by Elaine Jacobs
Why doesn’t Perpignan’s Place des Poilus thrive like les Places de la Loge or Gambetta? It could be the name (poilus = hairies!); but more likely, it is because the former serves eastbound traffic and the underground car park in Place de la République — while the latter have been pleasingly pedestrianised.
Cinderella to the streets leading from les Places Arago and Verdun, with their pretty-in-pink marble pavements and shiny shops, la rue des Augustins feeds Place Poilus.
At first sight, it seems a rather down-at-heel thoroughfare, with its treeless pavements and some sad, shuttered premises. But that is not the whole story.
Alongside the plentiful superettes, the large and popular charity shop, the African hairdressers and the takeaways, a goodly number of little gems deserves to be discovered by the intrepid and curious.
But let’s start at the very beginning….
New kid on the block is a classy new cave de vins, Chic Choc Wine, just opened at No. 5, Place Poilus. As well as serving the public, it will be providing liquid refreshment to the adjoining premises, which are being refurbished before opening as an Italian restaurant.
L’espéranto, at No 2, is one of my personal favourites. Run by a hospitable husband and wife team, this Lebanese restaurant offers home-made, scrummy fresh pittas packed with satisfying vegan, veggie or meat goodies to eat in or on the terrace, or to take away. Delivery offered, via UberEats or Deliveroo.
You will find the highly rated poissonerie, Azeau Mireille, on the corner of rue René Paratilla (No.5). During Perpignan’s music nights, the friendly and helpful staff keep the doors open to serve delicious fish, seafood and wine at tables on Place Poilus.
Now let’s take a mooch down la rue des Augustins.
Le Village at No. 48 is a convivial bar/bodega offering wholesome tapas and a good time all round, from 19.00 to 02.00 (normally). During the confinement a hearty takeaway has been available every Saturday lunchtime. Go to the FB page to see each week’s delicious dish.
Just across the road at No. 39 can be found the attractive vegan/veggie restaurant, Bio Deux Anges. Chef is passionate about the well-flavoured dishes he offers, and how he prepares them. Do talk to him when he reopens!
You will receive a warm welcome at La Droguerie, an authentic Italian trattoria at No. 37. While retaining the signage of the previous incumbent, it actually offers an ever-changing, short and well-priced menu of simple, fresh, home-made dishes.
The first time I dined there, I was disappointed that the smoked mackerel salad had disappeared from the menu. Although he didn’t have all of the original ingredients, chef nonetheless rustled me up a special salad that absolutely zinged with freshness! No wonder it is so popular with the locals…
If you have teenagers in the family, you will need to know that the cool kids hang out at Kyutea (No. 35). There they can choose from a large selection of bubble teas (which originated in Taiwan in the 1980s), smoothies and ice creams — while inspecting other merchandise and photos of popular bands.
Next door, Senegalese Alicia has recently opened a shop full of attractive coiled baskets of all shapes and sizes, which have come all the way from Dakar (she also sells fruit & veg to put in them). Having spent a few years in Brighton, she speaks excellent English..
Across the road at No. 38, you will find the glorious pâtisserie that is Les Bêtises d’Emilie. Not only does the delightful pâtissiére bake scrumptious gâteaux, she will also create your very own “bêtise” (at two weeks’ notice) — and speaks perfect English! Her years in England have paid off in other ways, too: she has recently started to offer scones (though no clotted cream, alas)…
Cross back to the Bazar (sic) at No. 33, which offers good value “destockage” — including suitcases, shopping trolleys, backpacks and electrical items. My Catalan-striped poussette was a snip at €18.00!
Follow your nose across the road to meet the grandfather of the street. Le Torréfacteur (No. 24) is a coffee shop and café, owned and run for 25 years by the knowledgeable artisan roaster, grinder and table server, Patrice Burel, who has collected many enviable 5* reviews. Here’s a taster:
“This was an unexpected pleasure… Coffee beans from around the world are roasted in a gas oven for 20 minutes at 210c then allowed to cool for at least another five minutes before being ready to grind. Smell was divine… Thank you mon ami. Ce fut un très grand plaisir.”
“Véritable expert de la torréfaction et du conseil client, à l’écoute de ses besoins. Accueil chaleureux, tout en poésie!” (“Little” English spoken.)
Some of the ladies among us may have mourned the departure of the clothes shop from the corner of rue de l’Ange and rue Paratilla. But all is not lost! Et en plus, ça me plait has reappeared at No. 21, under the previous signage (Macha).
Next door at No.19, another new kid on the block is the appropriately-named Help! If you need somebody to solve a smartphone or computer problem, these go-to guys are open 10.00 – 18.00 non-stop, Monday to Saturday. (“Very little” English spoken.)
Looking for a special gift? Then get yourself down to Art & Saveurs du Monde (No. 17) and discover a veritable treasure trove: from Japanese jade eyebag rollers(!) to Portuguese olive oil; from Madagascan necklaces to Italian leather handbags; from horn beer mugs to exotic herbs and spices; from delicate ornaments to colourful throws… Enthusiastic hosts, Yvan and Josy, will guide you to the perfect choice.
Recent arrival at No. 2 (turn left at the bottom of the road), Chez Coco (Primeurs Epicerie Fine) presents local fresh fruit & veg as if they were works of art! Other assorted produce includes dried beans & lentils, wines and teas.
Perpignan is full of hidden treasures… don’t miss out by sticking to the well-trodden paths. As Robert Frost enigmatically wrote: “But I chose the one less traveled by — and that has made all the difference”.