Dinner at the Bistrot des Tournelles was the perfect kickoff to the Paris rentrée, the back-to-school and back-to-work season. A welcome throwback to earlier times, the smallish restaurant opened only a couple of months ago near Bastille and is already packed with jubilant customers. Lots of cheek kissing – yes, Covid seems to have been forgotten – among diners at different tables indicated that many of them were already regulars or otherwise acquainted.
Owner Édouard Vermynck, who maintained a discreet presence behind the century-old French marble bar, has connected with the past here in two ways: by reverting to the bistro’s once-upon-a-time name, as seen in the antique photo on the restaurant’s website, and by putting together a menu that concentrates on classic French bistro dishes like egg mayo and andouillette, all of them made with excellent seasonal ingredients, sometimes with a modernizing twist, making it a worthy successor to the previous tenant, the much-loved and -regretted Gaspard de la Nuit (one of the first restaurants reviewed on Paris Update).
The dining room was cozy and comfortable, lit by candles and decorated with vintage prints. The service was provided by an adorable and amazingly efficient young man, who took care of all the tables by himself with promptness and a ready smile.
I was looking forward to trying the eggplant millefeuille, which I had heard was special. It was tasty, but less exciting than I thought it would be, with thin slices of eggplant interspersed with a dense tomato sauce.
Much more interesting and satisfying was the salad of perfect heirloom tomatoes with figs and pieces of bread (the crusty bread served by the restaurant, by the way, was delightful) drenched in a perfect vinaigrette.
A true standout was the daube, a wonderful slow-cooked stew I have not seen on a Paris menu for years –if ever. I think the last time I had it was when the elderly uncle of a French friend made it for us way back when. Anyway… The stew of tender chunks of beef in a rich, dark sauce with olives was served atop magnificent mashed potatoes. Pure comfort.
My friend had a simple dish of merlu (hake), topped with chopped Datterini tomatoes and served with green beans. Everything was extremely fresh and cooked just right.
For dessert, we shared another old-fashioned dish, a tarte tatin, made with reine claude (greengage) plums instead of the usual apples and served with unpasteurized heavy cream. We were surprised that it was served refrigerator-cold and thought it would have benefited from being warmed up, but it was so good that we didn’t mind in the end.
The Bistrot des Tournelles is now one of my official go-to restaurants in the Bastille area, conveniently located near the Bastille opera house.