France has never been seen as a top vegan destination but in true Parisian style, veganism has emerged, understated and cool, permeating an entire district before anyone really noticed.
The shift has been gradual but it’s certainly not lacking passion, drive, creativity and variety. You can find an abundance of choices – cafés, restaurants, fine dining, junk food, health food, concept stores and even VeggieTown, a whole area dedicated to meat-free living.
I was able to eat my way around vegan Paris courtesy of France écotours, discovering the secret side of my favourite city – one of the most enjoyable holidays ever. Even the wonderfully friendly, shabby chic Zazie Hotel where I stayed was ethically driven (3, rue de Chaligny 75012 Paris).
Le Faitout Restaurant (23, av Simon Bolivar 75019 Paris)
A traditional French bistro with house wine, soft French bread, plates of charcuteri, cheese platters, melt in the mouth truffle dip… all vegan. Sophisticated-looking couples were dining al fresco while family groups were inside creating charming, Gallic havoc. More surprisingly, conservative countrymen were drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and eating seitan steaks!
The restaurant was not originally vegan and owner, Olivier, didn’t want to lose the taste of traditional cuisine so created seitan charcuteries and strong cheeses using a two a month fermentation process. He initially had to give the food away free in order to entice people in.
We enjoyed seitan steak with peppercorn sauce, thick-cut homemade chips, faux gras, vegan steak tartare and lasagne. I’ve never tried the meat versions of these dishes but I was told there was a likeness. The cheeses looked incredibly inviting but were a bit too strong for my taste.
They were followed by a quartet of desserts, including a mini raspberry pavlova, lemon financier cake, biscuits with hazelnut praline and mini cheesecake. They were heavenly but unable to finish them, I proudly requested a ‘sac de chien’ and everyone laughed. It turns out the French say ‘doggy bag’ too… of course they do.
Hoping to get some tips for Vegan Recipe Club, I asked Olivier the secret to his incredible dishes. In true Parisian style, and with a hint of mischief, he responded with one word… ‘love’. The experience was complete and I felt a strange nostalgia for a life I’ve never lived.
Comptoir Veggie (75, avenue Ledru-Rollin 75012)
In total contrast to Le Faitout, breakfast at Comptoir Veggie was healthy indulgence, inspired by Californian cafés, with a minimalist but cosy interior. Owner Justine was down to earth, warm and hugely welcoming. With her battered Levi’s, colourful head scarf and gold Converse, she exuded alternative chic.
Homemade waffles were on offer with sweet and savoury fillings. I opted for the house special of scrambled tofu, fresh guacamole and homemade barbecue sauce. The cappuccinos were overflowing and there was an array of cheesecakes, carrot cake, chocolate gateau and brownies.
Like most of the vegan business owners we met in Paris, Justine was primarily vegan for the animals but also acutely of the environment, she has focused on healthy, organic, seasonal options. This holistic outlook seems to have been embraced throughout the vegan scene in Paris, none more so than the concept store we went to next.
Today Tomorrow (42, rue du Chemin Vert 75011 Paris)
I’d never been in a vegan concept store and it’s a pretty special place. The founders wanted to encapsulate the whole vegan lifestyle under one roof, including café, ethical clothing, footwear, beauty products and groceries. If someone came in wanting to buy some cool, ethical clothes, they might then be drawn to the delicious burgers, salads and cakes and be introduced to veganism this way.
The store also hosts conferences, workshops, training, events and gigs. I was pretty impressed and wondered why we didn’t have anything like it in the UK. Raphaёl, the co-founder, positively oozing Parisian cool, described how he wanted to ensure the store was affordable for everyone. They’d sourced footwear from all over Europe, including Wills and Vegetarian Shoes from the UK. Crowd funding helped them to start up eighteen months ago.
Les Petites Patisseries
Next door to the store was an exquisitely-beautiful Parisian cake shop called Les Petites Patisseries. I lusted after its mille-feuille, fruit tartlets, macarons, brownies and gateaux in vain, knowing that France’s obsession with baked goods hadn’t progressed beyond eggs, butter and double cream. To my utter amazement, this little gem was in fact 100 per cent vegan and completely raw!
VG Pâtisserie (123 Boulevard Voltaire, 75011 Paris)
Picture the most tantalising, mouth-watering traditional Parisian bakery but all vegan! I had to have the most iconic cake, le fraisier… vanilla cream, moist, fluffy sponge, almond biscuit and marinated strawberries topped with fresh, zingy jelly. Delicious!
Jay & Joy (5, rue Paul Bert 75011 Paris)
After the slightly overpowering cheese experience at Le Faitout, I braced myself for the sampling session at Jay & Joy – a tiny vromages factory in the heart of Paris’s 11th arrondisement run by husband and wife duo, Mary and Eric. Mary explained that her objective was to create a cheese outlet that was the happiest place around, hence the name. I did feel joyful and inspired! She explained that cheese is the biggest obstacle to people embracing veganism in France, “Whenever you go to a social event, restaurant or party you’re expected to eat cheese in the form of sharing platters and there’s a stigma attached to rejecting these offerings.”
The business idea started when she decided to take her own cheeseboard to an event so others could see the potential of vegan cheeses.
I tentatively took a bite of the first cheese on offer – a ‘goat’s’ cheese – and couldn’t believe how incredible it was, and I mean another level good! Everyone in the group was blown away and even the non-vegans said they couldn’t tell the difference between that and goat’s cheese. It was a game changer, made from cashew nuts and sunflower seeds.
Mary had difficulty in obtaining the yeast, bacteria and mould she wanted from Roquefort because they didn’t believe it would work for non-dairy cheese. But she persisted, they gave in and the evidence speaks for itself! At five Euros for a pack of this heavenly stuff, it’s pretty affordable in the world of artisan, nut-based cheeses.
I also bought joie gras – a vegan version of ‘fat liver’. I’ve never (thankfully) eaten the original so while I can’t vouch for its authenticity, I can vouch for its deliciousness – an array of spices, cloves and berries in a rich, nutty base. Jay & Joy are currently supplying over 900 stores and eateries around France and are moving to bigger premises due to demand. All I can say is – please start selling in the UK!
BrEAThe (16, rue Henry Monnier 75009 Paris)
It doesn’t get any more sophisticated than a former 19th century tea room with gorgeous original features. An old haunt of Baudelaire, this was Paris at its opulent best. One of the owners, Laetitia, explained that she transitioned into veganism gradually after watching the documentary Earthlings. She feels optimistic about veganism in France and now, even her (meat-obsessed) father cooks plant-based meals.
The laid-back and fun restaurant provides creative, fusion cuisine with an Asian/Parisian twist, plus tapas and cocktails in the evenings. The highlight has to be the onsite traditional pastry chef who has shifted his focus to vegan pastry.
Association Végétarienne de France (84, rue d’Hauteville 75010 Paris)
The Association is really succeeding in encouraging veganism in France and getting vegan options in to schools. Jean-Benoît (head of the association) explained that eight in 10 French people now eat less meat, more than 40 per cent want vegan options and 11 per cent of 16-25 year olds are vegetarian or vegan. And, like the UK, their motivation is largely for the animals. As we were told at Jay & Joy, refusing food in France is not part of their culture and managing this deeply ingrained expectation is concerning for French vegans.
Veggie-Town (between the 9th and 10th arrondisement)
Yes this really exists – with vegan cafes, restaurants and lifestyle shops springing up everywhere (make sure you get a map!). After wandering around like kids in a sweet shop, we ended up in the artisan chocolate shop, Ala. I didn’t know chocolate could taste like this!
The hot chocolate is supposedly the best in Paris so of course we tried it… rich, sweet liquid velvet with the highest quality cocoa beans and all ethically sourced.
Aperitif dînatoire (and vegan food & wine pairing) with Double V 11 (rue Lepeu 75011 Paris)
Arriving at a ground floor studio with exposed brick and contemporary artwork, we saw the table of delights awaiting us.
Claire Brachet, Oenologist (specialist wine maker) and author of Des Vin Vegans et Vegetaliens, treated us to an evening of wine pairing with tapas. With a family background in wine and restaurants, it’s obviously in the blood. When she turned vegan, she wanted to continue the socially important combining of wines and foods, tastes and flavours. Her book highlights over 100 wines from 50 different French estates, their production techniques and tasting notes. Claire is currently looking at creating an English translation – yes please!
I had to miss the final day of our trip but it involved more incredible treats. There was a guided tour of the King’s Garden at Versaille by the head of its arboriculture team and a great fan of permaculture and agroecology. Depending upon the weather, a picnic in the gardens of Versailles and then a stroll to St Michel-Notre Dame, Ile de la Cité and the Halles district were also on the itinerary.
There was a visit to the Véganie cosmetics shop (96, rue Quincampoix 75003 Paris) – an essential addresses in the Parisian vegan lifestyle – and a meeting at the vegan fashion boutique, Manifeste 011 (14, rue Jean Macé 75011 Paris).
This was a truly remarkable trip, on top of all the other reasons for visiting Paris! It seems the UK is revered as a vegan haven by the French so it’s nice to see we’re doing something right in the eyes of our close neighbours. France écotours were exceptionally sensitive to everything that a vegan, veggie or v-curious would want to see, taste and experience.
French vegans are taking tentative steps towards veganism as they are highly sensitive to the country’s deeply-rooted gastronomical culture and its resistance to anything too sectarian. The Parisians we met were approaching the issues softly and subtly, first encouraging people to relax and then raising awareness of their vegan ethos – and it may just be working.