The humble Parisien bistro is a place that is without doubt embraced and enjoyed by loyal residents that drop in for a weekly feed or a pair of tourists that have blown in yearning a genuine foodie experience that’s off the well-trodden path. While there are many types of bistros around this town ranging from the new generation of modern and contemporary to the character-filled classics, I’m personally drawn to the ones that have a bit of character.
Forget nouvelle cuisine and molecular food torture, the friendly neighbourhood bistro with peeling walls and chipped tiles takes my pick any day, even if the food is a little rough around the edges.
A relic such as this deserves a visit, whether you’re fond of rustic food or not. Located in the 6th and just a stones-throw from Jardin du Luxembourg is Le Polidor, a gorgeous little place that has had its doors open since 1845. Once upon a time it was more of a dessert house specialising in creamy creations than what it became in the 2oth century, and still is today.
Blistering mirrors displaying the days specials and old photographs adorne the walls, lace curtains dapple the light, red and white table cloths add a splash of colour and those little pigeon-hole drawers were once used to lock up fabric napkins for regular customers of yesteryear. Ernest Hemingway even had his own napkin drawer until the health department decided against the practise and had it stopped.
The food at Le Polidor, as with the décor, probably hasn’t altered much since Hemingway rubbed elbows with other literaries at the wooden communal tables. The menu features the likes of foie gras, escargot, duck confit and kidneys & mash; no fancy sides just a simple plate of food, perhaps some sliced rye bread and a nice carafe of vin.
Boeuf bourguignon (€11) is something I’ve always loved so it was an obvious choice for lunch at this institution. I think the surroundings gave me slightly high expectations as when the smallish plate was set infront of me I couldn’t help but be curious of its insipid colour. Rosé rather than red? The flavour somehow matched the colour and the expected richness just wasn’t there. Another farmhouse dish is one of the utmost in regional peasant food – sliced and boiled pork & beef sausage, potato and onions arranged on a plate – voilà, and you have saucisson lyonnais (€10.73). Nothing special but it’s exactly what it’s meant to be; a humble plate snags and veg.
The last time I had rhum baba (€3.5) was in the late 80’s in my first year of professional cookery school where we made this once exotic yeasty cake heavily soaked in rum. Seeing it at Le Polidor brought back a few memories and my first spoonful also reminded me of its simple deliciousness. The amount of rum this little cake can pack is impressive and thank god for the crème anglaise to help cut through all that booze. Sadly the tarte tartin (€7.15) was a reheated sloppy affair that was more apple purée than anything else.
Just a step from the Seine and Hôtel de Ville overlooking the two Îles and Notre Dame is another institution that can be easily missed due to its unassuming exterior. This family-run bistro is wonderfully kitsch and resembles a rustic farmhouse with its display of old rakes, saucepans and cannisters, even a pinball machine at the entrance.
For those that don’t speak French, or can read it confidently, a translation book will come in handy as the menu is written in the local tongue. Great thing is that the staff are very obliging and will help out with deciphering anything so you can understand.
The food is traditional, unpretentious and generous and the set menus of €15.50 or €19.50 are exceptional value, both of which were ordered by our table of three. I ended up eating most of the assiette de charcuterie as it was a little too rustic, gelatinous and gritty for the others even though it was the first of their set meal. A trio of homemade terrines, a gherkin and salad. Nice.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the translation of the brick de chevre aux pommes but I knew it was a fritter of goat cheese and apple. What came out had us all trying to figure how it was made. It was delicious! Soft but still a little crunchy apple slices layered with creamy mild goat cheese and topped with a curious pastry of some sort. This is where I wished I spoke French as to get a full understanding of its construction. I need to start experimenting at home!
The mains on both menus were generous plates of meat with equally generous plates of homemade fries and gloriously fatty roast potatoes. My menu came with a main of onglet sauce du bleu, a classic bistro skirt steak that’s cooked rare to retain its tenderness. The French seem to love their meat on the well-undercooked side and it’s a must with this cut otherwise it toughens the more it cooks. The winning dish was the other gigot d’agneau roti au thyme. Supremely tender slices of roast leg of lamb with thyme and rich gravy. Just beautiful and worth the additional €1.5.
Desserts were equally rustic, yet delicious and the tarte pommes prunes (apple & plum) was a favourite, not that the cuit pommes wasn’t too shabby either. A baked apple with a mystery filling and honeycombed wafer on the side.
A pair of decent bistros indeed and the next time I’m in town I’ll definitely be dropping by Le Trumilou to explore the menu further.