Bravo to Pierre and Guillaume Moussié, the brothers behind the highly popular bar and bistro Chez Jeannette and the Hôtel Providence, for coming up with the brilliant idea of opening a modern-day bouillon, Bouillon Pigalle. What is a bouillon? you ask? It’s a big, inexpensive workers’ restaurant with shared tables, which came into being in the 19th century. Think of Chartier, the only authentic one left in Paris, and you’ve got the picture.
The Bouillon Pigalle does not have a gorgeous 19th-century decor like Chartier, but it seats 300 and has just the right bustling atmosphere. And the food is better.
The idea has obviously struck a chord with Parisians. There are plenty of pricey restaurants in the city, but not many that offer decent food, super-friendly service and a great ambience at very reasonable prices. The restaurant, which takes no reservations, attracts long lines of hungry Parisians every evening. My young friend Rachel and I had to wait around 40 minutes to get in at 8:30, rush hour for dinner in Paris.
Rachel started with a salad of crispy fresh watercress (traditionally, this would have been lettuce) with walnuts, while I opted for a classic bouillon offering: escargots. They were delicious, with lots of parsley and butter, although I would have liked a touch more garlic.
We both had beefy main courses. Her pot au feu was almost too beefy and could have used more vegetables and broth. The traditional cornichons were supplied but not the gros sel.
My bœuf bourguignon, served with coquillettes (elbow macaroni), was tasty and contained the requisite button mushrooms and pearl onions.
The servings were large enough that we were unable to finish, probably because we had eaten lots of bread (not the best I’ve ever had) while waiting and also had a side order of some great French fries (only €2.50).
We still went for dessert, however. My profiterole was great: giant sized and drowned in a super-chocolatey sauce. The ice cream had the texture of the soft ice cream we used to get as kids in America, but it tasted better, and the puff pastry was house-made, as is everything here (a meaningful fact, considering that many everyday Paris restaurants simply boil up ready-made vacuum-packed meals).
Rachel had the poire Belle Hélène, with the same ice cream and chocolate sauce, plus some whipped cream and pear. I think she was hoping for more pear, but this dish is actually more like an ice-cream sundae.
For this hearty dinner with copious servings, we paid only around €20 per person for three courses. That’s cheaper than the fixed-price lunch menu I had at Radioeat a week earlier, and the food was actually better at Bouillon Pigalle.
Happily, the decor doesn’t try to imitate the old-fashioned bouillons but is pleasingly modern, with a few nods to the originals, which always had brass hat racks above the tables. Here we find a wooden version, with a few ferns providing some welcome greenery, where customers can stow their bags and coats.
The only question left is, why don’t more entrepreneurs open restaurants like this? It’s a smart thing to do, and it’s what the people want!