La Petite Rose des Sables: Your Very Own French Grandparents

When reminiscing on our La Petite Rose des Sables experience, two words come to mind: bizarre, and wonderful. 

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This gem popped onto the radar midway through our Paris stay whilst I was browsing the city’s top-rated restaurants as per TripAdvisor. Nestled between haute cuisine and Michelin stars was this peculiar little establishment, and the reviews immediately piqued my interest. There was mention of delicious food, yes, but the main attraction was overwhelmingly plain: the proprietors themselves. Reviewers spoke of an elderly French couple; they were short on English but abounding in warmth and hospitality. I excitedly hopped over to the restaurant’s website. It’s an admittedly sparse affair, but a trusty Google translation told enough: “We are open for twenty years. We try to share home cooking based on exchange and warmth. Feel free to visit us, we will try to have you as it should be, at home.”

Paying such a visit turned out to be a task in itself. The TripAdvisor reviews urged us to make a reservation – and so, not trusting our miniscule French to a phone conversation, we traipsed over to the tenth district in attempt to make contact with the famed Mr. and Mrs. La Petite Rose des Sables. Three times. In one day. My determination to eat at this restaurant was thoroughly foiled, mostly by our own incompetence in reading the very obvious sign on the door announcing that they were closed for a function. Over the following days our extraordinarily lovely Airbnb host, Cristina, repeatedly called to try and make a reservation on our behalf. Alas, this brilliant plan was also foiled. The phone rang unanswered – and on the one occasion someone did pick up, the conversation was incomprehensible even to French-speaking Cristina.

Mat and I tried one last time. We arrived at noon on our last day in Paris; we figured our best chance was to squeeze in for an early lunch sitting.

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We pushed open the door of La Petite Rose des Sables to find it totally empty. The restaurant is tiny – five little tables for two clustered to the left, and a bar to the right. I offered a ‘hello?’ above the French jazz wailing from the radio, dearly hoping someone would appear from what I assumed was the kitchen at back.

A few nervous seconds passed before she materialised. Clad in a gingham apron and straw boater hat, an elderly lady hurried us inside and sat us down. Despite conveying our most apologetic “Je ne parle pas français”, she spoke in a constant stream of French as she prepared our table. She laid down menus and extended a handshake to each of us, then placed a hand on her chest. “Madame Zouzou.”

And so, this Madame Zouzou would be our most extraordinary host. Before we had even a chance to order food, complimentary plates of ‘tapas’ were brought to the table and she delighted in filling our glasses with her special ‘sangria’. ‘Welcome, welcome!’ she cheered as she topped us up, beaming and laughing and then shuffling away to tinker behind the bar. She talked perpetually and exuberantly – and whilst we obviously struggled a lot in understanding one another, it was quite amazing how much we were able to communicate despite the language barrier. She was thrilled to learn we were Australian, and equated this solely to Sydney. She told a very long story that had something to do with a couple from Sydney who had previously visited La Petite Rose des Sables, and a pregnancy that assumedly followed. As she motioned to an imaginary pregnant belly over her own stomach, she erupted in raucous laughter and shook her head in apparent wonder at her own tale.

We ordered the daily special: beef bourguignon. Madame Zouzou yelled the order into the kitchen. She looked back to us and motioned to the rear of the restaurant – “Big Boss,” she said, and cackled loudly again. We could only assume this ‘Big Boss’ to be her husband. She took an old, black and white photo off the wall and laid it on our table, pointing down at one of the faces amongst a group strapping young firemen. “Big Boss,” she said again, and waited for our impressed response. She then very much appeared to start talking endearingly to the photo itself, poking the image of her younger husband repeatedly before making several kissing motions right up close, laughing somehow even louder than before and then tottering away. 

Mat and I were in the thick of the Petite Rose des Sables experience.

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We were in fact the only ones in the restaurant for most of our visit. Cristina’s failed efforts to make a phone reservation were suddenly explained; Madame Zouzou seemed mainly annoyed by incoming calls and ignored them all. On the other hand she was ecstatic for us to meet ‘Big Boss’, who introduced himself as Christian whilst he briefly appeared to deliver our beef bourguignon. He was lovely, smiley and quiet. His food was rustic style, hearty and delicious in that wonderful home-cooked way. As we ate, Madame Zouzou busied herself preparing complimentary cheeses and a giant bucket of walnuts on our side-table. Her entire being seemed to be consumed with attending to every little detail – but in a doddering old grandma way. When she noticed I was chilly, she emerged from behind the bar with a souvenir Paris scarf, opened it up and draped it over my shoulders. ‘Welcome to Paris!’ she shouted, and then pulled out souvenir keyrings for us. She would later apparently deem that I still looked cold, because she opened yet another souvenir scarf to give to me. This time she gave Mat a beanie.

