The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Aug 16, 2011


When the boss worked in Paris, nearly thirty years ago, he was wont to go several times a week to Brasserie Chartier in the ninth arondissement. Cheap and cheerful food, he said, very uneven in quality. Sometimes decent, sometimes brilliant. He recommended I check it out on my recent visit to that city.

Over the years, others have reached the same conclusion. It has become a veritable tourist magnet. When I presented myself the other day, there was a queue of quivering visitors snaking out of the passage leading to the restaurant, down the Rue du Fabourg Montmartre and up to the Boulevard Montmartre. I looked at the line acerbically (it was unaffected) and stalked off.

Waiter at Chez Chartier, famous brasserie in Paris
Waiter at Chartier. Fancy, innit?
I came back the next day when Chez Casimir, the place I wanted to go to for its eat-all-you-can buffet, was too full to accommodate a sweaty visitor. It was nearly 14:30, and there were no lines at Chartier. Inside, the place was abuzz. Waiters in traditional waitering outfits whizzed around efficiently. One of them ushered me to a table for four. All the four seats were occupied, although only two had humans on them. The other two chairs had their belongings. The waiter urged the diners to collect their stuff, and plonked me on one of the newly vacant chairs. The diners smiled tightly at me.

I looked around. The interior was all brass and hanging lights, very French in that turn-of-the-century way. Before I could blink twice, the waiter had brought the day's menu card. There were main courses for 10 euros, side dishes for 2 to 3 euros, half-bottles of wine for 6 euros, desserts for 3 euros. Bliss! When my fish main course and champignons made an appearance, even the tightly smiling couple next to me were impressed.

Chez Chartier, Paris
Mancunian at Chartier.
I hadn't paid attention earlier to what they were saying. We had spoken brief bits of French to each other, and my own is not so good that I can discern accents. I sent a text to the wife ('Eating in a traditional brasserie next to a couple of Frenchies'); shortly thereafter I realised the couple were visiting Mancunians. ('The Frenchies are from Manchester!' went the next text.)

"What's he havin'?" said the man.

"Fish," said the woman. "And mushrooms."

I refused to let on that I spoke English. Their conversation was suitably entertaining. They compared Expedia and Thomas Cook. They agreed that the steak they had just eaten could quite well have been English food. They wondered whether they should take the funicular to Montmartre. They wondered what the Chartreuse dessert was. It turned out to be whipped cream dipped in Chartreuse syrup. Yuck, I thought.

My fish wasn't great, but the Champignons a la Provence were crunchy and munchy. The rose I had was refreshing, but otherwise forgettable. (I can only vaguely recall that I had a rose, in fact.) Dessert was good - a sorbet of cassis. The Mancunians looked on enviously.

They took a picture of me. I offered to take a picture of them. Their camera batteries were discharged. They asked me where I was from. I pretended to be Nepali. They had no idea what I was talking about.

"Kathmandu?" I urged. "No, no," they said. "We don't have any more batteries."

Service compris, said the menu card, so when it was time to pay, I did not plonk down a tip. The waiters courteously encouraged me to enjoy my Sunday and hoped to see me again.

They may have dressed like traditional French garçons, but by thunder they didn't behave like them.


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