Most declare a fond love for Paris. Some find it rude. Those poor Parisians have a reputation to maintain, earned for them, from what I can see, by a small handful of people. Sure, there are some rough characters, but we have them here too, right? I think mainly, we are just intimidated by the language, and their lack of patience for us attempting to speak it. I can’t blame them. I muddle through like a cat that has just had her tongue removed. Limping by, mumbling French through an Irish accent, expecting at any moment to be told off. And I sometimes am.
On a trip to Paris last weekend (very brief and just for one night), I ate at a restaurant that has a reputation for being brusque, rude and maybe not very good at all at times. So why did I go? Because it is a slice of Parisian history and I am eternally curious. Bouillon Chartier is tucked away down an alley off a side street. One of the turn of the (20th) century soup kitchens, Bouillons were established so that anyone could get affordable traditional French food and bouillon (a broth – hence the name), and speedily. Very few are left, and Chartier still serves traditional Bouillon fare, and very cheaply, with starters priced from €1 – €6.80 and mains not exceeding €13.50 (and that includes steak).
A queue usually snakes outside – at meal times anyway – but it moves very quickly. I expected a lot of tourists, but we seemed to be surrounded by French people. The queue was managed in French too, so I resurrected by primitive teenage French discourse and managed to communicate our needs (he would have spoken English if I wanted him to, but I wanted to practice so persevered). It wasn’t long before we were seated in a beautiful vast room, elbow to elbow with some strangers on a shared table. Which was absolutely fine.
Coats are tossed above your table on baggage racks, and orders scribbled on your table cloth. Service is at times impatient, our waiter marched off at one point as we were taking too long. Maybe it is because London is a great leveller, but I found it more efficient than rude, and wasn’t bothered at all. This is a restaurant that was established to serve speedy well priced food, and this is what it is, plus you get what you pay for.
Starters were traditional, and I couldn’t resist an aggressively unapologetic egg mayonnaise – priced at €2.20 – and two halves of an egg, slapped yolk down, with lots of (good) mayonnaise dumped on top. But it tasted great, even if the egg yolk was lined grey from too much time in the pot. At €2.20 another starter was called for, and I felt a salad might be good. Especially if it was dripping in bacon fat and covered in crispy bacon and croutons. So frisee with lardons and croutons was divined, and some escargots bathing in bright green garlic rich butter came along side (there were two of us, in case you are worrying).
For mains we had fresh sausage with lentils. The lentils had long ago stopped pretending to be firm, and were languid in their dressing, but the flavour was good, and the sausage, crisp and rich, was great. Veal chop, Normandy style in a cream cider sauce with mushrooms was spot on and comforting. The spaghetti on the side, bloated as a depression era fat cat in a butter coat, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Desserts called. Chou with chantilly, an overbearing (but delicious) bun filled with sweet cream, and a delicate puffed prune clafoutis with custard.
We washed our meal down with a bottle of water and a very drinkable bottle of Cahors, and it all came to €65, for two. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again. And, I never say this, but it is worth it for the room alone. A restaurant experience is never just about your meal. It is about the room, the service, the company and everything in between. We seemed to get most things right last Saturday.
7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009 Paris, France +33 1 47 70 86 29
And – you will see that I am fiddling around with the design – please don’t be alarmed and I welcome your feedback – I am doing it live and it is only half way there at the moment. The pumpkins are a temporary measure! :)