Brasseries are some of the most impressive and atmospheric restaurants in France. The word originally comes from “brewery,” but today it is used for generally large spaces, often with an Art Nouveau décor, serving traditionally French food, and being open all day, serving lunches and dinners, and often serving food at non-traditional but more tourist-friendly in-between times.
Having called Paris home for 6 years, I have eaten my way through a large number of brasseries, plus bistros, restos, and whatever else you might call the various “eateries” in France. The traditional brasseries hold a special place in my heart, simply because of their décor, their often vast rooms filled with diners creating a great atmosphere, and yes, the food. Basic, traditional, and filling.
So, here I have listed a few of my favorites, in no particular order, including some well-known names, others more modern variations on the theme, and all fabulous places to try out, for a score of reasons.
1. Brasserie Bellanger
Brasserie Bellanger has been my favorite for a while now, it’s where I bring visitors or spend a long weekend lunch or dinner. A relatively new kid on the block that opened only a few years ago, this corner restaurant is done up in the old style, with beautiful floor tiles, a shiny bar, accented with many colorful bottles, and it’s all very Instagramable.
The service is great, with really friendly servers, and the food absolutely fabulous. The brasserie is located on Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière in the 10th arrondissement, just down from Brasserie Barbes (see below), near Gare du Nord, where the Eurostar from London arrives.
What To Order
Start with the jambon blanc rruffé, or truffled, sliced ham, to accompany your aperitif. For the main, it is always a good idea to go for either the meat or fish of the day because you know it’s fresh and a dish just created that morning. And absolutely end the meal with the Île flotant, a soft meringue floating on a light sea of crème anglaise, if it is on the menu. It’s like eating a cloud, simply heavenly.
2. Rotonde De La Muette
Passy is a usually overlooked arrondissement of Paris, yet it is one of my favorites, with the superb Musee Marmottan Monet, the great shops, and the Eiffel Tower in view at every corner. And the best place to watch the world go by is on the terrace of the Rotonde de la Muette, a traditional brasserie inside, and a blue-hued terrace on the outside with the cutest bistro tables ever.
This is where to come for coffee, for lunch, for an aperitif, for dinner, and as it’s a brasserie, you can stay all day. Which, I have to admit, I have done: My husband and I arrived for lunch, ordered a bottle of rosé, decided to finish off with a coffee, but then had another bottle of rosé, and stayed for dinner. A perfect Sunday.
What To Order
For lunch, their salade Nicoise is big enough to fill you up, as are their cheese and ham toasties, for the colder season. For dinner, go for the sea bass or the tenderloin, accompanied by the thinly-sliced green bean salad.
3. La Palette
La Palette is listed as a historic monument, and this café-brasserie was once frequented by artists and writers including Cezanne, Picasso, Hemingway, and others. Inside the tile details are lovely, and outside on the terrace, you can watch the arty people of Saint-Germain-de-Pres bustling past. Very old style and not overrun, this is a great place to sit with a coffee and a light snack.
What To Order
You will not find anything fancy here, but the simple, typically French dishes are good. Go for an omelet, or ouef au plat jambon, fried eggs with ham, or the large salads.
Bofinger is a textbook brasserie: Huge, grand, with a superb Art Nouveau interior complete with stained-glass dome, and serving typically Alsatian brasserie food, with great seafood, steaks, sauerkraut, and beer. Located steps from the Bastille on the Marais side, as you come down the little Rue de la Bastille with the Bastille behind you, go to the Bofinger on your right; this is the one with the pretty dome.
What To Order
Absolutely start with a glass of champagne and six oysters, if you can face them, and, if you are a seafood fan, go for the whole caboodle of a three-tiered seafood platter. If not, then start with either the snails or the onion soup, and then have the Choucroute Bofinger, the Sauerkraut platter with pork sausages, or the wonderful sole meuniere, a whole sole. Finish off with the crepe flambee au Grand Marnier, a crepe set aflame at your table.
