Opening a quality restaurant in a train station is a fantastic idea. Three-star chef Éric Frechon has already done it with great elegance at Lazare in the Gare Saint Lazare, and now another three-star chef, Thierry Marx, has opened L’Étoile du Nord smack in the middle of the Gare du Nord, where fine dining used to be available only across the street at the Terminus Nord, unfortunately much less appealing now, in spite of its historic Art Deco decor, with the gradual downgrading of the cuisine by the Groupe Flo, which also owns a number of other historic Parisian brasseries.
My first impression of L’Étoile du Nord was not a happy one. There was a strong smell of cooking fish coming from the open kitchen in
the back, and the maître d’hôtel insisted that we sit in the drafty, barn-like ground-floor dining room rather than the prettier, warmer and cozier upstairs dining room, claiming that
it was fully booked, even though I had been told on the phone that tables couldn’t be reserved at lunchtime. She explained that bookings could be made only for large groups, but that didn’t account for the empty table for two sitting in the upstairs dining room when I went up to the restroom a little while later. It turns out that the upstairs level is a wine bar called Le Zinc, as opposed to La Brasserie downstairs, but they share the same menu.
Further annoyance was caused by the fact that there is no place to hang your coat except the back of your chair, where it inevitably trails on the floor
We accepted our fate, however, and settled in at our table in the middle of the ground floor dining room, hoping to be compensated by an excellent meal.
The restaurant serves typical bistro food, with a special for each day of the week. We chose the fixed-price lunch menu (weekdays only): two courses for €24, and three for €29.
I started with the egg mayonnaise, a classic bistro dish that is experiencing a revival. It was just fine, made with quality ingredients, but
it didn’t have me jumping up and down for joy. Some fresh herbs jazzed it up a bit. My friend had an excellent pâté with pistachios,
surrounded by a ring of wonderful mustard sauce, slightly sweet yet piquant.
He lucked out on the main course as well:
bœuf bourguignon (the Thursday special) with a rich, dark, winy sauce and fork-tender beef.
I loved my fish and chips at first, with its super-crispy crust, tender cod and slightly
smoky flavor, but I soon happened upon places where the thick batter had not cooked through, leaving a thick, gluey paste under the crust. Not pleasant. I thought that the bland white sauce under the fish could have used a little tartar-sauce treatment.
The servings looked small, but were actually quite filling, so we shared a pear tart for
dessert. No complaints there. It was perfectly delicious.
In spite of my reservations at the beginning of the meal, we did discover some advantages to sitting downstairs. The restaurant’s glass
La Brasserie. Photo: Sébastien Siraudeau
walls offer diners a full view of all the hustle-bustle in the train station while protecting them from it, and the noise levels inside are surprisingly low for a place with a concrete floor and ceiling, presumably due to the orange panels overhead, which match the orange designer chairs. The overall effect is rather cheap, but there was the luxury, rare in Paris, of plenty of space between tables. The upstairs dining room is plusher and cheerier, with its upholstered chairs, wooden bar, accordion-pleated wood ceiling, colored glass windows and colored lights.
Our server was a sweetheart, but not always present. In a train station restaurant, the service should be snappier.
I won’t make a special trip back to L’Étoile du Nord, but I will certainly go there if I happen to be in the Gare du Nord and need a bite to eat. When I do, I will try to get a table in the upstairs empyrean, but I am now reconciled to sitting downstairs with the hoi polloi if necessary.
Note: For travelers who don’t have time for a sitdown meal, the restaurant has a bakery, Le Fournil, where you can pick up a snack to eat on the train.