Our memorable Paris Petrossian tasting

Our memorable Paris Petrossian tasting

Article by Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The Petrossian shop window on Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg

The Petrossian shop window on Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg

Ever hear of Daurenki Impérial, Baika Impérial, Ossetra Impérial, Alverta Impérial, and Beluga Impérial? If you are a foodie you may already have an idea of what the names are, the types of farmed caviar some of which we tasted at the popular Petrossian Latour boutique in Paris, France owned by Armen Petrossian (18 boulevard de la tour Maubourg 75007 Paris, + 33 14 411 32 22, www.petrossian.fr, boutique@petrossian.fr).

Philippe Vanlacker explains the types of caviar

Philippe Vanlacker described the types of caviar before we tasted them

On a cloudy spring morning we made our way, braving streets filled with protesters and police, to the Petrossian shop in the city's Latin Quarter, where we sampled various products. Philippe Vanlacker, a friendly English speaking staff person, welcomed us and facilitated the caviar, Royal Salmon, and Kamtchatka Crab tasting. We liked that the only added ingredient was sea salt. There were no preservatives or additives, according to a spokesperson.

A kilogram of fine caviar

A kilogram of fine caviar

The caviar we tried, made from fish eggs and sea salt only, came from China, France, Israel, United States, and Bulgaria. The farmed salmon was from Scotland and the crab, previously frozen, was from Russia. The shop, about 600 square feet in size and staffed by eight people, appeared to be mostly for takeout purchases although it also had a few tables and a limited menu for customers wishing to have a light dish onsite. Our entire tasting was conducted while we stood facing the waist high counters without beverages of any kind.

The shop also sells champagne and vodka

The interior of the shop

When we asked about the advantages of a store tasting a spokesperson explained by email, “When somedy (somebody) bring caviar home, it means that the man or the woman wants to seduce his/her partner or guest. But most of the time, he/she doesn’t know if they will like it. When they taste in the boutique, the can choose the caviar they have prefered (preferred) because they can taste differents (different) caviars. This is the big difference between internet, the others caviar houses and Petrossian: it’s the only place where you can taste the caviar before buying it.”

There are gift packages to accompany the caviar

There were gift packages to accompany the caviar

Established in 1920 the shop draws local and international visitors the staff explained, saying that many people visit the boutique like a museum and stop to take photos. Some of the staff, including Joseph, Lorna and the owners, have been there for more than 30 years. Everything in the boutique is homemade and fresh, a spokesperson explained by email, adding, “Tourist come from all around the world because they know Petrossian. They want to bring back home a little souvenir, a little gift, and most of the time, they choose caviar because we offer them a cool bag with dry ice inside and they can travel with it.”

Side by side tasting of four varieties

The staff person selected a single bite for our tasting from four caviar varieties sold in the metal containers pictured above

We liked the opportunity to sample the delicate products with the guidance of experts so that the caviar we tasted was at just the right temperature and optimum conditions. Too warm and the flavor is spoiled, too cold and it fades, the shop employee explained. The ideal temperature to taste caviar is between 6 and 8 degrees Celsius, he said. Being able to compare and contrast the nuances from one type of caviar to the other was an added advantage as it allowed us to form an opinion from the single tasting serving without having to purchase and prepare a tasting at home.

Cécile Petrossian

Cécile Petrossian supervised the tasting

We began the gourmet experience, under the supervision of Cécile Petrossian, Armen Petrossian's gracious and elegantly attired wife, with caviar. While we watched our host pulled out tins from the glass counter before us, explaining the basics about the caviar, which was between eight and twelve months old. He used a special key to open the large cans such as a two kilo Ossetra Reserve container filled with plump sturgeon eggs he showed us before retrieving our sample from a small tin. Philippe handed each of us one serving of several types of fish eggs on disposable wood sticks, explaining wood and mother of pearl are commonly used to avoid distorting the delicate flavor with metal spoons. We were surprised at the slight variations in color, texture and taste of the caviar samples, light and smooth yet each with a distinct characteristic. One was dark, almost black with a hint of fish and salt. The Ossetra Reserve was dark gold and more defined. The Ossetra Impérial eggs were firmer than the Ossetra Reserve with a more pronounced flavor. And the final sample, also with a gold hue, reminded me of the sea yet had a fattier yet subtle taste.

Phillipe displays a smoked salmon before slicing

Phillipe displayed a smoked salmon chunk before slicing a sliver for our tasting

At the conclusion of the caviar sampling, we crossed to the opposite end of the shop to the salmon counter, where we sampled several flavors such as Caucasienne, Nature, and Bettrave. All were buttery in texture and seemed to melt in the mouth. Philippe explained their salmon was smoked and aged hanging so the excess fat could drip naturally and allow the remaining flavor enhancing fat to cling to the fish, lending it a rich yet understated taste and texture. We sampled the salmon "tenderloin" in three flavors. The Nature salmon was just that natural. The Caucasienne was prepared with a rub of 12 spices. And the Bettrave was colored with beetroot juice, which made it look like raw tuna. To crown the experience Philippe handed us a bite of Kamtchatka Crab followed by a dollop of the house tarama (fish egg spread).

Several varieties of salmon, some with special marinades like beet root

Several varieties of salmon, some with special marinades like beet root

There were prepared specialty foods

There were prepared specialty foods

We liked the shop's caviar and salmon selection and expertise and will recommend it to friends wishing to taste the specialty foods in a gourmet environment. The staff's warm service in English enhanced the experience and would draw us back easily.

 

Our stay at new Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch in London

Article and photos by Scott S. Smith


courthouse front

The Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch, built as a courthouse and police station in 1903, was recently restored and opened as a hotel.

