Postcard from... Paris


While Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Marie Curie were arguing the Dreyfus Affair in more upmarket Paris restaurants, Frédéric and Camille Chartier were serving broth to the poor of Paris in a former train station concourse – now a restaurant itself.

"Five million bellies have been satisfied here," claims Bouillon Chartier's owner Daniel Lemaire. The vaulted glass ceiling, copper fittings, cast-iron-footed chairs and smoky mirrors are just as they were in 1896. The menu is more varied but the cuisine much the same: traditional, nutritious and value for money.

The talking starts in the queue which snakes into Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, and before you know it, you're spinning through revolving doors into a time-warp. The service is immediate, as we and the couple behind us are propelled to a white-marble table with luggage rack above. The uniqueness is in the ambience: the throng of hungry travellers, pitched randomly into conversations they might never normally have. It's like meeting people on a train. Patrick is a food journalist which we hear as "futurologist"; so seek his predictions for the euro. Sonia, who has Greek/Italian forebears, sees the future more bleakly; she is a sea cruise facilitator in Switzerland. Laughter breaks out as the Merlot washes over the language barrier.

You sense ghosts of Belle Epoque soup-drinkers looking down, as waiters in long white aprons still glide between a fast-talking, fast-eating clientele; except it is less bouillon (broth) now, more steak frites (steak and chips).