The continental breakfast is antithetical to the all-American, connoting a puritan weekday nibble rather than hangover-beating feasts dished up with equal parts grease and coffee. Its name, familiarized on room service menus in hotels around the world, is owed to the English travellers on “the continent,” or mainland Europe, who noted the curious French rebuff of excess upon waking. A sensible trinity of coffee, fruit, and bread began each day—meagre in comparison to the plates brimming with eggs, beans, and griddled sausages back home. To visitors, it can be a mystery; the romantic ideal of French dining revolves around indulgent, hours-long meals that begin late and end later. Yet breakfast can remain a strangely industrious affair.
For those who wake with more substantial hungers, there is Holybelly 5. The café, opened in August 2017 in Paris’ 10th arrondissement, is sibling to the original Holybelly, which opened in 2013 but is currently closed for refurbishment. From the smiling mascot hand-painted upon the window glass to the charms of the bilingual staff, the spot feels suspiciously Canadian—and for good reason. After graduating from art school, founders Nicolas Alary and Sarah Mouchot ate their way through Vancouver until their visas ran out; then traded up for the city’s antipodal twin, Melbourne. But the former’s ethos stuck. “We met a lot of people in their twenties who had founded their own restaurants, who weren’t necessarily part of an elite scene,” says Alary to Les Inrockuptibles, of Vancouver’s entrepreneurial spirit. “They weren’t afraid of money, or of failure. It was inspiring.”
The pancakes, when they come, are an exercise in cultural exchange, with all of the delicacy of a crêpe and the caloric fluff of an American buttermilk number.
Arriving on a chilly winter’s morning, there is enough room in the entrance vitrine for a small group to warm up again, eyes searching for tables about to be vacated. The wait is well rewarded; the dining room, with its warm woods and shelves at near-ceiling height bursting with palm fronds and trailing succulents, offers all the sunny comforts of a neighbourhood joint. Coffee is served swiftly and with Melbournian excellence, and the tabloid-sized menus ingratiate with cheerful diner typography, hinting at Holybelly’s unswerving worship of the world’s more indulgent breakfasts.
The scrambled eggs and beans, you’re assured, are “à la British,” and what could be more American than pancakes stacked with bacon? Perhaps you decide on the sweet stack, and your partner on the savoury. (For the health-conscious, there is a vegan chia pudding, and a granola, but neither were spied nearby.) Either way, you’ll regret not getting the poutine special, drenched in gravy and authentically studded with squeaky cheese, green onions, and teardrop-shaped pleurotes, but an adorably spherical hashbrown will sate the desire for fatty, deep-fried crunch. The pancakes, when they come, are an exercise in cultural exchange, with all of the delicacy of a crêpe and the caloric fluff of an American buttermilk number. Each is spread with bourbon butter and soaked in syrup; “savoury” gets you sunny-side-up eggs and Holybelly’s oft-mythologised bacon—cured in maple syrup and home-smoked at carnivorous playmate The Beast. “Sweet” is more demure, topped with fruit, cream, and hazelnuts. In its deft balance, it’s perhaps the closest thing to the French tradition.
Comfort food is often beloved because of compromise: you adore a dish for its flaws, its flavours enhanced by an act of care, maybe, or the nostalgia that imbues a certain diner. Nostalgia, family — these are absent from Holybelly’s declared mission, yet the restaurant, whose tagline is “it’s good because we care,” offers comfort of a more instinctive—and precise—variety. Fats, sugars, salts, expertly delivered; Holybelly sates the hungry creature.
5 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010 Paris, France.
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