There are countless atmospheric eateries in Paris — from cosy bistros to glittering five-star affairs — that make a date-night feel all the more special. (And let’s face it, even a simple picnic of baguette, cheese and strawberries seems utterly romantic in this city!) But some restaurants have particular settings and stories that make them feel all the more conducive to romance. Here are five …
Le Grand Véfour
Tucked into the north-western corner of the Palais-Royal, Le Grand Véfour is a jewel box of a restaurant, with ceilings and walls styled Versailles-meets-Pompeii — all mirrors and gilt and frescoes — and ruby-red velvet seats and banquettes enhancing the glamour quotient. After beginning its gastronomic life as Café de Chartres in 1784, the restaurant went on to host Napoléon and Joséphine in post-revolutionary years, then attracted the who’s who of the literati during that century, such as Romantics Victor Hugo and George Sand. Its modern era kicked off in 1948, when a new chef attracted Palais-Royal resident Colette with its sensuous menu inspired by south-western France (think cognac-drenched foie gras). Society figures began flocking, including A-list couples Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, and Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Le Grand Véfour no longer reaches for the dining heights of old — chef Guy Martin recently made the decision to opt for a more accessible menu of elegant brasserie fare. You can still order his ‘Plats Signatures’ if you want to eat old-school haute cuisine (like the sea urchins, quail egg & caviar, or blue lobster in a soubise sauce, both of which come in just shy of 100€), but for the most part it’s about more affordable meals, including the option of Tuesday-Saturday set menus, priced at 56€ (two courses) and 67€ (three courses).
17 Rue de Beaujolais, 75001; visit the website for more information.
Although recently renovated, Maxim’s has lost none of its seductiveness. With its plushly decadent Art Nouveau interior that seems to fuse exotic with erotic, Maxim’s is still very much the restaurant that has long attracted loved-up couples — think Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis, Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, and Brigitte Bardot and Gunther Sachs. Oh, and let’s not forget Gigi and Gaston — watch the 1958 movie Gigi to appreciate that Maxim’s has been Paris’s ultimate place for romantic rendezvous since the Belle Époque, when courtesans set the seductive tone of this city. Its menu is rich in indulgent classics — cheese souffle, crêpe Suzette … — and the glamorously mood-lit bar is open until late.
3 Rue Royale, 75008; visit the website for more information.
Lapérouse, also recently revived, was another favourite dining destination of Parisian playboys and courtesans of the Belle Époque. They particularly loved the ornately decorated private dining rooms (such as the one pictured above) — which can be booked out to this day, complete with bells and discreet service, and with the mirrors on which said courtesans once scratched their diamond gifts, to verify the jewels’ veracity. It’s heady stuff — and that’s before you get to the lavish menu: truffled croque-monsieur, pâté en croute, caviar mashed potatoes, profiteroles …
51 Quai des Grands-Augustins, 75006; visit the website for more information.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole
This restaurant is Insta-famous for its wisteria-draped olde-worlde façade, but don’t be fooled — this sweet frontage doesn’t quite convey just how sexy things are inside! There’s red brocade and red velvet galore, elaborate gilded mirrors and candelabra, and dark medieval details — which all add to a kind of wanton boudoir effect. While Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole might have a reputation for being a little touristy, its popularity is about more than social media — it’s simply a charmer of a restaurant. Especially with a reasonably priced menu of Gallic classics, such as œuf cocotte, sole meunière, and apple tart.
24 Rue Chanoinesse, 75004; visit the website for more information.
A Seine lunch or dinner cruise for two might seem like a cliché, but Le Calife makes the whole thing feel magical. This fanciful boat dates from 1939, and its interior is a whimsical patchwork of vintage details: music room floorboards from an old Parisian townhouse, tinted glass windows from 1789, porthole windows salvaged from an antique Italian liner … The cruise lasts two hours, and you can board thirty minutes early for cocktails — the Pont des Arts makes for a spectacularly picturesque starting point. Of course, things only become even more scenic as Le Calife glides upstream, before turning around to head past the Eiffel Tower to the Île des Cygnes, and back again. (Good to know: Le Calife is just as fun if you’re with friends or family, especially kids, who have their own set menu.)
Port des Saints-Pères, 75006; visit the website for more information.