When I visited Paris a few weeks ago, I made sure I had insider tips to make the most of my 2.5 day trip. I was recommended the Le Bouillon Chartier by two friends. One of them was my old flatmate Guillaume who is French and has lived in Paris himself, and said this would be the place to get authentic French food for a decent price in the centre of Paris. Merci beaucoup! Well, what Guillaume told me was true, but he certainly left out some “fun” details for us to find out on our own…
We got off the metro at Richelieu – Drouot and quickly found Le Bouillon Chartier around corner. You won’t miss it because outside there is always a queue. I think we arrived at around 8ish, and after waiting for about 40 minutes we were ushered into another queue around the corner. You can finally see the entrance, so close but yet so far away!
At this point my boyfriend was getting grumpy, and I was thinking… please please please I hope the food is amazing to justify for all this waiting. Finally we get into the restaurant and it looked super cozy and so beautiful!
Then things started to, well let’s say things took an unexpected turn…
We were seated at a table, and the waiter told us to hang our coats on the overhead shelves. Next thing we know we saw two strangers seated beside us. Not as in the table beside us, but literally sitting next to us at the same table. Then the waiter just threw out four pieces of folded paper onto the table, which happened to be the menu. My boyfriend and I just looked at each in confusion, and decided to ask our “dinner party” (who were two French locals, a father and his son) what was going on…
Our French dinner guest, looking puzzled at our confusion, asked:
Do you know about this place?
He explained to us that this restaurant has actually been an establishment in Paris for a really long time,and it used to be kind of a cafeteria that served very cheap and affordable food for working class people. Potage, which is soup, a “classic” that they have been serving for years is still the first item on the menu today at a very affordable price of 1 euro. Then he pointed out at these little drawers fixed into the walls all around the restaurant. Apparently, “regular” customers had these as their own little personal drawers to store their napkins.
He also told us that all the waiters have really sharp memory and they will know your order by heart. They can also carry 12 dishes on one arm because they need to be quick and efficient to serve all the busy tables. At the till is the lady who punches in all the order, and the waiters have to make sure she likes them because if they cross her, then she will put in the wrong order on purpose… and well the waiters get into trouble (with such a busy restaurant there is no time for wrong orders).
There was also this huge painting mounted on the wall painted by Germont, as a way to repay his debt to the restaurant (I guess this is nice alternative to doing the dishes when you can’t pay up?) I’m reporting these details as accurately as I can… but don’t quote me! After all we had this conversation with our dinner party with his limited English and our broken French.
Our food came… I had the confit de canard (duck), and my boyfriend had steak with fries. P.S., the menu is in French and it changes everyday; but with some basic French you should be able to figure most things out 🙂 The food arrived, and in my honest opinion I would compare it to a decent cafeteria meal, and importantly it’s authentic French! Still a very tasty and satisfying main course!
For the amount of money we were spending, I could even splurge on dessert as a third course. For this, I wanted to be adventurous and ordered creme de marron. I didn’t know what it was, although I recognized the taste I really didn’t know what I was eating. Then our lovely French dinner guest started pictionary on the paper table cloth trying to explain what I was eating… it turned out it was chestnut! By the way, he ordered just a bowl of whipped cream for dessert (this wasn’t even on the menu but could still be done), but seriously how do French people stay skinny will always be a mystery…
We had such a lovely chat with our dinner party, and at some point the waiter came up to us and said “Allez-y”. He was literally telling us off. This should not be taken as offence as we have learned, because it’s just customary to ask the guests to pay up after they’ve eaten and the table has been cleared. All the tables have to be turned over fast and there is really no time for guests to be lingering around after they have been served. This used to be a cafeteria after all. The waiter wrote out the breakdown of dinner on the table and we paid on the spot, and said goodbye to our dinner party (update: they emailed us and will be visiting Amsterdam! 🙂 🙂 🙂 )
So this is it! We came to Le Bouillon Chartier expecting for an amazing meal and while the food itself was not amazing I really had such an enjoyable time, not to mention the new friends we made. It was such a nice cultural experience and that is why I would highly recommend it! Usually you would pay about 15 euros to go see an attraction, and at Le Bouillon Chartier you get a cultural experience and a 3-course meal out of it. For travellers on their own, now you know where to go for a cheap meal with guaranteed company! 😉