One of the perks of being a reviewer is that I occasionally get invited to openings and, also occasionally, I am so charmed by the place and the people that I want to write about them despite …
One of the perks of being a reviewer is that I occasionally get invited to openings and, also occasionally, I am so charmed by the place and the people that I want to write about them despite possible accusations of venality. This is the case with l’Atelier du France, whose owner, Didier Spade, has decided to build a cruise ship called the France (read about it here) and who, partly to help publicize his ambitions, has opened up a swish wine bar and lounge on the riverside at Pont de Grenelle, within spitting distance of the Eiffel Tower.
The famed original ocean liner SS France was renamed SS Norway in the early 1980s and was finally broken up in 2008. Bits of the original, including the tip of its nose, form part of the decor for the Atelier.
Spade has put Jérôme Moreau, a former sommelier from Lucas Carton and the Hotel Bristol, in charge of the food and drink and the menu reads like a roll call of the gastronomic great and good – think Bordier sardines, Schrenki caviar, pata negra ham, desserts from Ladurée – and you can even sip (very slowly!) a €110 glass of 1998 Château d’Yquem if you’re so inclined.
But you can also drop by for a coffee or try one of the cheaper tipples with a snack. The attraction of the Atelier is its comfort level, with a roaring fire in the winter and a deck outside to watch the boats from in the summer. I can see myself using it as a place for a pre-dinner drink and nibble in very congenial surroundings.
We were going on as a foursome to dine at Au Dernier Métro afterward, which, to use the understatement of the century, was something of a change of pace and atmosphere. The hugger-mugger atmosphere reminded me of Chez Denise (La Tour de Montlhéry, near Les Halles), although on a smaller scale and with a Basque touch, as evidenced by the wine list and some of the dishes on offer.
You have to fight your way inside, so great is the press of drinkers at the bar and of diners along one wall of the room, even when you have a booking (and you would be advised to have one and to be on time). There’s a small fortune in antique enameled advertising signs on the walls. The atmosphere is what it’s all about (you just have to accept that you’ll be voiceless before the night is out) and the staff is just plain delightful, especially given their trying working conditions – if this were Britain, the health and safety inspectors might be assessing ear damage.
The food comes generously portioned, and the wine choices will not harm your wallet. We got away with two starters and four main dishes plus a bottle of Irouléguy and a liter of sparkling mineral water for significantly less than the price of a glass of Château d’Yquem at the Atelier. This probably explains the general youthfulness of the diners.
The starters were eggs mayonnaise and a petit pâté Basque – a whole can of pâté that would feed four anywhere else. After that came a civet de biche, a copious venison stew. I had a well-cooked veal chop, half of which, due to my previous over-indulgence at the Atelier, I took home to Bertie the Gastrohound, who wondered why we were celebrating Christmas so early.
We stumbled out into the night in a general state of bemusement due to the general boisterousness and a surfeit of robust food – my neighbor pointed out that people normally fast for three days before a dinner at Au Dernier Métro. You have been warned.
There aren’t many places in Paris today where you can sample the authentic, historic bistro experience, and this is one of them, no doubt about it.
Au Dernier Métro: 70, boulevard de Grenelle, 75015 Paris. Tel.: 01 45 75 01 23. Open daily, serves until 2am. Métro: Dupleix or La Motte-Picquet Grenelle. Nearest Vélib stations: 54, boulevard de Grenelle; boulevard de Grenelle. A la carte: around €25.Favorite