5. Brasserie Lipp
This historic brasserie on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Rive Gauche, lies opposite the famous cafes Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots and has been a favorite with celebrities for decades, if not centuries.
In the early 20th century, artists such as Jean Cocteau came here to eat, and in the 1980s, it was constantly in the celebrity pages with supermodels and Hollywood actors being snapped emerging from its door. And this is still ongoing, with celebrities sitting in the front room, and mere mortals eating in the back room. I spotted Sting and his wife Trudy Styler, and Colin Firth and his (then-) wife, when we were ushered into the backroom.
The interior is, compared to some brasseries, quite plain, but has nice tiles, plenty of mirrors, and fancy chandeliers, and the waiters can be rather snooty, but I guess that’s what you become from serving food to celebrities. Still, it’s an institution, and if you come at the weekend or during Fashion Week, you are bound to spot someone famous. Booking ahead — and turning up right on time — is essential.
What To Order
The food is very old-fashioned and traditional, with eggs in mayonnaise, snails, choucroute, and andouillette on the menu. I can recommend the salade de mache et betterave, lamb’s lettuce and beetroot salad, or the paté de Campagne, rustic pate served with baguette, for starters and the seared tuna steak or the steak with sauce Bearnaise for main. Finish off with the yummy tarte tatin, the traditional apple tart.
6. Bouillon Chartier, Pigalle, Chartier Montparnasse
A bouillon is traditionally a large restaurant serving basic, traditional food at a fast pace and at low prices. Once upon a time, Bouillon Chartier off the Boulevard Montmartre in the 9th arrondissement was the only bouillon, but in recent years Bouillon Pigalle (on Boulevard de Clichy), and Bouillon Chartier Montparnasse (on Boulevard du Montparnasse) opened to great acclaim, keeping the tradition alive.
The setting of each is absolutely stunning and gorgeous, with wood paneling, much glass, and plenty of mirrors. The menu is pretty much the same in each as well, very simple food, from egg mayonnaise to snails, but also some very typical French dishes, such as pork snout, calf’s head, or black pudding, so be careful when you order, as the menus are in French.
Thing is, you sit in these gorgeous surroundings, and the food comes quickly and without any frills at all, simply put on a plate with no pretensions, and before you know it, you’ve eaten and got the bill. And this is when it gets interesting, because the prices are so incredibly low, in the low 10s Euros for a three-course meal, that it makes for an experience you will talk about back home, over and over again.
What To Order
Try the snails, the leeks with vinaigrette, or simply the boiled egg with mayonnaise for starters, and the fish of the day, or a steak haché for mains, plus a rice pudding for dessert — as I said, no frills but tasty, and for Paris, practically free.
7. Brasserie Barbes
This is another of my favorites, a modern take on the old-fashioned brasserie, but with all the trimmings of beautiful tiles, mirrors, plenty of windows, and two gorgeous bars in an industrial setting. Brasserie Barbes is located by the overground metro station of Barbes-Rochechouart (hold onto your bag and do not have your phone in your hand as you exit and cross the road, it can be a bit dodgy around here), and is a stunning four-floor brasserie. Here you can have breakfast downstairs, enjoy an extended lunch or dinner upstairs, sit outside on the terraces further upstairs, and later, dance on the rooftop.
What To Order
The menu here changes regularly to accommodate the fresh produce of each season, but I have always loved the fish of the day. Equally, the steaks are great, the fries crispy, the desserts yummy, and there is a good mix of traditional dishes as well as some more modern takes. You will find something, whichever way you are inclined.
Pro Tip: If you are coming to Paris over a weekend, it is always wise to book a table at any of the above in advance, except for the bouillons, where it’s traditional to queue outside. As for most French restaurants, eating out at lunchtime, especially if you opt for the fixed price menu, is cheaper, while choosing the fish/meat/dish of the day is something most French would do, as it assures you that it has come from the market that morning and is cooked with special attention on the same day.
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