Our post-lunch espressos came with the cutest little fondant decorations and chocolate ‘Roses des Sables’ treats, which I had watched Madame Zouzou arrange with adorable attentiveness. I naturally took a photo, but not before she had launched in to style the table for maximum La Petite Rose des Sables marketing. She urged us to don novelty hats for any photos of ourselves, and made sure she changed into her ‘Paris’ apron before jumping in a picture with us.

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It was just the most incredible, crazy affair. Madame Zouzou was hilarious, unabashed and beyond all, genuine. There was so much about the experience that, in any other circumstance, could verge on the tacky or touristy – but there is an honest warmth Zouzou and Christian have for travellers that simply transcends. It was a heartbreaking moment to realise it was time for us to go. As we prepared to leave, we were treated to Madame Zouzou’s last show of generosity: a pear liqueur digestif poured from a comically large carafe. “Aphrodisiac, aphrodisiac!” she loudly proclaimed, pointing at each of us. We laughed, she laughed and then she poured us both another. We paid the bill (outrageously cheap), offered our best ‘merci boucoups’ and were pulled in for double-cheeked kisses.

Another young couple had just taken a table; it was with full hearts and stomachs that we gave them knowing smiles on our way out. Boy, were they in for a treat.

La Petite Rose des Sables | 6 Rue de Lancry, 75010 Paris, France
Open | 
Lunch from 12.00pm, Dinner from 7.00pm. Closed Sundays.

Hutchy Kitchen: Macaroni Beef

“There’s an important food culture at home of which I’ve either taken for granted or simply remained totally unaware. My family quite literally revolves around my grandparents’ Laminex-topped kitchen table, and it’s nice to be finally waking up to the craft and history behind that. So long as I care to look for them, there are perhaps as many moments, stories and recipes to be shared from home as there might be from my travels.”

The above comes from a previous post, A Fork in the Road, which I wrote back in May this year. I’ve since done a lot of thinking about my family’s food culture, and how I can begin to explore and express it. We’re a big bunch, you see; my mum is one of seven, which makes for rather sizeable family gatherings (on a monthly basis, no less!) and an even bigger spread to feed us all. There’s little fanfare – everyone simply brings a dish. It’s a potluck affair where plates are piled high, often balanced precariously upon knees (rarely is there enough table space for all!), and polished off quickly in time for seconds. And dessert. And countless cups of tea.

Now that I think about it – there’s really something quite special about standing in that dinner line. There’s a powerful sense of ritual there. I can’t help but feel a giddy sense of childhood as we quite literally line up in single file, empty plates in hand, poised to scoop up those familiars and favourites on which we grew up. I don’t even think any of the grandchildren, as grown up we are now, dare begin serving until one of the ‘adults’ has given the go-ahead. 

The food at a Hutchy gathering won’t win any awards for refinery or sophisication, sure. Rather, this food is comfort food. This food is the stuff that feeds many. These meals together have become one of our longest and most loved traditions, so really, this food is perhaps just one thing: family. And through a series of blog posts, I am going to share my family with you.

It’s as much a personal exercise than anything: I suddenly feel like it’s very important to learn and record this part of my family’s culture. And I’m beginning with a dish that stands out to me as one of the oldest, most prolific Hutchy recipes: Macaroni Beef.

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I like to think that my Grandma magically whipped up Macaroni Beef of her own creation; alas, when I asked her about this recently she told me she’d found the recipe somewhere or other many years ago. In any case, I think we ultimately consider it as hers. It’s simple, hearty and tasty. It is the definition of comfort food for me. I remember making it for Mat for the first time, and being quite stricken when he didn’t immediately love it. He later admitted I’d just gotten incredibly zealous with the mixed herbs – a bit of tweaking, and it quickly became a regular on our menu. I won’t lie – the passionate reaction he now has to a simple, simmering frypan of Macaroni Beef makes me a very happy Hutchy indeed!

I’ve been making my own Macaroni Beef for several years now, and I’m not sure at which point it happened – but it definitely started to taste ever-so-slightly different to Grandma’s. I think I just became more and more particular about the exact way I like it, right down to brand names and pasta shape. This is the version I’ve decided to share – not just because it’s easier to get blood from a stone than to get a precise recipe from my grandma, but because I like the way that for us, Macaroni Beef is kind of that great family dish that everyone can make their own.

And so, without further ado. The first instalment from the Hutchy Kitchen: Macaroni Beef.

Macaroni Beef
Serves 4
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
50 min
  1. 2 brown onions
  2. 4 rashers middle bacon
  3. 500g beef mince
  4. 1 tin / 420mL condensed tomato soup (I use Heinz Big Red)
  5. 2 cups / 500mL beef stock (I use Campbell's Real Stock - Beef)
  6. 300g pasta (I use Large Spirals pasta by San Remo)
  7. 1 Tbsp (approx.) mixed herbs (I use MasterFoods, and have painfully regretted ever using anything else)
  1. 1. Dice onions and bacon (remove rind from bacon, but make sure to dice and include the streaky, fatty section alongside).
  2. 2. Using a large frypan, brown onions and bacon over medium-high heat with a little oil. Add half of mixed herbs about a minute into browning process.
  3. 3. Add beef mince. Break up mince with a wooden spoon and push through onion and bacon mix. Keep turning until mince is browned.
  4. 4. Add tomato soup and beef stock, and stir to combine. At this stage the contents of the frypan will look like a rather unappetising, brown meat soup. Hang tight.
  5. 5. Add remainder of mixed herbs, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for approximately 40 minutes. After this time the beef mix will have reduced to a wonderfully red, sauce-like consistency. Remove from heat.
  6. 6. Time the cook of your pasta (as per packet instructions) so that it is ready to add once beef mix has reduced.
  7. 7. Combine pasta and beef mix in frypan. Enjoy!
Little Wanderings

Behold, the Schmalznudel

Before Mat and I discovered the glorious stroopwafel, there was the schmalznudel. It was in the lovely city of Munich that we would find this incredible little piece of pastry perfection. We asked our Airbnb host, Matthias, if he had any recommendations for a good breakfast in town, and he insisted we venture to one very special place.

‘Schmalznudel,’ he said. “A Munich institution. Ask any local, ‘where is Schmalznudel?’ – and they can tell you exactly where it is.”

Matthias attempted to describe the exact nature of a schmalznudel, though in the end we couldn’t settle on anything wholly familiar. What we could discern was that it was fried and doughy. We were intrigued at once. 

Though affectionately referred to as ‘Schmalznudel’, the little bakery is in fact called Café Frischhut. You’ll find it right by Munich’s wonderful daily food market, Viktualienmarkt, making it a very convenient stop for the visiting foodie. The bakery boasts just four different pastries – striezerl, krapfen, rohrnudel and most importantly, the famous schmalznudel:

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A ring of fresh, deep-fried dough circling a thin, almost transparent dough film; the schmalznudel is kind of like a large, flat doughnut. Direct from the fryer – you can observe the chef working his magic with impressive speed and skill through the shop window – the cooked pastry is wonderfully warm and full of the most incredible, rich flavour. Matthias had told us that a schmalznudel should be doused generously with sugar, and the waitstaff were also quite particular about this. I was of course very happy to oblige. We spied several locals on nearby tables upending that sugar dispenser with a vigour to behold!

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Over the course of a couple of visits, we also tried the krapfen (above), a doughnut filled with apricot jam, and the striezel, which is essentially a long, stick-like version of schmalznudel. Everything is fresh and hot, so the pastries have that wonderful crisp outside and a delightfully soft centre. The coffee is actually pretty decent too, which made for a couple of lovely, lazy Munich mornings sitting outside and happily basking in the schmalznudel buzz. It’s certainly very popular with Munich’s own; whilst we mostly found ourselves surrounded by greying locals (always a good sign), Schmalznudel is apparently also quite the destination for young folk on their way home after a big night out. A fresh schmalznudel sure sounds better than a dirty Macca’s run to me!

It was after our first visit, totally enraptured by the place, that Mat and I thought to Google the English translation of ‘schmalznudel’. You know something tastes damn good when the words ‘lard noodle‘ don’t sway your determination to return the very next day. Or ever, for that matter. Oh, dear schmalznudel: may our paths yet cross again!

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Schmalznudel – Café Frischhut | Prälat-Zistl-Straße 8, 80331 Munich, Germany

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