Paul’s French flair in KL

The fa­mous bak­ery chain has opened its first Malaysian out­let in Pavil­ion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By SUZANNE LAZAROO star2@thes­tar.com.my Look for Paul at Lot 2-09-02 & S 2-09/02, Level 2, Pavil­ion Shop­ping Cen­tre, 168, Jalan Bukit Bin­tang, Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-2145 2000/6000).

POP­U­LAR French bak­ery chain Paul has opened its first out­let in Kuala Lumpur (May 22). While it seems to be safe from the long queues that have formed at some of its 650 stores in 45 coun­tries world­wide, the Pavil­ion Elite out­let has nonethe­less been buzzing with cus­tomers want­ing to try some of its fa­mous pas­tries and breads.

Paul turns 128 this year. It be­gan in 1889 in Croix, in the north of France, with baker Charle­magne Mayot; his son Edmond and his wife Vic­torine later took over the bak­ery, and in turn, their daugh­ter Suzanne and her hus­band Julien Holder, a baker him­self.

The Hold­ers bought a bak­ery in nearby Lille in the 1930s from the Paul fam­ily, and de­cided to keep the name.

Their son, Fran­cis, took over in 1955. He’s the one who de­cided to give the ovens promi­nence, sit­u­at­ing them in view of cus­tomers wher­ever pos­si­ble.

“He is 78 now, but still in his lab de­vel­op­ing recipes,” said Jean Pierre Erba, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer for Paul Asia Pa­cific and In­dia.

“And when­ever he trav­els to our out­lets, the first thing he does is check on the ovens.”

Fran­cis’ son, Maxime, took over as chair­man of the com­pany in 2006.

Groupe Holder, which owns both Paul and high-end patis­serie chain Laduree, has had KL in its sights for a new store for some time now.

“But the most im­por­tant thing to us is the lo­ca­tion,” said Erba.

It is the com­pany’s pol­icy that the first Paul store opened in any coun­try will be a flag­ship store – com­bin­ing a bread-mak­ing fa­cil­ity, in homage to the his­tory and heart of the busi­ness, as well as a patis­serie and res­tau­rant.

“It was only when Pavil­ion Elite opened, that a mall was able to pro­vide us with the kind of space we needed for all that,” he said.

Paul’s well-stocked dis­play win­dows are in­spir­ingly eye-catch­ing and laden with va­ri­ety. Ev­ery day, the de­li­cious win­dow dress­ing changes four times – break­fast pas­tries give way to sal­ads and sand­wiches at lunchtime, a new as­sort­ment of pas­tries re­turns to the win­dow for tea and din­ner time sees a change in the line-up again, with both sweets and savouries.

The pas­tries are all made in small batches for fresh­ness, be­tween 12 and 24 of each made at a time.

Look out for the eclairs and napoleons, the lat­ter with a cream fill­ing lay­ered with thin, crunchy sheets of caramelised pastry.

“An­other spe­cial­ity of ours is the cramique su­cre et raisins, a type of soft, sug­ared brioche filled with fruits,” said Erba. It’s a spe­cial­ity of Paul’s birth­place in Lille, eaten dunked in cof­fee or hot choco­late.

And of course, any self-re­spect­ing French bak­ery must have mac­arons.

While you’ll find the fa­mil­iar pe­tite va­ri­ety here, Paul is a big cel­e­bra­tor of tra­di­tion, and so their spe­cial­ity is the old-fash­ioned large mac­arons.

“These triple XL – or maybe quadru­ple XL! – mac­arons are the orig­i­nals, the ones that I re­mem­ber from my child­hood,” said Erba.

“Some­times, my par­ents would give me some money and I would go to the bak­ery, buy one of these and save it all day un­til din­ner­time. They came in choco­late and vanilla then, but at Paul we also have pis­ta­chio, salted caramel, and even sea­sonal flavours. Soon, we will have yuzu mac­arons – these are al­ready a hit in Europe!”

The res­tau­rant menu is built on a foun­da­tion of the breads Paul is fa­mous for.

“Our trade­mark is the rus­tic sour­dough bread, and our baguettes are also very pop­u­lar,” said Erba.

A crusty coun­try loaf forms the base for Paul’s pop­u­lar sand­wiches, which in­clude the open-face tartines, from the warm tar­tine boeuf (RM38) topped with slices of grilled sir­loin steak, caramelised onions and herbed cream cheese, to the cold tar­tine Ni­coise (RM35), with tuna mayo, hard-boiled egg, black olives and cherry toma­toes. At the KL out­let, these are served readys­liced. “We no­tice that in Asia, peo­ple eat in groups far more, and so this al­lows them to share, to mix and match if they wish,” said Erba.

While the crusty baguettes are quite time­less in their ap­peal, and Asian crowd seems to be grav­i­tat­ing to­wards the softer breads, like the Vi­en­noise. “Es­pe­cially pop­u­lar are the breads from South­ern France, of­ten made with olive oil, or stud­ded with olives,” said Erba.

For those din­ing in, there are also savoury crepes, sal­ads and more sub­stan­tial mains. But even here, you may find a link to the wood-fired soul of a bak­ery – like the cuisse de poulet rotie (RM48), herb-mar­i­nated and roasted leg of chicken.

“In the old days in most French vil­lages, peo­ple didn’t have their own ovens,” said Erba. The only oven in the area would be­long to the vil­lage baker. “So the peo­ple would take their chick­ens for the Sun­day roast to him, drop­ping them off on the way to church, and pick­ing up their freshly-roasted chick­ens on the way back. This dish is in homage to that prac­tice.”

The breads are made fresh ev­ery day, and any un­sold are dis­posed of at night. Ac­cord­ing to Erba, con­cerns about food hy­giene and safety pre­clude them from do­nat­ing any ex­cess food – but be­cause bak­ing is done in small batches, they are able to min­imise wastage.

Con­sis­tency is a key (not-so) se­cret to Paul’s en­dur­ing world­wide pop­u­lar­ity. That is part­ly­driven by many of the in­gre­di­ents be­ing brought in from France, or from Europe – chief among these is Paul’s own for­mu­la­tion of bread flour, made from a tra­di­tional va­ri­ety of wheat.

Also im­ported: the but­tery tart shells, and the dough for the best-sell­ing crois­sants, trans­ported in hi­ber­na­tion for fresh­ness.

“It’s also about be­ing au­then­tic,” said Erba. “Peo­ple come to Paul for a taste of French pas­tries and bread, and so it’s im­por­tant to cater to that. We need to main­tain our qual­ity with strict SOPs – we are quite para­noid about this!”

Ac­cord­ing to Erba, all Paul staff are lo­cal, in­clud­ing the bak­ers, who un­dergo rig­or­ous train­ing be­fore­hand.

“I tell you, they are as good as any French baker!” he said.

‘Our trade­mark is the rus­tic sour­dough bread, and our baguettes are also very pop­u­lar,’ said Erba.

Piles of sand­wiches beckon in Paul’s win­dow around lunchtime. — Pho­tos: SA­MUEL ONG/The Star

Rows of sweet pas­tries tempt shop­pers in the dis­play win­dow that changes four times a day.

A rhubarb tart hold­ing court in Paul’s win­dow.

On the menu is a small se­lec­tion of hot foods such as herbed roast chicken. — Paul

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