-Sophie B. Hawkins (from “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover”)
At the new L’Atelier Pâtisserie in Mount Pleasant, a food writer is already here, staking territory, scouting for talent.
Plated pastries are carefully arranged on a table outside, just so, to get better light. A click as photos are snapped from above with her Nikon. Then she heads back inside.
Taking a few bites, she pauses and reflects. Silence but she’s diligently tapping notes into her iPhone. Inspecting a business card of L’Atelier Pâtisserie’sowner and pastry chefFranck Buiron – c’est vrai, he is authentically French – she slips it into her purse.
From her table at the other end of the room, an informal interview launches. Questions fire over our heads to L’Atelier Pâtisserie’sdarkhaired Franck, yards away at the counter.
Is that dark chocolate in this croissant? Am I tasting real butter here? Would these be local cherries you’re using? (Ouibien sûr – to all, if you’re asking.)
As former pastry chef of the reputable Au Comptoir for three years, Franck finally struck out on his own. He’s the real deal. Just listen to how he wonderfully responds to each question. He does so in an achingly charming way that only a silken accent can – kinda causes your toes to curl and unfurl – that surely is part of the draw of repeat customers (and impulsive tipping).
Food Critic finally brushes the crumbs off her skirt, triumphant and impressed. Without turning around, we hear her meow of satisfaction: “I’ll definitely be coming back.” Maybe a sly wink, too.
But practicality first, you need to find street parking. We circle the blocks and it seems time stretches on for several minutes; unfortunately, spaces around here are mostly limited to residents. So we end up here – a block away on the opposite side of busy Main St on East 5th Ave.
L’Atelier Pâtisserie is a delicious sight, though so simple to miss, due to their tiny footprint. Keep your eye trained for a store sign: a pencil grey sketch of sunflowers, a thick fringe of open faces.
Their sandwich board is also helpful marker. A blackboard that today is charmingly scrawled with a childlike sun and arrow pointing to their store: “Departure for South of France this way.”
Just to the right of their one-car garage is the entry to L’Atelier Pâtisserie. We heard this was a small space – and interestingly, in person it’s triangular like a wedge of pie – but the configuration is surprisingly efficient. Two tables, plus a small counter facing a view of the garage, equals a total of seven seats.
Walls are rolled a warm buttery yellow. Something low key plays in the background. I smell rosemary from the potted plants. It’s cozy. Kind of like an intimate kitchen in the French country for a home cook.
Indeed, Franck tells us later that he selfishly decorated L’Atelier Pâtisserie just so he could indulge in a little bit of the South of France right here in Vancouver.
If you didn’t know, Franck is originally from Marseille. It’s a gritty trading town that he describes this way: “Not as pretty as Paris, with some ugly and dirty parts. But it has a lot of character. And then there’s that beach!”
When we ask if he misses Marseille, hewaves his ringed finger and responds dismissively in his clipped accent. “But of course. But I’ve lived here eight years and my family is here. This is home now.”
When we arrive, in a handful of steps, we’re at the front counter. Franck immediately beams at us with a smile as open as the sunflowers in bloom: “Bonjour!” It’s been years since we’ve taken a vacation in France. But instantly that flourishing greeting transports us back to our favourite secret boulangerie.
L’Atelier Pâtisserie has a straightforward, no-frills conceptthat’s basically what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
Look behind Franck and you’ll see three baskets of croissants hung on the wall, plus another cooling rack of more golden-hued beauties, just baked.
Their chalkboard menu lists just four pastries: croissant (plain, $2.75), pain au chocolate ($3), almond croissant ($4), brioche chocolate ($3) and a special ($4). Today the special is cherry roll. Prices are reasonable.
On the day we visit, these weekend specials are available in-store or to-go: Tropezienne (Saturdays) or Paris-brest (Sundays). But as of the date of this publication, he’s changed the Saturday special to chestnut millefeuille (a rectangular pastry with a thousand crispy layers).
You’ll also see dessert ($5) listed. on the chalkboard. When we ask, he points out the laminated counter menu with detailed photos. Franck explains that on weekdays customers can order these mini desserts to-go: Lemon Meringue Tart, Hazelnut Chocolate Trianor, Matcha Passion Fruit, Raspberry Vanilla Cake and Mango Tart.
There’s a beauty to this simplicity. Is there really anything most people crave than a flaky croissant and a coffee?
But L’Atelier Pâtisserie actually is more than that. Franck specializes in wholesale and catering events. In fact, he does fresh baking for a handful of coffee shops around town although he can’t disclose names. If you want a custom traditional cake for your birthday, he does that too. Check his personal Instagram if you want a visual résumé of his work and range of his abilities. It’s impressive.
For pre-packaged gifts (even to yourself), he sells honey almond nougat ($6.50), boxed macarons (6 for $12.50), sachets of Herbes de Provence ($6-$11) and kitchen utensils made from olive wood.
For coffee, he serves espresso ($2.75-3) simply as shots or Americano. There’s a choice of two roasters: a Colombian bean (medium roast) from Delta’s Pacific Coffee Roasters or a French Roast (dark roast) from Maple Ridge’s Best Gourmet Coffee Company.
Mike orders an Americano ($2.75 small) with the medium roast. Franck politely asks if he’s like a single or double shot (same price either way). A good option when you want a choice between an Americano that’s stronger or weaker.
A latte is on my mind, butno indication is here of milk-based drinks on the menu. (Note: Later on, we spot L’Atelier Pâtisserie’s pics of milk-based drinks on Instagram, so try to order them if you come here.)
There’s a choice of five teas byTaylors ($2.75) and I order a Darjeeling. It would be a plus if they offered a local tea company to support another independent business at the same time.
We also order a plain croissant ($2.75), chocolate croissant ($3), almond croissant ($4) and chocolate brioche ($3). Croissants are some of our favourite things to eat.
Franck has an espresso machine, small like one you’d find in someone’s home. But as miniscule as the counter space is, there’s no shortcuts here like pre-ground coffee: he has a proper setup with two grinders, each with a different bean. When we ask him about the beans, he actually stops what he’s doing to describe the coffees. He grinds the medium roast, tamps it then pulls the shot.
Although we say we’re eating in, he hands us drinks in paper cups. Another customer gets their order in a cup and saucer, so we’re puzzled. When staying here, we recommend specifically requesting a mug. We’re disappointed that our pastries are also in paper bags, which is a messy way of eating.
Mike’s Americano is pretty good: chocolaty and nutty with low acidity. My tea is an ordinary experience.
But those pastries are remarkable. The most memorable is the brioche, which looks like a long crow bar made of glossy pastry. It has an almost cakey texture that’s delicious.
The croissants pass the bite test, shattering with the crunch of a hundred layers. The almond croissant is my favourite, very rich and buttery. Mike’s pick? Surprisingly the underdog: the plain croissant – which he chews, enjoys the simple crunch and says reminds him of ones we had in Paris.
On one trip, we walked out of a boulangerie with a baguette. A moment later I heard a crunch, which was Mike impulsively tearing off a section of the loaf and munching on the heel.
As we leave, a burly fellow stands at the counter. Maybe a mechanic that works down the street. He scans the chalkboard menu, you might expect him to order a straight coffee.
Instead, the silence is heavy as he pauses. I can almost hear him thinking. Finally we overhear him say gruffly, “I’ll take two cherry rolls to go, please.” Believe it, this city will surprise you.