Espresso on every corner

Coffee can be a reason to cross town. Or just leave your apartment. Luckily, the 20th arrondissement is full of places in which to find a decent roast, often with good music, a friendly welcome and wi-fi thrown in. Here, in no particular order, are 15 local favourites and recent discoveries.

Cream A chic niche on multi-culti rue de Belleville, Cream upped the local coffee bar when it opened in 2015. The excellent Belleville Brûlerie roast comes in a well-edited range of styles – including a mini-crème-like cortado (3€) for those expanding their coffee vocab – but there’s no decaf, soy or wi-fi. Tempting sandwiches, salads, cookies and cakes hit the spot if you feel like eating. Afterwards, head up the steep hill to Parc de Belleville for one of the best views over Paris. 50 rue de Belleville

Les Pères Populaires This place, with its fine tunes, mismatched décor and bargain coffee (1€ espresso), is a chilled-out haven near Place de la Nation. It has 5G wi-fi, plenty of space and a laissez-faire attitude towards laptop jockeys who spend hours over a single beverage. If you come for lunch, the 16€ set menu is seasonal and satisfying (with moreish Ten Belles bread on the side). With a truly mixed crowd – native millennials, families, welded-on regulars – Pères Pop is also a lively (read noisy) option for apéro46 rue de Buzenval

Les Pichettes This homey newcomer does a 10€ Sunday brunch, making the most of the market atmosphere and passing foot traffic. It’s mostly a lunch spot, though, open from 11am to 4pm every day but Saturday, with a daily menu (three courses, 15€), natural wines and beer from Montreuil brewery La Baleine. Continuous service means you can just pop in for noisette (1.90€) served in a vintage teacup with choc-coated coffee beans on the side. 47 rue des Vignoles


Le Café Sans Nom On Thursday and Sunday mornings, this spacious café (on the corner opposite Les Pichettes) hums to the rhythm of the open-air market in Place de la Réunion. As well as a certain zinc-bar, no-frills charm – and serviceable coffee (1.30€ noisette) – there are books to browse, wi-fi and a genuine neighbourhood vibe to enjoy from a table on the terrace. 57 rue de la Réunion


L’Escargot d’Or They roast the coffee on the spot here. It’s only open in the afternoon (or evening on Friday and Saturday) and closed Sunday. They also have a stand at Marché de Charonne on Friday mornings and sell coffee beans from around the world. 53 rue de Bagnolet

La Chouette Well-made espresso and flaky croissant at La Chouette (with its double meaning of owl and super) is a good way to start the day, with free wi-fi removing any excuse not to work, if that’s the mission. Locals take equally to the footpath terrace for a sundowner. The menu at lunch and dinner is fresh and inventive and the Art Deco design touches – mirrors, light fittings – make this handsome space a standout at the southern end of the arrondissement. 89 rue des Pyrénées

Le Barbouquin Worth the detour to street-art-filled rue Denoyez, this cute, casual café does double duty as a second-hand bookshop (hence the name). Sip your noisette (2.40€) in a velour-covered armchair or at the long communal table. It has wi-fi but also a weekend laptop ban – to encourage conviviality, as a sign on the door helpfully explains. Its comme-ci, comme-ça attitude to tables filled with laptops bearing glowing fruit is, it seems, increasingly common. 1 rue Denoyez

Café La Laverie It’s a little bit Paris terrace, a little bit rock’n’roll, with fairy lights outside and retro-inspired décor indoors (including the old laundromat sign, evidence of the building’s former life). In the fine weather, enjoy your espresso (1.90€) or panaché (that’s a shandy in Australian parlance) looking out across the shady square. There’s no wi-fi, just conversation, cigarettes and a book (yes, a paper one). Cnr rue Sorbier and rue de Ménilmontant

Benoît Castel – La Pâtisserie-Boulangerie The open-kitchen concept comes to the bakery. At Benoît Castel’s eponymous boulangerie-pâtisserie, you can have excellent coffee (2.20€ noisette), lunch or weekend brunch (29€) with a backdrop of artisan flour, dough hooks and antique wood-fired ovens (logs stacked neatly the side). Long tables, floor-to-ceiling front windows and wi-fi make this a very pleasant working spot. Take home some jam, biscuits or granola as well as irresistible bread and pastries. 150 rue de Ménilmontant

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Cerwood Terrasse Just off the main strip at Jourdain, the second Cerwood address (after the original in the 19th) is more log cabin than typical Parisian café. It’s all antlers, animal hide and hunks of tree suspended from the ceiling, not to mention a leather chesterfield couch by a faux open fire (in an echo of the owners’ pretty-rustic florist shop, Nouvelle Ere, nearby). The coffee is from Brûlerie de Jourdain, there’s free wi-fi and, as per the name, an inviting terrace. 8 rue Jean-Baptiste Dumay

Kahwehgi Coffee House Pull up a stool at the bar in this tiny, friendly café for a macchiato or signature Kahwehgi (an espresso topped with cream), both 2.50€, made with coffee from award-winning French roaster Pfaff. A range of teas, sweet nibbles and ground coffee are available to take away. The location is welcoming, too, on a leafy side street between Place Gambetta and Père Lachaise cemetery. 9 avenue du Père Lachaise

Ô Divin Traiteur Mid-morning, just after opening, the glass-and-marble bar at Ô Divin Traiteur is already topped with Middle Eastern-inspired pastries and salads. The whole place smells incredible, and the espresso (2€) is smooth. Linger for lunch or go up the road to sister épicerie and primeur (greengrocers) – both part of the group along with Restaurant Ô Divin in the 19th – for wine, cheese, charcuterie and fresh produce, if you fancy a gourmet picnic at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. 118 rue de Belleville

Le Monte-en-l’AirHidden away opposite Ménilmontant’s beautiful Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix church, this design-focused bookshop – art, photography, graphic novels and illustration – is not really a café, but it does offer coffee and cold drinks on the terrace. 2 rue de la Mare

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Aux Ours Maybe it’s the banks of sidewalk tables, maybe the neighbourhood atmosphere, but this place is always buzzy, often to the point of heaving. It leans more towards bar/restaurant (with a classic French menu and new home-delivery service) than café, but in the morning, it’s a quiet place to work or simply have a coffee (1.10€ espresso). The spacious interior and free wi-fi make it popular with freelancers. 236 rue des Pyrénées

ABC Belleville – Arts of Bakery & Coffee Opposite the forecourt that overlooks Parc de Belleville, ABC puts the city at your feet. Although you might not notice the view (look, the Eiffel Tower!) if you’re here, bleary-eyed, when it opens at 7am. If a croissant and espresso (1.20€) are not sustenance enough, the breakfast offerings extend along a distinctly anglo bent, from granola to omelette, and for those who don’t get going until midday, there’s a lunch menu, too. 10 rue des Envierges

 

 

Walk this way

The camellias are in bloom. So too the daffodils and tulips. The trees are full of flowers or sprouting shy signs of green. In Square Édouard-Vaillant, a small park near Place Gambetta, the benches are filled and the playground rings with the squeals of children, their shrill cries of delight carrying on the breeze’s chill edge. At the foot of a statue of Léon Gambetta himself, a carpet of fat pigeons are grazing busily in the sun.

I’m about five minutes into a 2.5-kilometre walking circuit (the first in a series of neighbourhood strolls), which is, under blue skies or grey, interesting for its village-within-a-city, browse-inducing boutiques and typically 20th vibe.

But I should begin, like a civilized guide, at the beginning: Place Gambetta with its modern jagged glass fountain and imposing town hall (more on that later). It is, as always, a hive of activity – buses, shoppers, flower sellers clutching bunches of yellow daffs, with Père Lachaise adjacent and groovy Belleville up the hill. We’ll return here at the end.

For now, though, let’s walk down rue Belgrand and look right to appreciate the ornate façade of what is these days the MK2 cinema. Built in 1920, originally as a theatre, and restored in 1997, the Gambetta-Palais has a distinguished pedigree; its architect was Henri Sauvage, one of the pioneers of the art deco movement. The original interior is long gone but it retains its awning and decorative frieze.

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The aforementioned park, on the opposite side of the street, is a verdant oasis in the Haussmann mold, opened in 1879. The Gambetta statue, which once stood in Jardin des Tuileries and then the Napoleon courtyard in the Louvre, was installed in 1982 to commemorate the centenary of the great politician’s death. (Fun fact: Gambetta – lawyer, statesman, publisher – lost an eye in a childhood accident and that eye is apparently preserved at the museum of Cahors, the town where he was born. His heart is in the Panthéon.) The park also has a couple of playgrounds and a small glasshouse.

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On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the stretch of rue Belgrand beyond Square Édouard-Vaillant (named after one of the founders of French socialism) hosts an open-air market. It’s dominated by fresh produce but also has wine, flowers and other goodies.

Another block along is the frankly a little down-at-heel Place Édith-Piaf, where the Little Sparrow (or the brat of Ménilmontant), immortalised in bronze by French sculptor Lisbeth Delisle, reaches for the sky. The singer was born in the 20th and is buried in Père Lachaise.

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The slope of rue de Capitaine Ferber is gentle. I can never resist popping into Le Village (2 rue Etienne Marley) to see what jewellery, homewares and trinkets they have, especially at sales time in January and June.

On the other side of Place Octave Chanute, up a photogenic stairway, is one of the arrondissment’s – and indeed the city’s – hidden treasures: Campagne à Paris. This early-20th-century housing co-operative of about 90 one- and two-storey townhouses (over principally rues Paul Strauss, Jules Siegfried and Irénée Blanc) is a world away from the high-rise hodge-podge of today’s cité developments. Its cobbled streets, manicured gardens and climbing ivy feel part of another time. When the project was inaugurated in 1926, houses cost about 37,000€ ; today, a quick Google search of estate agent sites shows those picturesque workers’ houses change hands for about 750,000€.

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Leaving the urban bucolic behind, at the top of rue Irénée Blanc, turn left, then veer left again into rue du Lieutenant Chauré past the impressive L’église du Coeur-Eucharistique-de Jésus, constructed in 1938.

From there, we weave our way through streets with the typically 20th mix of architectural styles. The arrondissement only joined Paris proper in 1859, so it can feel part provincial, part city. An upward glance is usually met with a mix of roofs and materials that is at odds with ideas of uniform Parisian stone façades.

At local pitstop Le Quinze, go left into rue du Surmelin. We’ll hold off on coffee for now in order to visit Maison Bohème (at No.15), a pocket of all things craft and hand-made. When I was there on Saturday, the owner Cécile kindly interrupted her radio interview (discussing knitting workshops) to help me and introduce her beautiful store. I bought iron-on patches and a card.

Over the road is Goldy Mama (who are relocating their vintage/retro boutique to rue Orfila around the corner) and Au Chat Qui Pêche (No.12), a true local bistro that I haven’t yet tried but whose classic menu, including a bargain 12.50€ formule, scores excellent online reviews. Personally, I love the little sign with its black cat and cute feline postcards in the window.

At the intersection, check out the art deco Pelleport metro station (built in 1921 and dwarfed by the super-modern extension to Tenon Hospital behind it). You can take a detour to Julien Davin (129 avenue Gambetta) – I bought duck breast but they also have horse steak. Horse butchers (chevaline) are less and less common in Paris – usually recognizable from equine features above the awning.

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I grabbed a coffee (une noisette – espresso with a stain of milk) on the terrace at Les Tontons Flambeurs (127 avenue Gambetta). Again, I’ve not eaten there but the plates coming out looked generous and fresh and online reviews are positive.

The wide avenue Gambetta, put through in 1883, is an easy stroll. At the corner of rue de la Chine (95 avenue Gambetta) is an art nouveau landmark apartment building, with ornate bay windows and ironwork. A few steps up rue de la Chine is Iris Absinthe, the leather workshop and store of Picardie native Candice Caulle. She has just reopened after a three-month break and her bags, purses, belts and keychains are rather lovely (as is her enormous snowy dog who greeted me with tail wags when I walked in).

So, back down the hill to Place Gambetta. The town hall has recently been cleaned back to its creamy 19th-century glory, and its patrician officialdom dominates the square. According to the council website, the building took 10 years to build, and was finished in 1897. The salon des fêtes is 400 square metres replete with chandeliers, but on Saturday I found my way (after being scanned at the entrance as is the case with all public buildings in post-attack Paris) to the salon d’honneur and its current exhibition of war photography by Syrian activist and AFP reporter Zakaria Abdelkafi. The images, taken in Aleppo between 2013 and 2015, contain blood and destruction, snow, kids playing in a burnt-out car and, in one extraordinary picture, three upended buses blocking a street.

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It was blunt contrast to my historic, quotidian wanderings, but also, in a way, it being there is emblematic of the quartier. Any itinerary, random or planned, is as likely to deliver an eye-opener as an expected history lesson or simply a way to get from A to B.

