I don’t often drink tequila at breakfast. Oh, sure, I’ve quaffed my fair share of Bucks Fizz at breakfasts over the years and maybe a bloody Mary when the night before has been particularly, erm, strenuous. And I would be lying if I said that I am unfamiliar with the odd tequila-fuelled late night escapade. But I had not really considered breakfast a time for tequila. That is, until a visit to Paris in the late summer. For one rare weekend, my brother and I and our niece (our late sister’s daughter) would all be in Paris at the same time – the first time we had all been in one city in at least twenty years. This called for a special celebratory breakfast, and although Paris is not usually a city that screams “tequila!”, the venue for our reunion – Holybelly – is no ordinary Paris café.
Holybelly in the 10th Arrondissement, a stone’s throw from Place de la Republique, was opened by Sarah Mouchot and Nico Alary in 2013. It has eluded definition since its opening as it is nothing like a traditional Parisien café, and is most often likened to an American diner – a comparison that the owners strenuously deny. Given a choice, the owners would prefer to liken it to a Melbourne café with food served all day from 09h00, commitment to excellent coffee, and friendly, often English-speaking service. From the outside, it is an unassuming place with a narrow street front through which you can glimpse tiny booths opposite the serving counter and a pretty black and white tiled floor. But walk past the counter and you will emerge into the back room, one of the most engaging dining spaces I have set foot in recently with rustic bare brick walls, a massive vintage skylight, bulbs strung up like fairy lights, a large shared table, a serving counter with an astonishing Escher-esque wooden inlay – and a pinball machine. Yes it ticks all the hipster boxes. No, that does not bother me at all 😉 Apart from the regular menu, there are also specials displayed on a chalkboard on the wall.
Image © and courtesy of Holybelly
Image © and courtesy of Holybelly
First things first – the coffee! Holybelly takes great pride in their coffee and because all good coffee starts with great water, theirs goes through a reverse-osmosis filtering system calibrated to provide the right water for maximise the quality of your cup of coffee. Their coffee beans are sourced from Paris coffee roasters la Brulerie de Belleville, who take great care in sourcing the best beans and roasting them to perfection. I certainly could not find fault with my gorgeous cappucino or my espresso. The all-day menu comes bulldog-clipped to a clipboard, changes monthly, and is hard to pin it down to a particular cuisine. On the one hand there are some very French dishes (millefeuille of aubergine with chevre), but on the other hand you can also have a stack of pancakes with fried eggs, crispy bacon and maple syrup. Or, in a rather endearing nod to Twin Peaks, you can also have an Agent Cooper Special, consisting of a slice of pie (presumably damn fine) and a cup of filter coffee. The menu also points out that everything is made fresh every day – no frozen food, no microwave, and as much local sourcing as possible.
So what did we have? My niece chose the pancakes with fresh fruit, maple syrup and pistachios (€11,50); my brother went with the blackboard weekend special of cornbread, poached eggs, salad of red kidney beans, corn and tomatoes, and marinated beef with lime sour cream (€16,50); my sister-in-law was virtuous and had 2 poached eggs, a salad of mixed leaves and semi-dried tomatoes, and crumbly sheep’s milk cheese (€12,50) while I went traditional with 2 poached eggs, bacon, mushrooms and excellent sourdough toast (€12,50). The pancake were suitably fluffy and I loved the addition of figs – not a fruit you often see on pancakes. The poached egg and sides options were both excellent with truly delicious eggs poached to runny-yolked perfection; and the weekend special was genius – who can resist cornbread for breakfast?
Portions were generous and everything was of excellent quality – eggs that have colour and flavour; glorious bread and butter; fresh plump fruits with the pancakes. It was also beautifully presented and the very bilingual staff serving it were hip, charming and witty, despite the place being packed to the gills. And then we noticed the breakfast cocktail. “Should we have one?” asked my niece. “It’s compulsory, I think!” replied my brother and I in unison. I mean, when will we next have the chance to drink tequila at breakfast time in Paris together? And so we ordered a round of Holybelly Blackberry Fizz for the table – Crème de mûre (blackberry liqueur) tequila, sparkiling water and lemon (€9,00), served (of course) in a jam jar. It was actually surprisingly refreshing, with the alcohol taking a back seat to the blackberry flavour and (mercifully!) diluting effects of the sparkling water. Definitely one to repeat at home.
By the time we left, there was a small crowd outside waiting for a table (the café only seats about 40 people) who looked really pleased to see us leave – a testimony to the popularity of the place. Tip: go early! We could not have picked a better place for our little reunion – relaxed, sociable, friendly (not always a given in Paris!) and serving truly excellent food and coffee. If you are after the quintessential French experience of sitting on a rattan chair on a pavement outside a zinc-countered café, eating a croissant and watching chic women in impossibly high heels negotiating cobblestones while walking their miniature dogs, this is not the place for you. If you are after something relaxed, a little hip and a little different, or you just want a slice of pie and a damn fine cup of coffee, head for HolyBelly.
19 rue Lucien Sampaix (10th Arr.)
oh800-16h00 Monday, Thursday and Friday
Closed Tuesday & Wednesday
10hoo-18hoo Saturday & Sunday