In Paris, food is about much more than just taste. For a city devoted to sensory delights, a great meal is also about its aroma, presentation, and surroundings. There are many jaw-droppingly beautiful restaurant interiors in Paris, but the most mesmerising are those that serve up a delicious dose of history for an extra frisson of special. Some of the buzziest restaurants in town right now know this well, and invite you to dine in style alongside an impression line-up of A-list ghosts …
Maxim’s needs little introduction — it’s arguably Paris’s most legendary restaurant. There’s the classified interior, for one: an Art Nouveau fantasia of floral lamps, botanically themed stained glass, and plush, lush shades of ruby and mahogany. There’s also the long history of A-list customers, from Marcel Proust to Brigitte Bardot to Mick Jagger. Oh, and the many cinematic starring roles, like Gigi, Chéri, and Midnight in Paris.
But what’s new to know about Maxim’s is that this 130-year-old restaurant is cool once more, with a refreshed management that has breathed new life into its storied menu of French gastronomic classics. Go for the cheese soufflé and crêpe Suzette; stay for the exotic ambience … not to mention the late-night bar.
3 Rue Royale, 75008; visit the website for more information.
This salmon-pink Pompeian-style pavilion, nestled within the whimsically pretty Jardin des Champs-Élysées, has for man years been a revival waiting to happen, due not only to its location and its loveliness, but also its fabled history. Originally a royal hunting lodge, the pavilion was made over into a restaurant in 1842 by Jacques Ignace Hittorff, who had been employed to beautify the Champs-Élysées, among other projects. Le Café du Cirque, as it was then known, became Le Laurent in 1860, and was long the place of many powerful business lunches and dinners, due to its proximity to the Élysée Palace and a host of embassies.
Now under the management of Paris Society (which also revamped Maxim’s), Laurent has been restyled by the group’s elegant artistic director Cordélia de Castellane (who also happens to oversee Dior Maison). The result is a heart-lifting mix of black and white floor tiles, pastel walls, and glittering chandeliers; pops of potted palms helped to give the airy rooms a Belle Époque greenhouse allure. The menu is similarly light and French — sensory delights such as crudités served with soufflé aioli, sea scallops with truffle vinaigrette, golden caviar mousseline brioche … all capped off by the prettiest possible way to end a French meal: a glittering dessert trolley.
41 Avenue Gabriel, 75008; visit the website for more information.
The most anticipated new restaurant of 2023, Lafayette’s is snuggled within a glamorous wing of an early eighteenth-century townhouse — no less than the ground floor salons of the one-time residence of the Marquis de Lafayette. The French hero of the American Revolution entertained here regularly from 1827 until his passing in 1834. With that inspiring history in mind, chef Mory Sacko, the breakout star of French Top Chef Season 11, has sprinkled the Gallic menu with nods to American cuisine, and also seasoned it with references his own African heritage. Think corn chowder encased in puff pastry; fried chicken; sole meunière in champagne sauce; sweet potato curry; and, a cheeseburger accompanied by Cajun-spiced fries. It’s a melting pot of a menu that seems very much in keeping with Lafayette’s love of travel and adventure, although the plush, candlelit interiors are beautifully suggestive of the warmth and comfort of the Marquis’ final, sociable years.
8 Rue d’Anjou, 75008; visit the website for more information.
La Tour d’Argent
And the most anticipated restaurant renovation of 2023 was surely the iconic La Tour d’Argent, the restaurant that embodied haute cuisine for twentieth-century visitors to Paris, and its many fans in political, business, and royal circles. Its gastronomic (and regal) credibility actually goes back to 1582, when the first Restaurant de la Tour d’Argent set up on this site, just next to the old Château de la Tournelle, whose shimmering stones inspired the eatery’s name. One early devotee was no less than King Henri IV. The current building dates to 1830; from this time, the restaurant attracted a spectrum of high-society types — from playboys to princes, courtesans to countesses — and even more so from 1911, when the esteemed Terrail family took over and took La Tour d’Argent to multi-starred heights.
Grandson André Terrail oversaw the latest renovation. There’s still the signature pressed duck dish, and the spectacular downstream river view of Notre-Dame. (Oh, and the sky-high prices.) But the sixth-floor dining room is now streamlined in style (adieu, any hint of chintz), and if you don’t want the whole multi-course shebang, there’s now a zinc-adorned rooftop bar (which reopens for spring, on May 1st) and a first-floor all-day speakeasy-esque bar, situated where the restaurant was before 1936, when a cutting-edge team of architects reengineered the then open terrace into a dining room that still boasts one of the city’s most skin-tingling views.
15 Quai de la Tournelle, 75005; visit the website for more information.
Procope, one of the city’s first cafés at its 1686 opening, has long been a restaurant — and one that gorgeously plays to its Age of Enlightenment era. Its chandelier-lit dining rooms are lined with mirror walls and dotted with antique furniture and curiosities — there’s even a desk and hat that once belonged to two of its most famous customers, Voltaire and Napoléon respectively!
But with the opening of its Café-Glacier room, Procope harks right back to its original history, a time when it was renowned for serving iced drinks and a newfangled concoction known as coffee. In this new Salon de Café, sink into a luxurious armchair and indulge in a selection of coffees, hot chocolates, ice creams, and pastries.
13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 75006; visit the website for more information.
The renovation of Lapérouse dates to 2019, but this article feels somewhat remiss without a mention of this famous (and infamous) restaurant, for its revival seems to have sparked the current trend for breathing new life into Paris’s glamorous but faded food institutions.
Lapérouse’s food story began in 1766, when it was a wineshop serving snacks, but it was in the Belle Époque when it was reborn as a gastronomic sensation. Libertines of the late nineteenth century particularly loved Lapérouse for its lavishly decorated private rooms where they could take their mistresses — via a secret stairway if discretion was necessary. The rooms are still there, complete with patinaed wall paintings and crystal chandeliers, and mirrors scratched decades ago by courtesans testing the authenticity of the diamonds gifted to them by their lovers.
In addition to the private salons, there are lavish dining rooms, and the menu is one of traditional French flamboyance — similar to that enjoyed by Julia Child, who celebrated her fortieth birthday here. There’s also a ground-floor bar you might recognise — it featured in Midnight in Paris, suitably so, for it’s a film that celebrates the millefeuille-like layers of Parisian cultural history, just as these restaurants do.
51 Quai des Grands-Augustins, 75006; visit the website for more information.