PAUL, SM Aura Review: Vive La France!March 8, 2019
- Katrina IriberriWords
I’ve been waiting for PAUL to open since I first saw the huge tarp covering the store front, teasing its opening, six months ago. That’s quite a wait for what is considered, let’s be honest, a mass-production bakery in snooty, bread-obsessed France. The only PAUL I ate at there was at a truck stop on the highway. But since our city is a place where croissants made with AOC butter are refrigerated then reheated (sacré bleu!), I welcome any place where bread is made and treated with care and respect. I had high hopes for the opening of this two hundred year old French bakery, its touristy reputation in its homeland notwithstanding.
PAUL is both a bakery and a restaurant.
The PAUL in Aura is also a restaurant. I particularly gravitated towards the tartines, their open-faced sandwiches. I was looking for something on the lighter side, to leave space for carbs of the sweeter variety, and the Poulet Citron Tartine was just the right thing for me. The chicken, marinated in lemon and tarragon, was flavorful, and the melted cheese provided a salty contrast to the citrusy meat. I also really liked the country bread it came with. It was generously buttered and perfectly toasted, with a chewy middle and a crunchy crust.
But really, no one goes to PAUL for their tartines or crepes. The highlight of any visit would of course be their massive array of pastries, viennoiseries, breads, and tarts. And when I say massive, I mean it literally. I’ve been there thrice, each time dining there and buying different things to take home, and I still have a rather long list of things I want to try.
I loved the Benoiton au Chocolat with no reservations.
What I did get to try, though, was mostly excellent. The croissant and Pain au Chocolat were predictably delicious and flaky, although the latter could have used a little more chocolate. The same could be said of the Moelleux Chocolat, which was lacking the dense texture and the deep chocolate richness I’ve come to expect from plain French chocolate cakes. The one chocolate item I did love unreservedly was the Benoiton au Chocolat, which are doughy sticks of wholemeal flour dotted with chocolate drops.
They were also giving out samples of Chouquettes, little puffs of choux pastry dotted with pearl sugar. I felt obligated to buy and pay for the addictive little puffs lest I be banned from the premises for wiping out their samples. However, the Briochette, similarly adorned with the pearl sugar, was a bland and slightly dry letdown. PAUL’s Palmiere was similar to our local otap, only bigger, denser, and more buttery. Another example of why butter and sugar are the absolute best was the Tarte Sucre. I ordered it because I was intrigued by its appearance. The flat, unadorned disc is something I don’t remember seeing even in Parisian bakeries. My curiosity was rewarded with something very much like a flattened Kouign Amann, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and buttery all over.
Their tartes are feast for the eyes.
More visually stimulating than the Tart Sucre and its golden brown (and delicious) cousins was PAUL’s range of tartes and cakes (moelleux). The small, individual tartes are the beauties of the bunch, topped with heaps of fresh raspberries lightly dusted with powdered sugar, or mixed fruit, or strawberries lightly glazed with jam. Yellow pastry cream peeks through from underneath each one. The full-sized tartes are a feast for the eyes as well, with its toppings of whole apricots, blushing rhubarb (rhubarb! In Manila!), and lush purple blueberries making me linger over the glass counter longer than the lady behind me would like.
Their Tarte Fraises is possibly the best in the country.
Of course, all that prettiness would be for naught if these desserts didn’t deliver in taste. In the case of the Tarte Fraises (strawberry), it very nearly does. I wish there was a lot more of the crème pâtissière and that it was creamier. The fresh, sweet, and juicy strawberries do make up for the lackluster custard a little bit. The overall result is still lovely, and this could very well be the best version of this dessert available locally, but it needs a little more something to be as delicious as it looks.
On the other hand, the Moelleux Citron Framboise (moist lemon custard with raspberries) delivers on both counts, and is my favorite of all the things I tried from PAUL by a long shot. It is, to begin with, beautiful. The bright raspberry juice seeps through the yellow lemon cake, and the dusting of powdered sugar sets all the other colors off. The flavors are as bold as the colors, with the dense, moist, lemon-scented cake beautifully playing off the bright, punchy tartness of the raspberries. It’s pricey at PHP 210 per slice, but it’s worth every centavo, more so if you consider how expensive it must be to have that many fresh berries on a cake in Manila.
I actually felt bad for the Coffee Éclair I had with the moelleux (yes, I had them both, together). It was not bad, but it definitely could use a stronger dose of espresso for the filling to really shine through the pastry.
It’s no surprise that a two hundred year old bakery from France now offers the largest, the best, and most consistent selection of French pastries, breads, and cakes locally. Also unsurprising is the fact that, with such a huge selection, there will inevitably be things that they do exceptionally well, and things that still need to be tweaked.
Prices vary, it’s a reasonable PHP 65 for croissants (and PHP 35 for minis), PHP 210 for the tartes and cakes, and PHP 250 for the macaron. I suppose the technique and ingredients required (that many imported fresh berries can’t be cheap) would account for the fluctuation across the products. So do not be surprised if the cashier charges you upwards of a thousand bucks for a couple of slices of cake, a loaf of bread, a mixed fruit tart, and a few palmieres.
I’ve heard that the service does suffer during peak hours on the weekends, but I’ve received nothing but attentive service when I was there for two weekday lunches. Servers had had to check with superiors to answer some of my questions, but that’s understandable, given that the place has only been open for two weeks.
A new French Revolution seems to be in the offing.
Overall, you could do a lot worse than PAUL for a quick, light bite, but you certainly can’t do any better for rich, buttery, French desserts. Yet. With PAUL up and running and Eric Kayser opening in the near future, it sure looks like a delicious, non-violent French revolution is coming. I, for one, can’t wait.
Have you tried PAUL? What did you like from its wide selection of pastries? Were there any savory options that you liked?
1st Level, SM Aura Premier
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Tel: (02) 808-5324