FOOD & WINE
Inexpensive Paris bistros, plus a Paris café and a restaurant reviewed.
Offering a refreshing blend of inexpensive menus and historic settings, bouillons, named after the word for cooking stock, are slowly re-emerging onto the Paris dining scene
While Paris is now a byword for sophisticated dining, it hasn’t always been this way. The French capital was once full of bouillons, a style of cheap restaurant that, in these times of austerity, is making a comeback.
The original bouillons were created in the 1850s and were designed to serve hearty, simple and affordable food for predominantly working-class Parisians. The idea behind the concept came from Pierre-louis Duval, a butcher who needed somewhere to place the cuts of beef that he couldn’t sell. In order to make these cuts palatable, he used plenty of sauce to cook them, including broth, or bouillon.
The restaurants caught on, even proving popular among high society, and by 1900 there were over 250 of them across Paris. Each one was decorated in the splendid Art Nouveau style and consisted of a bar which opened into a larger dining room. By the Belle Époque era, however, tastes changed dramatically and many bouillons were replaced by restaurants serving more elegant dishes.
Today, there is just a handful of these restaurants in Paris. Perhaps the most iconic bouillon is Bouillon Chartier, which was founded in 1896. This legendary venue has been a guidebook staple for many years thanks to its endless list of delectable dishes such as chicory and Roquefort salad and fennel-smothered roasted sea bass.
For Art Nouveau at its best, you can’t beat Bouillon Racine. The setting is gorgeous: think bevelled mirrors, intricately carved wooden panels and glazed wall tiles. From behind the lime green and yellow bar, head chef Alexandre Belthoise serves up dishes such as scallops glazed in truffle oil and a mature beef entrecôte with potato gratin, which you can savour while listening to live jazz performances every other Tuesday evening.
Bouillon Pigalle, the latest addition to this genre of restaurants offers a contemporary spin on the concept with retro honeycomb lights, hanging plants and a laid-back atmosphere. With a ‘no bookings’ policy, the long queues outside are a clear indication of the growing demand for restaurants that can combine quality food with good prices.
By dining at a bouillon, you’re not just tucking into hearty food for less, you’re enjoying a tasty meal in a setting bursting with history. And that is, ultimately, what Paris is all about.
Bouillon Racine 3 Rue Racine, 75006 Paris 6ème Bouillon Pigalle 22 Boulevard de Clichy, 75018 Paris 18ème Bouillon Chartier 7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009 Paris 9ème
The extravagent Art Nouveau dining room of Bouillon Racine ABOVE: