.
Le Petit Parisien 17 Wicklow Street, Dublin 2.