"I love Paris in the springtime," crooned Frank Sinatra, but he was obviously having a better day than I am.
I arrive at Gare de Lyon railway station in the late morning, having caught a train from Zurich, Switzerland. I'm taking another train to London in a few hours, thus allowing for a leisurely walk and lunch in Paris. Much more fun than hanging around airports.
Or so I think. I plan to take a surburban RER train to Gare du Nord, my point of departure to London and where I will leave my luggage, but an electrical fault delays services and when I finally reach the left luggage room at Gare du Nord it's a shambles, complete with broken change machines. Then it starts raining. Not so much in a Gene Kelly singing-in-the-rain way, more as an icy unrelenting drizzle. So I ditch my pretensions of being a flaneur, strolling the Parisian boulevards, and hail an Uber to take me to Montmartre.
It drops me off near Sacre Coeur, the beautiful church which crowns the neighbourhood famed for its artistic heritage. It's a harmonious and elegant structure with its white domes and arches, and is understandably a tourist drawcard. Miraculously the rain clears and the pale stone exterior of the church gleams in sunlight, aloof from the tourist circus at the foot of its steps which includes buskers, living statues and a motorised "tourist train" weaving through sightseers.
Walking beneath the eastern flank of the church along rue Lamarck, I get to where I am heading: Hardware Societe Paris, the local branch of a popular Melbourne CBD cafe. I've long been fascinated by the spread of Australian-style cafes around the world, and I'm curious to see how this example fits into its Parisian milieu.
The exterior is classic Paris – a chic black-hued shopfront with a couple of pavement tables. Inside it's tres australien with its colourful decor and dangling lamps, an identity accentuated by a waiter from Sydney with whom I place my order. The savoury mille-feuille with sesame-crusted seared tuna is excellent, with beautifully judged flavours and a dash of the New World in the form of avocado.
While I eye off a large lamington in a glass cabinet, which I hear a waiter describe to a bemused French customer as "an Australian cake", head chef Jess Keane joins me. I'm curious to learn how this distant outpost of Aussie cuisine came to be.
"A few years ago, the owners of the original Melbourne cafe decided they'd move to France for a while," he says. "Then they thought, 'While we're here, why don't we open a cafe?'"
The menu of Melbourne's Hardware Societe was noted for its strong French influence, but was it difficult to sell French-influenced brunch dishes to the French?
"We thought there'd be much more of a learning curve," says Keane. "That they might feel we were bastardising the classics. But we've been really well received.
"The plating is classically French, but with the modern twist of a Melbourne brunch. For example, for years we've done pain perdu. It's a fried brioche that's sugared, caramelised then topped with fruit. Currently we serve it with vanilla meringue, Chantilly creme, fresh berries and hibiscus syrup. To top fried bread with a lot of stuff isn't traditionally French, but we've developed it from a simple classic."
I mention something an Australian cafe owner in New York once told me: that Aussie cafes do well overseas because they marry good food and good coffee, rather than focusing on one or the other.
"Bringing good coffee to Paris is part of it," agrees Keane. "The modern coffee scene is still young here, but it's growing."
So how far is this cafe French, and how far is it Australian?
"The service is very Australian, with that laid-back, chilled-out easygoing attitude on the floor. It's one of the stereotypical qualities of Australia and it puts people at ease."
Tim Richards travelled with the assistance of Eurostar.
Hardware Societe, 10 rue Lamarck, Paris. See hardwaresociete.com