The return of bouillons

For a long time, whoever wanted to dine like a typical French person in Paris was spoilt for choice. Mademoiselle Lili is happy to note that this is no longer the case as she rejoices in a new gastro trend.

Almost everything in Paris is expensive. Hotels, restaurants, shopping – whoever wants and has the means to indulge in luxury has definitely come to the right place. Particularly its haute cuisine has earned French cooking the reputation of ranking among the most sophisticated and costly in the world. But French cuisine is so much more, and it can actually be quite down-to-earth. In the 19th century, “bouillons” (broths) established themselves in Paris – basic restaurants in which the simple folk and workers who weren’t able to cook at home were provided with a cheap hot meal. They were open from midday to midnight, in contrast to the other restaurants which closed between 3 pm and 7 pm.

Bouillon Chartier or Chez Chartier (7, rue du Faubourg Montmartre) was the last of its kind – and this legendary restaurant from 1896 is mentioned in practically every travel guide. Subsequently, tourists stand in line every day to enjoy genuine home-cooked French meals at low prices in the historically listed belle époque-style pub. Starters and desserts for around 5 euros, main courses for around 10 euros – for a long time, this was the only place where you could find these kind of prices. But now, that’s no longer the case, because new and old “bouillons” are currently popping up all across town.

Perhaps it’s due to the economic crisis or French incomes, which have been stagnating for decades – despite the rapid rise in rents and cost of living. The days in which the Parisian hipsters from the fashion and media world stormed the haute cuisine temples seem to have passed, at least when they have to pay the bill themselves. And that’s how I ended up with a big group in the newly opened Bouillon Julien (16, rue du Faubourg Saint Denis). The freshly restored, hall-like pub from 1906 is an art nouveau treasure that is marked by a beauty and

magnificence that stand in almost bizarre contrast to the prices on the menu. My choice: the lentil salad for EUR 4.20, a Bratwurst with mashed potatoes for EUR 9.10, rice pudding with salted caramel for EUR 3.30. Everything home-made, served up in a flash and pretty delicious. And the exquisite stucco decorations, wall paintings, glass work and, not least, the beautiful guests are also a feast for the eyes. The traditionally clothed waiters in aprons are experienced professionals, tables are covered with paper table cloths that are quickly replaced when guests leave – the massive turnover of guests generates a big profit.

In contrast to other “bouillons”, during the week you can even reserve a table here instead of having to wait for one. At the weekend: come outside of rush hour if you’re short on time. According to the menu, which details the restaurant’s history, Edith Piaf always reserved Table 24.

At the foot of Montmartre, Bouillon Pigalle (22 Boulevard de Clichy) was founded in 2017 based on the same principle: generously portioned meals and low prices that you haven’t seen in ages, plus a more modern yet very Parisian atmosphere. In contrast to the others, vegetarians are also in luck here – the menu always features a few meat-free dishes. Various Parisian restaurant critics rated this eatery as the best of the new old “bouillons” in terms of quality of food. In any case, all “bouillons” offer you a taste of the good old Paris.  

© Benoit Linero