With every action there’s a reaction. And so, on a Parisian gastronomic landscape that has undergone rapid transformation of late, with cool new cafés and bars ever popping up, there’s now somewhat of a swing back to the old, the traditional, the authentic. A trend back to serving up nostalgic Gallic comfort food (snails, egg mayo, onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, Chantilly cream); French classics that have become harder to find in the new world of avocado toast; home-style dishes that would take too long to prepare in our fast-paced times; meals that remind Parisians of the fabled Sunday family lunches of yesteryear.
Enter the bouillon. The word means stock, or broth, but it also came to denote a certain type of restaurant in the mid-nineteenth century, when a Parisian butcher started serving up meat scraps in the form of soups and stews — and named his new eatery a bouillon. Before long, Paris had over 200 bouillons, which catered to a working-class clientele that craved hearty, comforting dishes.
In these days of faster food options, bouillons don’t just appeal to those on a budget, but to those who crave atmosphere as much as crème caramel. Not to mention a hit of culture, because some of the remaining bouillons are more akin to gastronomic museums, preserving old ways of dining as much as décor.
Good food in a gorgeous setting, and at practically-free prices: how can anyone resist? Add these bouillons to your next Parisian itinerary …
A narrow, gated passage takes you into a quaintly tiled courtyard. Go through the portal ahead that is a set of revolving wooden doors, and you’ll wonder if you’ve just taken a train back to a station called Belle Époque; there are even the old brass luggage racks and a large clock looming from the mirrored walls. Over one thousand locals and tourists alike enjoy good old-fashioned food in this warm and radiant Art Nouveau space —dating from 1896, it’s now classified as a historic monument. Entrées are around €5, mains around €10. No bookings are taken, so turn up any time between 11.30 and midnight.
7, Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre 75009
Bouillon Chartier Montparnasse
The sister site of Bouillon Chartier, Chartier Montparnasse was recently converted back to its 1903 bouillon origins, after a stint as a more upmarket brasserie. It must be visited at least for its florid Art Nouveau décor — with its stained-glass ceiling, floral lamps and fairytale woodwork, it seems more an enchanted forest than a restaurant. The menu is the other reason to go; it’s as long as its prices are low. Open for continual service every day, from 11.30am to midnight, no reservations required.
59, Boulevard du Montparnasse 75006
Like Chartier Montparnasse, the old Brasserie Julien recently reverted to its bouillon roots, so you don’t have to pay too much to enjoy this feast for the eyes. A similarly, immaculately preserved historic landmark — it dates from 1906 — this has to be one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Paris. The woodwork — including an old mahogany bar by Louis Majorelle — gleams, the walls are decorated in exquisite mouldings and painted a soothing pale green, and the murals and stained-glass add facets of glittering colour. You feel as though you could be in an Art Nouveau jewellery box. More glamour still: Edith Piaf used to dine here. This bustling bouillon is open from 11.45am to midnight, but you can make a reservation to skip the eternal lines. Entrées start at €2,90, mains at €9,10. For a few more euros, add a cheese or dessert — or at these prices, perhaps a few.
16, rue du Faubourg Saint-Dénis 75010
This modern take on the traditional dining trend opened in 2017, and can be almost single-handedly credited with having revived interest in bouillons, and locals’ love for eating simple, satisfying, straight-from-the-market food, just like maman might have made in a former life. The prices are jaw-droppingly low — and that goes for the drinks, too; you could easily eat a three-course meal, with a glass of wine, for €20. No reservations are taken, but you won’t have to wait long at this double-storey, 300-seat restaurant. Open from midday to midnight.
22, Boulevard de Clichy 75018