On a quick trip to Paris this week I decided to look up what I guess now could be called an old favourite. I don't remember what had taken me to rue des Martyrs that day in 2003 but it was the intriguing wrought iron decorated door which caught my eye and the aroma of baking which lured me in. If I had needed any more impetus to enter Rose Bakery it was provided by the sight of a familiar face glancing up to greet customers.
In 1988 the Anglo-French team of Jean Charles and Rose Carrarini set up one of the most influential food shops cum café/restaurants in London. With their treasure of an epicerie fine, Villandry, they drew people from all over the capital to their tiny space in what was then a rather jaded Marylebone High Street. In the early days, the shop was stocked with continental foods mostly unheard of anywhere else in London – Italian Pagnotta and French Poilane breads, perfectly ripe French cheeses, top quality cured meats and bacon, preserves, wines and an ever-changing array of sweetmeats. These were supplemented by savoury and sweet tarts, cakes, and biscuits. Ingredients sold in the shop were used to produce deliciously simple dishes for the café. It was a joy to have the flexibility to walk through the shop and select a perfect Saint Marcellin to eat in the café with good bread, a glass of wine, a perfectly dressed mesclun salad and followed, perhaps, by a slice of fig tart.
The atmosphere was quirky, the staff laid back, and the attitude unpretentious. A strong design eye was evident in the second-hand furnishings and the eye-catching, ever changing window displays. Back then this was pioneering stuff in London and everyone who aspired to open their own traiteur or deli checked out Villandry first. The Carrarini’s left Marylebone High Street, when the property owners, Howard de Walden Estates began their gentrification of the area. Leila's in Calvert Avenue is a welcome, more recent, embodiment of what I think of as those Villandry principles.
It was that style which I subconsciously recognised when I was stopped in my tracks and drawn into Rose Bakery on a perfect autumn day in the 9th arrondisement. Although I was surprised, in fact it made perfect sense for them to be here. Instead of bringing France to London as they did for many years, they have, since 2002 been bringing Britain to an appreciative Parisienne clientele. Jean Charles' design background is visible in the eclectic mix of second hand furnishings, stark paintwork and concrete floors, enlivened by a hand-painted mural on the rear wall of the café. It’s a look which suits this narrow space, a former chartil, where fruit and vegetable sellers stored their carts.
The kitchens at either end of the shop are the domain of Rose. She is supported by an energetic brigade who constantly pass through the café laden with the latest trays of baking fresh out of the oven. Carrot cake, scones, shortbread, slab cakes, crumbles and brown betty go down a storm. Savoury dishes include kedgeree, bangers and mash, organic Irish smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, soups, tarts and pizzettes. Seasonal risottos and dishes such as Braised Artichoke, Lemon and Lamb Chops make use of what is best, and preferably organic, at that moment. British cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy confirm the French have developed a taste for British food at its best. Even Christmas cakes and puddings are lapped up in December.
An exceptionally good value ‘formule’menu is available weekday lunchtimes, always including a mix of salads which the French clientelle expect. Saturday brunch of eggs, bacon, tomatoes and toast, or soft boiled eggs with marmite soldiers, porridge or pancakes is popular. The ethos is simplicity and quality. Customers are predominantly French with some expats. The young, multinational staff can get a bit distracted, but Jean Charles does not miss much, and they are so damned nice you forgive them any lapses. Prices, it has to be said, are on the high side, reflecting the quality of the ingredients so you may want to consider their take-out instead of eating in.
Rose Bakery is not the only draw on rue des Martyrs. Paris' 9th arrondisement is bordered by the Gares du Nord, de l'Est and St-Lazare. This may not sound like the most appealing location to recommend to you, but stick with me. Rue des Martyrs snakes uphill from Boulevard Haussmann (rue Lafitte becomes rue des Martyrs) to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. It's also an easy 15 minute walk from Gare du Nord, so a perfect place to either start or end a visit to Paris. Food now dominates the street with good fromageries, traitteurs, boulangeries, patisseries, cafes, a poissonerie and more. The latest opening is La Chambre aux Confitures dedicated to preserves and honeys. Using four suppliers, who prepare the confitures with the lowest possible sugar to fruit ratio, which varies to suit the particular fruit, they are presented with typical French style by the charming Lise.
The Carrarinis have not totally cut their ties with London. You can visit a scaled-down version of Rose Bakery on the top floor of the ultra-cool Dover Street Market in W1. Rose's book, ‘Breakfast, Lunch, Tea’ still sells well. It is based on the food at Rose Bakery and almost twenty years of dedication to good food. Rose is not a trained chef and this is not simply a list of recipes but also an expression of the philosophy and style of the Carrarini’s. It conveys a deep love for good ingredients and a passion for cooking and feeding people which all true cooks should have. Further Rose Bakeries can be found in Japan and, I understand, will continue to open to spread the philosophy.
46, rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris
Also at: 30, rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris
and now at La Maison Rouge Foundation, 10 Boulevard de la Bastille 75012 Paris
Dover Street Market, Dover Street, London W1
Dover Street Market, Dover Street, London W1