In Paris, the Brasserie Is Back
Steak frites, blanquette de veau, cheese soufflés: On the tables of the moment, everything old is new again.
When chef Daniel Rose opened La Bourse et La Vie in Paris in 2015, he was making a statement. Rose had been one of the leaders of the bistronomy movement, a culinary revolution that stormed the city a decade prior, democratizing bistro dining. All the stiffness and steep prices that had long defined the Paris culinary landscape were left behind, with more casual, affordable, and market-driven experiences—like Rose’s restaurant Spring, which opened in 2006—coming into favor. Bistronomy chefs like Rose, Yves Camdeborde of Le Comptoir, and Iñaki Aizpitarte of Le Chateaubriand felt that a considerable set of the dining population had been neglected, forced to choose from restaurants that were either cheap and uninspired or staggeringly expensive, with little in-between. Establishment bistros and brasseries were better known for their high nostalgia quotient than for the quality of their dishes.
But by 2015, the neo-bistro and its format of unpretentious but creative cooking had become omnipresent in every neighborhood of Paris, while establishments specializing in traditional dishes and techniques were fading rapidly. So, despite having led the charge in the food scene’s radicalization years prior, Rose stepped in with an elegant bistro driven by top-shelf sourcing and a menu of classics. “If people still talk about traditional French fare, it’s because it’s good and worth eating,” said the American-born, French-trained chef when La Bourse et La Vie opened. “The problem was that nothing was being done with much care anymore. It deserved a comeback.”
With its divine steak frites, oysters Rockefeller, leeks vinaigrette, and perfectly executed baba au rhum, La Bourse et La Vie set off a revival that has since inspired both young restaurateurs and established chefs to pay their own tributes to les classiques. (A year later, Rose opened Le Coucou in New York City, where his neo-retro takes on iconic dishes like tête de veau and pike quenelles have won a passionate following. Spring closed in 2017.)
Michelin-starred chefs like Rose, Eric Fréchon, Jean-François Piège, and Alain Ducasse may have risen to the top in haute cuisine kitchens, but their upbringings anchor them to the humblest terroir staples and regional specialties. These are dishes that are served on paper tablecloths or rough-hewn wood tables; that comfort and nourish more than they inspire contemplation; that play on nostalgia and a collective idea of what it means to eat like the French.
Fréchon’s Epicure may be one of the city’s finest tables, but at his all-day brasserie Lazare, in the Saint-Lazare train station, he summons his Norman origins with such dishes as jambon-beurre, fried sweetbreads with chanterelles, and roasted farm-raised chicken with a creamy potato purée. Meanwhile, at Restaurant Champeaux, Ducasse’s sleek, modern brasserie at Les Halles, the standouts include cheese soufflés, steak tartare, and grilled fish. The chef adds more vegetables than usual—and subtracts sugar and butter—to lighten the menu.
La Poule au Pot is Piège’s time capsule of a bistro where la cuisine bourgeoise—hearty, family-style classics—is updated ever-so-slightly. Frog’s legs and soupe à l’oignon sit alongside hachis Parmentier (the French answer to shepherd’s pie) and blanquette de veau. Perhaps the most noticeable change the chef and his wife made to this institution was the addition of antique light fixtures and vintage tableware, sourced by the couple from across France.
“People want simplicity and fun, and this type of restaurant delivers that—with a fresh twist,” said Charles de Watrigant, general manager of Brasserie Bellanger, the newest addition to the growing clutch of restaurants refreshing old formats. That twist shows up mostly in the design of the space, which bursts with plants and flowers, marble tabletops, plush banquettes and bar chairs, a mosaic floor, and globe lights that nod to the past while communicating they’re very much of the moment. The staff may dress casually and take orders on smartphones, but the dishes are unmistakably nostalgic: rillettes and œufs-mimosas at affordable prices; perfectly crisp matchstick fries to accompany a filet de bœuf cooked just as you like it; sausage and mashed potatoes that diners will wait in line for.
Paris’s restaurant offerings have grown more international and accessible in recent years. But the city seems to have rediscovered its urge to preserve the familiar—not merely out of respect for heritage but in recognition that the culinary canon deserves a permanent place in the landscape. The dishes of Paris’s bistro and brasserie revival evoke the past, but their future is reassuringly bright.
La Bourse et La Vie: 12 rue Vivienne, 2nd arr.; +33 1 42 60 08 83.
Restaurant Champeaux: Forum des Halles, 12 Passage de la Canopée, 1st arr.; +33 1 53 45 84 50.
Lazare: Parvis de la Gare Saint-Lazare, Rue Intérieure, 8th arr.; +33 1 44 90 80 80.
La Poule au Pot: 9 rue Vauvilliers, 1st arr.; +33 1 42 36 32 96.
Brasserie Bellanger: 140 Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, 10th arr.; +33 9 54 00 99 65.