Now, to pop around the corner to Maison Landemaine to pick up bread…

 

 

Slice of life

Making a reservation was a necessity. Reserving early was a stroke of genius. When J and I pushed open the door at Le Popine (aka pizza nirvana), the place was deserted and we had our choice of position – window-side table, shared bench or high table with a clear view of the bar and pervy perspective through the pass into the kitchen. We took a place up the back, pushing aside throw cushions to pile up coats and scarves on the banquette.

The menu (delivered swiftly with a branded carafe of Paris’s finest tap) proved a challenge. As J said, why have a gourmet section when the classique pizzas are all artisan prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella? We ordered a 500ml pichet of Chevry and a carciofina (ham, mozzarella and artichoke) for me and something similar (the name escapes me) with added olives and marinated capsicum for J. The tapas, burger and charcuterie were tempting, too, but somewhat tangential to our mission.

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I had seen it claimed that Paris’s best pizza came out of wood-fired ovens in the 20th, and so my friends and I have been roadtesting the contenders. Happily, it’s an ongoing quest…

Popine, recommended vigorously by both Le Fooding and Time Out, was second on the must-visit list. First glance, and eager first bite, confirmed the advance notices. The crust was damn near perfect – salty, light, just the right amount of blister and crunch without being dry or brittle, wheaty from artisanal flour in the best possible way – with sparing toppings of quality and flavour. When we finally lifted our heads from flat, round Neapolitan heaven, we realized the room was now packed and buzzing, with a typical Ménilmontant crowd, which is to say young and fashionable.

The crowd at the pizzeria at Mama Shelter is rolled from similar dough. I’ve been a few times, because it’s reliably good and there is usually a spot at one of the two long, skinny tables in the underlit but welcoming space. You enter through the lobby of the hotel, peruse the gift suggestions in the glass cabinets and turn left. (My goal this summer is to be organized enough to make the reservation that will allow me to turn right and step into the elevator up to the popular roof terrace.) There’s a restaurant, too, but usually it’s pizza and a carafe of house red calling my name. No need to be fancy. Mama Shelter is an international chain of affordable, photogenic boutique hotels, styled by French interior designer Philippe Starck. I’m happy they decided to put the Paris one in my neighbourhood.

The service, on this visit as on previous ones, was quick and friendly. C and I clambered onto chunky high stools – I may have crawled under the table to avoid going all the way to the end and squeezing past half-a-dozen fellow diners (Pardon! Excusez-moi! Désolée!) – and ordered a vegetarian for her, Bellota for me. It’s still weird to get a pizza not neatly cleaved into eight, but, hey, if I have to navigate chorizo, tomato, mozzarella and oregano with a knife and fork, so be it. The menu has 10 options and you can add extra toppings. But why mess with something “created with the complicity of three-starred chef Guy Savoy”? The ambient buzz was as noisy as the décor is groovy, and we decided not to stick around for dessert. The helpful waiter packed the leftover pizza into a takeaway box and we headed out, the beginnings of a long night cranking up behind us.

And so, to number three. On a recent Friday, noting with pleasure the lengthening evening (roll on, spring), I installed myself on the closed-in terrace at Tripletta on boulevard de Belleville, ordered a glass of Côtes de Roussillon red and settled in with my university copy of Le Grand Meaulnes to wait for J and M. This restaurant strip, which runs all the way from Père Lachaise cemetary to vintage brasserie La Vielleuse, hosts such a parade of diners, hangers-out, soldiers on patrol, hustlers, pavement smokers, locals with shopping caddies, it feels like the whole eastern city walks past your table, if only you sit long enough.

Tripletta is the compact sister address of bar-bistro Les Triplettes up the road, similarly casual, a bit grittier around the edges, perhaps; there is a constant stream of delivery guys collecting flat boxes for home delivery from the little window on the corner. It’s the kind of place you need for an end-of-week debrief. So it took us a while to get to consulting the menu – and decide on a Napoli (creamy mozza fior di latte, anchovies and black Caiazzan olives) for me and a prosciutto e funghi for J. M was avoiding grains and inducing order envy with a ricotta salad, beefed up with roast vegetables and served in a strangely heavy bowl (“so you think it is more substantial than lettuce leaves,” she said).

All present, correct and satisfying – snaps for the doorstop chunks of good bread (duly lifted and wrapped carefully in napkins for my breakfast) – from beginning until week’s-end fatigue got the better of us.

At Popine, they beat us to it, gently enquiring how long we planned to linger after the last crumbs and swish of wine had been downed. They needed the table. We obliged, of course, rugging up and stepping into that wonderful hum and movement of cars, bodies and possibilities of the boulevard.