Lionel Poilane is a hero in the Paris bakery scene. He's the Zeus in a bready Mount Olympus. Having taken over his father's bakery in the 1970s and before his sudden death in 2002, his name still echoes down the corridors in the 'who's who' Hall of Fame.
Now run by his daughter Apollonia, the name "Poilane" is synonymous with their signature product: the "miche Poilane." It's a two-kilo sourdough loaf which is not only sold in their three Paris shops, plus a new outlet in London, no no no, this bread is so good that they have a production facility just outside Paris which makes 15,000 loaves per day for export to places as far flung as New York, Johannesburg and Tokyo!
Made from 30% spelt flour and artfully finished off with a P, even according to their website, the bread can last for five days before getting to the point where it ought to be toasted. Now, in a country where a daily baguette is a daily necessity, I don't need to spell out how quite remarkable this is.
It had such a good reputation in fact that it got me thinking about what their croissants would be like...
So last weekend I headed down to their prinicpal shop, on the rue du Cherche Midi in the 6th. The shop itself was actually a lot smaller than I'd been expecting, and in fact, I almost walked straight past.
The croissants were laid out on a tray, next to the other pastries in the window (bottom left of their window display in the photo above.) There were a couple of other people in the queue in front of me, but as they were ordering their chausson pommes, I suddenly noticed two flies that had obviously got to the pastries before us! (And it wasn't just them flying around and being a nuisance, they had already landed and were helping themselves!)
Spot the fly....?
Putting aside my initial hesitancy, a lady came out from the back and I caught her eye and ordered my croissant. To my sudden surprise, she picked it up and put it in the bag with her bare hands. Now I don't normally pay attention to this kind of thing and maybe this is normal boulangerie practice, and maybe it was I already had my guard up, but it struck me as a bit surprising.
But all that aside, how was the croissant itself?
Well, flat and lifeless, to be quite honest. It was also dry, especially on the ends (see the first photo below) and it was severely lacking in butter.
In terms of shape, it bore a startling ressemblance to a crab. A far cry from the perfect diamond that I was presented with at Eric Kayser
back in August.
This was one of the most disappointing croissants so far. It was so bad it ended up in the bin, and that's quite something for me!!! With that, an important lesson was learnt: stick to their bread.
Poilane - Monday to Saturday, 7.15am - 8.15pm.
P.S. Not to be confused, Lionel's brother Max has a competiting business which goes by the name of Max Poilane and makes a very similar sourdough loaf for grande distribution e.g. supermarkets etc.