Monday, 30 March 2015

Biddy says Bonjour to PAUL

It had only opened the day before I visited PAUL, the new bakery/pâtisserie cum Parisian café in Parkway, so it was all pretty much new to the staff as well as the customers, of which there were many.

Dressed in pristine white overalls the staff looked very bakery, very fresh, just as you’d wish – and there were plenty of them attending to everyone’s desires.

And when you step inside their premises selling gorgeous French breads, cakes, pastries and savouries there is indeed much to be desired. Because they all looked so good I took my time over the display of goodies while I tried not to drool.

Front of shop is the counter, with pretty tiles behind, traditional black and white tiled flooring, and great black and white photos on the wall. Here too there are high tables and stools for perching, while beyond is the more relaxed seating/dining area, all looking very chic.

There was a constant stream of customers, all eager to try out Newbury’s newest café, but the friendly staff seemed to manage to seat everyone. Ahead of me in the queue a young guy was already taking advantage of PAUL’s takeaway Parisian breakfast deal – coffee, tea or hot chocolate, with a croissant or pain au chocolat. At just £2.95, it’s great value. 

I sat on one of the high stools by the window – always my seat of preference! It was a great spot to people-watch while I enjoyed my coffee and croissant. I’d plumped for a croissant pistache. Crisp and flaky on the outside, soft and sinful on the inside, this is your traditional croissant with an added twist. And very yummy it was too. Just the million calories per bite, you understand! But my latte was a skinny one, so does one balance out the other? (Who am I trying to kid?)

So, what of PAUL? It certainly has a good track record as it is the biggest bakery in France; the first one opened in Lille in 1889 and the business is still family-owned, now in its fifth generation. Its popularity has seen it open in 29 countries, and in the UK the Newbury branch is only the second one to open outside of London.

Opening hours are longMonday–Wednesday 8am–7pm, Thursday–Saturday 8am–9pm, Sunday 9am–6pm – giving everyone a chance to sample what’s on offer, whether it’s breakfast, brunch, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea or a post-work snack or early supper.

As well as the traditional French breakfast, also on offer will be: Oeufs á la Coque (also known as boiled eggs and soldiers); Oeufs Royale (poached eggs with smoked salmon, hollandaise sauce on delicious toasted bread); Brioche Perdue (French toast with crème anglaise – or eggy bread and gorgeous authentic custard if you want to get down to basics); and Les Criques de Gramat (potato cakes, ham, Emmental cheese and tomatoes, topped with a fried egg).

Later in the day you might try their charcuterie and cheese platters, and there is also a choice of wines – well, it wouldn’t be French without, would it?

I left with a pain de Campagne tucked under my arm for the husband and the intention of taking him with me when I next visit as I really want to try their signature French-style afternoon tea. Au revoir, PAUL, until then …

Biddy x 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Giant Easter Egg Hunt: 3–18 April 2015

The Easter school holidays are on the horizon, and what better way to keep children of all ages (from 1 to 101!) amused than with Newbury’s Giant Easter Egg Hunt 2015? If it’s anything like the one in 2014, it’s going to be cracking good fun!

This year’s Giant Easter Egg Hunt starts on Good Friday (3 April) and runs for over two weeks, ending on Saturday 18 April, and as it incorporates three weekends this gives everyone plenty of time to get involved.

So, how does it work? It’s simple. All you need to do is collect an entry form from Parkway Easter Zone on East Street or the Visitor Information Centre in Market Place (available from 3 April). This will present you with a series of 15 clues about where in Newbury town centre you will find the giant Easter eggs, planted by Newbury’s very own Easter bunny. Follow the trail around town – it is all within easy walking distance – as you work out the crafty clues. When you find each of the 15 giant eggs you will also find a special letter that will go towards cracking a secret code. Once you’ve completed the trail and cracked the code, all entry forms need to be returned to the Easter Zone in Parkway – then keep your fingers crossed!

Everyone who works out the code correctly will be in with a chance of winning a fabulous prize, including a fantastic first prize of a £250 voucher from John Lewis at Home. It is expected that competition winners will be announced on 18 April, but no later than 20 April.

Which shops and businesses are involved? Well, that would be telling! But what we can do is thank Newbury BID, Newbury Building Society, Parkway Shopping Newbury, Pageant Party shop in Cheap Street and Rainbows in Inches Yard who are sponsoring the event and giving everyone this exciting opportunity.

Even if you don’t have time to complete the trail, while you are in Newbury over the Easter period you are sure to enjoy admiring the magnificent giant Easter Eggs – they really are enormous and hugely colourful. Many of them have been designed by local junior schools, giving the children a great time demonstrating their artistic talents. Others have been decorated by local craft shop Rainbows.

Many people who participated in the Giant Easter Egg Hunt 2014 voted it an out and out success, and this year it is anticipated that even more locals and visitors to the town will take part. We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Biddy at Côte

Late morning, between meetings, I needed a refuel so it was a perfect opportunity to stop by and see what’s what at the newest restaurant in town: Côte Brasserie.   

Côte, just by the bridge on Northbrook Street, looks incredibly smart on the outside, the windows mysteriously dark, and inside the cool, contemporary, sophisticated decor follows through. I was welcomed with a big, warm ‘Good morning’ and was just in time to be offered either the breakfast or lunch menu. At 11.45am, my body clock was undecided, so I took both. 

I was shown to a table by the window – a fabulous people-watching spot, and as this part of the restaurant is a little below pavement level you get an interesting knee-level view of those going by. There is loads of space; the restaurant goes back a fair way with lots of tables, nicely spaced, just as I like. There were half a dozen or so other tables occupied but in no time at all it was starting to fill up with customers attracted by the lunchtime offers. (Their set menu is fabulously priced at £9.95 for two courses and £11.90 for three.)

I ordered coffee while I browsed the menus, and was also brought water in a pretty ceramic bottle, a lovely touch and much appreciated by me. But down to business … breakfast or lunch, breakfast or lunch? Oh, decisions, decisions… 

Côte’s style is based on the brasseries of Paris and I almost fell for the Crêpe Complète, which comes with bacon and gruyère, from the breakfast menu, but at the last moment put on my sensible head and plumped for chargrilled chicken and walnut salad from the lunch menu … and another coffee because I had already polished off the first one and it was sooooo good. (I made the second one a decaff though, as didn’t want to be climbing the walls, and it was just as good as the ‘caff’ variety.)

Salad? A bit of an un-Biddy like choice? Not one bit of it. Although listed under the lighter meals on the menu, even I could not quite work my way through the delicious bowlful (and I mean full!) of crunchy green beans, avocado, walnuts, croutons, fresh lettuce and hot chicken in a mustard dressing. It was a more than adequate lunch, and good value.

The staff were discreetly attentive, quick and efficient – I was all done in 45 minutes which suited me very well and by which time the place was really buzzing. And the staff all look great dressed in floor length black aprons and crisp blue shirts, very chic, very French.

In fact, with a glimpse of the canal from my vantage point at the window, I could almost have believed it was the Seine and that I was in gay Paree! 

Biddy x