Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
There were huge protests when Marks & Sparks retreated from Paris in 2001 (it reopened on the Champs-Elysées in November 2011). Parisians love everything about it – the Scotch eggs, the baked beans, the pork pies, the lemon curd, but especially the cashmere. Among Parisians who haven’t defected to London a cashmere pull from Mac Spencer is considered the height of chic.
But canny London-based Parisians shop chez Mac for an entirely different reason.
The food halls of the flagship Marks & Spencer stores in London (the King’s Road, Kensington High Street, Westfield) have a special section called ‘Flavours of the World’. Lame as it sounds, this little-known corner of Food sells all sorts of gourmet things, often from small, high-end producers. Despite occasional visits to the Kensington store I’d never noticed it until an elegant and very cosmopolitan French woman called Julie tipped me off. ‘If I am going to a dinner party I buy something from here as a gift,’ she said. ‘I come here on my bicycle – boum! – and it’s done.’
I found all sorts of tempting things for well under a tenner. There were tins of La Mère Poulard biscuits (a very desirable brand in France), jars of apricot and strawberry coulis (brilliant with ice cream and just £1.99), almond calissons from Provence and boxes of chocolate salted caramels. Other foreign exotica I spotted were fruit jellies from Spain and coffee from Sant’ Eustachio, the famous coffee shop just behind the Pantheon in Rome.
Who would have thought that Marks & Sparks could impress Julie and her ilk?