Paris gems: Chez Omar

ParisSituated on the Marais’ rue de Bretagne, this restaurant really is nothing special from the outside. You’d be forgiven for walking by and not giving it a second look, but you would be making a very poor decision for your stomach if you did that. The red awning bears the description “Sptés de couscous” (specialises in couscous), and it does not lie. Step across the threshold and you enter the home, no, the temple of couscous. Soft pillows of semolina are piled onto silver platters and plonked onto your table, where the little beige jewels overflow onto your plate and entice you. The menu has entrées and plats, but my fellow diners and I ignored all this and looked straight at the couscous menu, as this is the house speciality. Choose from merguez sausages, succulently slow roasted chicken, aromatic lamb kebabs and this turns up to spice up the couscous mounds, all accompanied by one of the most delicious vegetable stews that this writer has had in a while. Cooked to perfection, the soft courgettes, chickpeas, carrots, celery, swede and friends come in a tasty red jus to moisten the couscous. If, like my friends and I, you have a large appetite, it’s the place for you. Whilst scraping the ladle to the bottom of the pot for seconds, the cheerful waiter came over and asked if we wanted more, promptly returning with a replenished pot of steaming goodness. Thirds were had, and buttons were undone.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned pudding. Again, there was a list of desserts, but there is only one thing to choose: patisseries orientales aka baklava. Piled high onto beautifully painted ceramic bowls, two ceremonial-style offerings of almond and pistachio-based and honey-based sweetmeats are left at the table, leaving you the impossible task of choosing which slices of heaven to pick. This food-lover’s advice: from the honey tray, pick the swirl or the little square parcel, and go for any of the scarily green pistachio ones from the other. They are to die for. Melt in the mouth. Parcels of wonder. Need I continue?

To top the whole experience off, the restaurant has a welcoming and warm ambiance, with jovial and friendly waiters (in Paris, shocking I know) and Omar himself came over to chat to our table, and, having found out that we were a group of Londoners, he proceeded to say “London, great city” every time he walked past the table. It has an old-school Paris feel to it, complete with dark wood, glass details, mirrors and the faded charm so particular of this city. A highlight for me was the tiny kitchen complete with tiny window onto which steaming plates of joy were placed for waiters to deliver to beaming faces.

It really is a great little place, and completely merits the queue inside and outside the door for a taste of Omar’s famous couscous.

Chez Omar, 47 rue de Bretagne, Paris 3e.

Sample sales and vintage victories

Paris has started with a bang. A buying bang. That is, once all the bureaucratic faffing was out the way and access to a functioning French bank account with money in it was gained. Then there was a bang. Think of it like a firework and you’re waiting for it to explode but there’s some technical hitch which Dad is trying to sort out; he’s wading through paperwork, waiting on letters, setting up transfers, waiting on transfers to take effect and then BANG, we’re off!

So, once said access was gained, I entered the world of Parisian journalist perks and the treasure trove of vintage wonders that the city of lights has to offer. First up, Sonia Rykiel sample sale. Sonia Rykiel is not a brand that has ever popped up on my radar too much (aside from her gorgeous Poor Boy sweaters, featured in British Vogue when I was working there), and so it was without much expectation that I went along to the sale with my colleague. What was the lesson learnt? Do not ignore Sonia Rykiel. Beautiful coats, butter soft leather bags, and a pair of maribou feather heels which in fact feature on a picture which I’m looking at hanging on my wall as I write this (thanks to my lovely ex-boss). It was a dream, and quiet to boot meaning ample touching and feeling time before leaving  with a gorgeous necklace, having been my most restrained self. I could have left with a navy blue ponyskin bag – too impractical – or a gorgeous, minimalistic camel coat – waiting until I can afford a cashmere one – not to mention a wealth of other beauties, but control was exercised. Needless to say the prices were fantastic, and my colleague nabbed herself a ball gown and left feeling like a thief for having paid such a good price.

Saturday brought with it more bargain promise, and it dealt up the goods. First up, a “vide-robe”, literal translation a “wardrobe empty”. People registered to come along and set up a stall where they sold their unwanted clothes. Simple. Being Paris, this wasn’t unwanted Primark and Topshop (although there was a lot of Zara on offer), no, clothes ranged from two season-old YSL blazers, to €1000 vintage Hermès bags, with a lot of Maje and Sandro on the way. I won the shopping award, scooping up a delicious military green Equipment blouse for just €40, a bargain seeing as they can cost up to €400 and mine is unworn. Equipment is a French brand, run by the husband of Carine Roitfeld, ex-Editor-in-Chief of my current employer, Vogue Paris. They specialise in silk blouses and are, in my humble opinion, the leader in this particular niche of the fashion world.

Rubbing my hands with glee, I headed further into the Marais under the guidance of my lovely colleague Holly, to explore what ancient treasures lay in the many vintage shops. The discovery was not what I expected. Spoiler alert: vintage shops in Paris are amazing, and cheap. The layout is generally hectic and you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some digging, but, my friends, the rewards will be plentiful. If you’re in the market for any type of sheepskin or shearling jacket, the Parisian vintage world is your oyster. Unfortunately, this savvy shopper saw the shearling jacket of her dreams on the back of someone as they walked out the shop having purchased it. Not one to dwell on what might have been, I quickly snaffled up a very loud, printed shirt, an oversized men’s navy corduroy shirt (new favourite item) and a top so Nineties, only Buffy (the Vampire slayer) would wear it.

So there you have it, the first forays into the Parisian shopping scene for Fashion(Ed) in London. I wonder how many people have read to the end of this and not given up, wondering why there are no photos…