Paris Bistros - Parisian Prix Fixe
Paris may have a reputation for being the gastronomic capital of the world, but it is not always easy to find places to dine in at night that offer creative cuisine at reasonable prices. Happily, the city is seeing a rebirth of the humble bistro, with young, innovative chefs revitalising classic recipes while retaining the unique décor and ambience of these informal restaurants.
Bistros were always famous for their bargain-priced set lunches, but now diners no longer face an expensive à la carte meal in the evening, as most locales also offer excellent-value three-course menus of high-quality cooking for dinner.
The area around L’Opera and Madeleine is an industrious business hub during the day but hardly brims with choice when it comes to reasonably priced bistros in the evening. An excellent exception is Chez Cécile, hidden away down a narrow side street, and its new chef has created a menu that is more haute cuisine than bistro – tomato gazpacho with a spicy guacamole and ricotta gnocchior saddle of lamb stuffed with dried fruits served on a bed of bulgur tabbouleh.
Regis Mongin has come straight from three-starred Michelin chef Eric Fréchon’s Le Bristol restaurant. However, the star of the show here is the flamboyant Cécile herself, and for those reserving a table on a Thursday evening, there is a special treat (for an extra €10/US$14) of her performing live with a jazz trio, singing 1960s swing mixed with chansons of French musettes.
OPENING HOURS: 12.15pm-2pm and 7.15pm-10pm, closed Sunday
PRICE: €35 (US$48) for a three-course set dinner
CONTACT: 17 Rue Vignon, tel 33 142 664 639
Montmartre may be the quintessential Parisian neighbourhood, but the restaurants that line the streets around Sacré Coeur and Place du Tertre are there for the daily invasion of coach parties and are to be avoided. Surprisingly, hidden away in the back streets are some excellent bistros offering a colourful slice of life in what is still one of the most bohemian parts of Paris. There is no better spot to book a table than at the cool, retro Café Burq, although to blend in with the fashionable clientele, it is best to leave your suit and tie at the hotel.
The lively owners, Patrick and Yann, double as bartenders, specialising in cocktails and organic wines, and there is always a crowd around the bar. The young chef, Laurent Cardillac, comes from the gastronomic southwest of France, a region that heavily influences his cooking, especially in dishes such as fresh foie gras sautéed with figs and pine nuts.
OPENING HOURS: 6pm-2am daily; closed Sunday
PRICE: €32 (US$44) for a three-course set dinner
CONTACT: 6 Rue Burq, tel 33 142 528 127
It can be quite an adventure exploring the colourful Belleville and Ménilmontant areas, once the haunts of Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. Today, you’ll find a vibrant mix of ethnic Chinese and North African communities coupled with artists and musicians, but it is well worth the effort just to discover the brilliant bistro, La Boulangerie.
Once a bakery, it has become a cutting-edge point of reference for the new generation of bistros ever since the Nidhsain brothers took over. Guests are made instantly welcome by the towering Nordin, who theatrically holds court behind an art deco bar, while in the kitchen, Hassan surprises diners with dishes including a slowly braised casserole of veal kidneys, accompanied by a fricassee of wild mushrooms.
The biggest problem is whether to plump for cheese or dessert. Hassan makes a wonderful jasmine ice cream and fondant au chocolat, but Nordin selects the cheeses and his superb plate includes a perfectly aged Cantal, a tangy Roquefort, a ripe Camembert and a tiny Picadon goat’s cheese from Ardèche.
OPENING HOURS: 12pm-2pm, 8pm-11pm, closed Sunday
PRICE: €30 (US$41) for a three-course set dinner
CONTACT: tel 15 Rue des Panoyaux, tel 33 143 584 545
LE PLOMB DU CANTAL
The Rue de la Gaîté, in the heart of Montparnasse, teems at night with bars and restaurants. But don’t expect to find Le Plomb du Cantal in guide books and, equally, don’t expect a chic, gourmet restaurant – it’s a down-to-earth neighbourhood locale with a colourful clientele ranging from actors to businessmen from Auvergne, who flock here for the specialities of this region.
Forget about fancy nouvelle cuisine – this is hearty rural cooking, with huge portions of the likes of chou farci (cabbage stuffed with home-made sausages) and steaks of Auvergne beef. Each dish is served with aligot or truffade – the former a creamy potato purée with melted cheese and garlic, the latter, crispy sautéed potatoes with cheese. Auvergne wine from the village of Saint Pourçain can’t compare with an equivalent from Burgundy or Bordeaux, but it makes the perfect accompaniment for this classic country cuisine.
OPENING HOURS: Daily 2pm-12am. Reservations not taken.
PRICE: No set menu; about €30 (US$41) for three courses.
CONTACT: 3 Rue de la Gaîté, tel 33 143 351 692
LE PRÉ VERRE
The Left Bank is one of the most atmospheric parts of the city, but not always one of the best places for eating out, with many eateries targeting tourists. Situated just by the Sorbonne, Le Pré Verre is not just the exception, but one of the hottest addresses in Paris. That’s down to the dynamic chef, Philippe Delacourcelle, the outstanding wine list compiled by his brother Marc, and the intelligent pricing.
The cuisine uses traditional French recipes, subtly complemented by Asian spices and cooking methods – Philippe worked in the Far East and has recently opened a branch of Le Pré Verre in Tokyo. The décor is minimalist, with stylised jazz album covers in the main dining room and a series of avant-garde frescoes covering the walls of the funkier downstairs cellar. The menu changes daily, but several specialities are always served, such as suckling pig in a spicy sauce with crunchy cabbage, or delicate fillets of scorpion fish, braised with cinnamon and served on a bed of smoked potato purée.
OPENING HOURS: 12pm-2pm and 7.30pm-10.30pm, closed Sunday and Monday. Booking essential.
PRICE: €28.50 (US$39) for a three-course set menu
CONTACT: 8 Rue Thénard, tel 33 143 545 947, www.lepreverre.com
BISTRO AU VIEUX CHÊNE
Walking into this ancient bistro is like stepping into a period Parisian movie, with wonderfully authentic interiors including a zinc counter, art deco lamps and mosaic floor – all that is missing is the music of Edith Piaf.
This used to be a run-down neighbourhood bar serving a rustic plat du jour until Stéphane Chevassus took over, preserving the décor but reinventing the cuisine. Having spent time in the kitchens of renowned Parisian chefs Guy Savoy and Michel Rostang, he puts enormous emphasis on the quality of the products. This is reflected in the dishes, which include thick chunks of monkfish smothered with rich shellfish sauce and lentils, and tender roasted quail served with green asparagus tips and sun-dried tomatoes.
The Vieux Chêne is not far from the Bastille, in a neighbourhood that is a gold mine of atmospheric and innovative bistros – such as l’Ebauchoir, la Cotte Rôtie and le Duc de Richelieu – but here you still have the feeling of being ahead of the crowd.
OPENING HOURS: 12pm-2pm and 8pm-10.30pm, closed Saturday and Sunday
PRICE: €33 (US$45) for a three-course set dinner
CONTACT: 7 Rue du Dahomey, tel 33 143 716 769, www.vieuxchene.fr
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