It’s 5.30pm on a Friday, and a queue stretches out through the door of Ladurée, on rue Royale near the Place de la Madeleine. If you’re wondering what the fuss is about, just take one look at the display of fabulous cakes and pastries – so renowned are Ladurée’s confections that foodies will cross Paris for them and patiently wait their turn to have their purchases packed into elegant boxes.
If you feel you’ve earned yourself a sightseeing break, you could bypass the queue and head for the adjoining salon de thé or tea room, though the English translation hardly does justice to this luxurious parlour dating from 1862, decorated with gilt-edged mirrors, marble-topped tables and ceiling frescoes.
Once you’re installed at your table, surrounded by elegantly coiffed grandes dames sporting Hermès scarves and fashionistas flanked by designer bags, a waitress in a long polka-dotted apron will take your order and flash you a complicitous look as you name your desired confection. You could let yourself be tempted by any number of heavenly gateaux, but if you’ve never tasted them, it’s Ladurée’s famous macarons (macaroons) that you should try. Nothing like the stodgy coconut-heavy cookies that you may know from back home, these are delicate almondy biscuits with a delicious ganache filling – at once crunchy and gooey. They come in a variety of flavours and pastel colours – the chocolate and blackcurrant are the best – and, like designer fashion collections, new flavours are launched each season.
More extravagant creations are also available, such as the saint-honoré rose-framboise; made of choux pastry, Chantilly, raspberry compote and raspberries, and topped off with a rose petal, it has all the flouncy froufrou of a dress from the court of Versailles. Perhaps unsurprising, then, that Ladurée was appointed the official pâtissier for Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette. “Let them eat cake!”, the French queen was supposed to have said. And when the cakes are this good, it’s hard to imagine why you’d want to eat anything else.