In September 2016, just four months after its soft opening and while it was still adding features and functions, my wife, Sandra, and I spent two nights at the Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch (337 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LL, United Kingdom, +44 203 3105555, www.shoreditch.courthouse-hotel.com, shoreditch@courthouse-hotel.com) on the cusp of northeast London, United Kingdom. The hotel, the sister property of the five-star Courthouse Hotel in Soho, was established in the former Old Street Magistrates' Court and Police Station (1903-96), a few blocks from the Old Street Station of the Northern Line of the Tube (subway).

Courthouse Lobby
The lobby with the statue of a British guard at the top of the stairs

The restoration of the Baroque-style courthouse and station cost £40 million (about $64 million). The lobby provided an impressive welcome with its marble floor, grand stairway guarded by a golden statue of a soldier, and a clean and sparkling redesign. Although top hotels usually have employees eager to help, the ones we encountered at Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch were exceptional in their friendliness and helpfulness. Although we arrived early in the morning expecting to leave our luggage with the concierge while we headed to the Tower of London, our room was ready and our first requests received immediate response.

We liked that the multi-lingual staff provided an overview tour of the facilities, and after we returned there was a more in-depth one. Not everything was fully functioning: the main restaurant was due to open soon, spa services were limited, and Internet access was available only at the front desk until the business center opens. We like to experience the emerging hot properties before everyone else discovers them, so the stay was to our taste.

courthouse rooftop view

From our sixth floor we looked out over the rooftop dining area and the historic Shoreditch Town Hall across the street, housing restaurants and a theater at the time of our visit.

Our sixth floor room looked out over the outdoor dining area on the fifth floor roof, directly across from the Shoreditch Town Hall, built in 1866 as a vestry, a building attached to a church used to store vestments and liturgical objects, with halls in which church and public meetings can be held. In 1888, it was the site of the inquest into the murder of Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s last victim. The following year, the suburb was incorporated into the county of London, and in 1899 it became a metropolitan borough of London, with the town hall in operation until 1965, when the area was incorporated into the Hackney Borough. Shoreditch had been popular in the 16th and 17th centuries as a place for theaters, gambling dens, taverns, and brothels. When we were in London it had an edgy hipster reputation with abundant street art, galleries, nightclubs, and restaurants (the former town hall had some activities on offer, as well as a theater and event space. For more, check out the Top 10 Things To Do in Shoreditch (theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/top-10-things-to-do-see-in-shoreditch/). Past area residents have included the playwright Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare’s lead actor Richard Burbage, who is buried in the church. More recent ones have been artist Damien Hirst and actor Richard Brand.


courthouse bed

The Dalston King room was 26 square meters in size and had a comfortable bed.

We stayed in a Dalston King room, the first of three types of 86 guestrooms (the others were Magistrate King and Xscape). At 26 square meters (280 square feet), our room provided enough of space for the two of us. The bed was comfortable enough; though we prefer a slightly softer mattress and pillow, we slept soundly, which was all that mattered to us. Despite the nightlife in the area, our room was free of street level noise (finding a hotel in a quiet area has proven difficult in central London in the past). The insulation was also enough to keep us from being bothered by neighbors.

The best in-room feature was the Samsung 46 inch flatscreen hi-definition LED TV. It was larger than those at the other three hotels where we stayed and the only one that offered CNN. The television remote wasn’t responding, but that was a good test of the service: we called twice and had immediate responses. The first time the front desk sent someone who moved some wires in the back, which worked for a while. The second time, two technicians spent half an hour to provide a permanent fix. We also heard good things about responsiveness from other guests.

Our room had a desk and a table with chairs, plus bottles of sparkling and still water (other hotels provided two carbonated ones, so it was nice to have a choice). The small refrigerator was not yet being stocked as a mini-bar. We appreciated the fresh cream and good grade of instant coffee. The room had the usual upscale amenities, such as an iron and board, robe and slippers, and safe. Something we had never seen before was hangers with built-in lights so that at night or early in the morning we could see our clothes. We appreciated having a window that opened for fresh air (something top urban hotels sometimes lack), and we also liked the easy-to-use temperature controls. There was turn down service at night, but we declined.


courthouse bathroom

The bathroom had a bidet, the first we have seen in a luxury hotel.

We’ve reviewed many leading hotels and don’t ever recall one that had a bidet, evidence of management’s interest in attracting the international audience that shares French culture. We wanted to know how it worked. Although the drain was stuck it was fixed right away. The phone by the toilet was well-positioned. The counter space for makeup was larger than many hotels where we have stayed, but the lighting on the makeup mirror and overhead wasn’t as bright as it ideally should be (a weak area for even the best hotels). The shower had two nozzles that were easy to use: the standard showerhead and one for the overhead rain effect, which was pleasant.

courtroom bar rooms

The bar had semi-private rooms that formerly were jail cells.

The hotel retained some of the architectural features of the original building. In the breakfast dining room we saw signs of its use as a law library. The bar had several semi-private 5 by 15-foot rooms with reinforced metal doors. Those were originally holding cells which hosted the likes of East London gangster twins Ronnie and Reginald Kray.

courthouse pool

The hotel had a large, heated indoor pool.

There was a small gym with equipment for cross-training, cycling, and weightlifting and a four-lane heated indoor pool with current. Like the original Courthouse, the hotel had two rare features, a private movie theater with capacity for 196, including armrests and foldout tables for a planned film club, as well as a two-lane bowling alley. Bowling was one of those sports the city people came out to Shoreditch to engage in hundreds of years ago, so it was fitting for the location.

The movie theater features films for public and private events.

The movie theater

The bowling alley has proven popular and fits in with Shoreditch's history.

The bowling alley fit in with Shoreditch's history.

We liked the unusual features of the Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch and the responsiveness of the staff. When it is fully functioning I would consider it among my top five choices for a different hotel experience on a return trip to London.