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Parisian Decadence with Razz and Engo (posted from Portugal)

There’s not a lot of incentive for me to get out of bed at 5am on a Tuesday morning, especially in the Northern Hemisphere winter. But when I heard that Australian blogger, Razzbuffnik, and his wife, Engogirl, would be travelling around Europe for a few months, I found that rising at five to go and meet them in Paris wasn’t so bad after all.

Razz and Engo met me at the Gare du Nord and we hugged and fell immediately into easy chatter as if reunited schoolfriends rather than bloggers who’d never before met in person. In spite of the grey skies and drizzle, we forewent museums in favour of a leisurely stroll through le Marais, heading for the Seine.

We popped into a couple of markets, which were disappointing, really, and le Marais was like a ghost town, lacking in its usual buzz. But by the time we reached the Ile Saint Louis, we had decided that spending the afternoon together, eating and talking, was the way forward.

I’d heard about a restaurant called l’Ilôt Vache, filled with cow trinkets from faithful patrons, and we certainly found it, but it was closed. Perhaps that was fortuitous because when Razz spotted a modern-looking frontage with a French-Italian-Spanish fusion menu, we decided to give it a whirl, and how lucky we were that we did.

The restaurant is called Sorza and in spite of it being barely 12.30pm, we were greeted by a warm waitress and took a table in the window. Thus began the longest lunch I’ve had in a while. We were the first to arrive for lunch and the last to leave almost five hours later. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me that Razz, Engo and I could eat and talk for so long – we’ve all come to know each other quite well through Razz’s blog and mine and various e-mails in between posts, so the conversation flowed, just as well as the 2005 Côtes du Rhône that we ordered to see us through the afternoon.

Soon a group of Americans arrived to take tables behind us (Razz thinks that our being in the otherwise empty restaurant must have lured them in) and some locals later joined the fray. As dull as it was outside, we were warm in Sorza’s red interior. Now we just had to get down to the serious business at hand: eating.

Engo and I chose the parmesan soufflé to start. Small and rich, it was served warm and small mouthfuls of the cheesy creaminess lingered. This was not to be rushed; this dish demanded to be savoured. It was served with a long plate of leaves with a pesto dressing, shavings of parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic. The freshness of the salad tempered the rich soufflé and the tang of basil married well with the taste of parmesan.

Between bites, Engogirl practised her food photography with hubby, Razzbuffnik’s smart wide-angle lensed-up camera, as we discussed topics as disparate as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and how much you can tell about a country’s climate from its style of guttering.

Amidst all the talking, it’s a miracle we managed to eat as much as we did. Razzbuffnik’s starter was grilled aubergine with parmesan shavings artfully placed at the centre of the plate, and a sprinkling of pine nuts, olives, sunblushed vine tomatoes and a swirl of pesto completed the dish. We, the small Antipodean triumvirate, out to lunch in the French capital, were thus far impressed.

The mains only convinced us that we had stumbled into a very good establishment indeed.

Razz and I chose the Dorade, or sea bream, with creamy polenta and a small herb garnish. The polenta was the creamiest I’ve ever eaten in my life. When it arrived, it bore a gentle foam, and the bloggers’ consensus was that the texture was reminiscent of the softest scrambled eggs. The fish had been grilled to gently crisp its skin, whilst the fleshy underside remained tender, flaking off the fork as it should. And the bonus? No bones.

By this point, we were all sticking our forks into each other’s plates like old muckers, comparing each dish and making all sorts of lipsmacking sounds of gastronomic satisfaction. Engogirl’s risotto with coquilles Saint Jacques, was particularly good. Razz and I agreed that had we the opportunity to return, we’d definitely have to order it for ourselves because one small taste was definitely not enough.

Hours had passed by this point and it was beginning to get dark outside, but we still had to try the desserts. Engogirl tried the pannacotta with two coulis, Razz whizzed through a house tiramisu, and I had the chocolate mousse with crème de menthe. The mousse option arrived in a glass showing its three tidy layers. There was white cream at the bottom, a substantial amount of mousse in the middle, and a glossy cover of  chocolate sauce. The surprise was the white cream. It was quite literally delicately sweetened cream with finely chopped fresh mint throughout.

After a digestif or two it was time to thank our lovely waitress, who’d suffered our foreigners’ French with great patience, and hit the road.

Opposite Sorza we checked out the gallery windows, photographing this modern take on Gustav Klimt’s women, and learning glare-avoidance techniques from Razz. Then I looked at my watch. It said 5.20pm. No. It couldn’t be. I thought it was about 4.30pm. Now I had less than an hour to get back to the Gare du Nord and catch my train. Could it be done?

In the end, we caught a metro, got lost changing at Châtelet, found the right line headed north and screeched onto a train bound for the Gare du Nord. Thankfully, when we reached the Eurostar terminal, there were hardly any queues. That, in itself, is truly miraculous.

With a sadly hurried farewell to my two Australian friends, I typically found myself in the slowest-moving customs queues, threw my bags through the x-ray machine and hoofed it down to the platform. I made it into my seat with 4 minutes to spare. Now that’s what I call timing.

Razzbuffnik and Engogirl are my kinda company. They’re feet-on-the ground with a great repertoire of anecdotes, and a love of things that rate highly on my list of passions – namely, food and travel. I wish we lived closer so that Razz could cook for me with that extra-special Weber barbecue of his and so that Engogirl could show me her dams (Engo is an dam-building engineer). For the moment, we’ll just have to be thankful for the wonderful day we shared in Paris, and for the biggest blessing we’ve discovered through blogging: new and international friends.

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