Merci, a much written about enterprise in Paris 3eme, combines two marketable qualities: style and altruism. The building is cool; a former factory with an old red Fiat 500 visible at its entrance through a courtyard. Once inside, the floors are filled with cabinets/tables/racks of interesting desirable things to wear and for the household, all the more so because you are aware that the profits are going to charity, which consequently takes care of the guilt factor.
The pair behind the enterprise, Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, have been in fashion retail before. They owned a delectable shop for children’s clothes in the BCBG 7eme district, called Bonpoint. On visits to Paris when our daughter was small, I used to drool in front of the windows. This shop became an institution, and there was a brief foray into the UK with a London branch, but perhaps the prospect of spending a fortune on the traditional buckled StartRite shoes which were considered so chic by the French, was too much for the Brits. This time they have chosen a venue in Paris at the cutting edge, in the 3eme. Like in London, the cool areas are expanding eastwards (although perhaps more South-Eastwards in the case of Paris). Merci has been described as being in the Haut-Marais, to link it with the more established retail area of the 4eme.
But the main reason for my visit was the Cantine du Potager, in the basement of this store. It’s not easy in Paris to find casual lunch venues serving delicious food, but this promises to fill the gap, and judging by the demand for tables, there is definitely a need. The menu is simple: chalked up on a blackboard, and the salads, tarts and cakes are brought out from the kitchen in relays, and tantalisingly displayed on a white tiled unit, visible from the customer area.
I chose a deliciously spiced veloute de lentilles au noix de coco, followed by a carefully made, but slightly too citrusy salade petite (choice of two) rather fearsomely priced at 9 euros. However, after asking first if you wanted a drink (not to lose a sale, fair enough) tap water was copiously produced in a large jug with ice, lemon and mint. Bon point.
I didn’t get as far as the scrumptious looking cakes, but as ever, ordered the tea, to see how it would be served. It was indeed presented in a wonderful retro teapot. Perfect, I thought to myself, but when finding it retailing on the shelves at 69 euros, wondered how many of my clients would be persuaded to buy them for their restaurants. They would probably say: Non, merci, but otherwise there is lots to be thankful for at this cool concept store.
111 Boulevard Beaumarchais
Tel: 0033 1 42770033