I remember when you could go into almost any street Brasserie, Cafe, Bar or Bistrot in Paris and get a 'Biftek au frites', pay a reasonable amount and walk out saying: "They know how to do this, these French. Delicious".
We tried to find the old atmosphere at a recent 1-day trip to Paris, made possible by the only 2 ½ hour Eurostar door to door journey at £60 for a return ticket.
It was a mixed experience.
A confused and dirty Gare du Nord, a long queue at the single ATM in the arrivals hall followed by an even longer queue to obtain the obligatory carnet for the underground, was not a good start. It didn’t help that the EU-blessing of free travel for everyone seems to have filled Paris with hordes of begging Romanian gypsies, not to mention beggars on every street corner.
If this is Van Rompuy’s, Baroso’s and Schultz’s EU anno 2013, we don’t need it.
At previous visits we have begun the day with a simple petit dejeuner: cafe au lait, a baguette with jam and the breathing in of the atmosphere. We shouldn’t have done it this time.
A disinterested waiter did everything he could to tell these “Anglais” that they were not welcome. He managed to ignore us, forgetting to deliver jam and butter, ignoring the need for cutlery and plates and serving the cafe au lait as if it were a badly produced cappucino.
Apparently they charge 15% for service as standard on the bills in France these days! But not only that – the prices are roughly 50% above corresponding meals in the UK, even with a falling Euro.
My wife's omelette was the only star of the show. Clearly some French chefs have retained a little self respect - but there certainly were no extras for the waiter (which is what they seem to expect on top of their 15%).
So if you happen to pass Brasserie Sarah Bernhard around Tour St Jacques, don’t feel tempted to enter.
Later we had a more elaborate dinner, trying to convince ourselves that one bad experience shouldn’t be allowed to taint French cuisine and hospitality.
At the square next to the Metro Maubert-Mutualite there is a string of typical French shops selling wine, charcuterie, cheese and fish. It is like a little market and a very attractive one at that. Next to the shops, on the corner, there’s a fairly simple small Bistrot. We have been there before some years ago and had pleasant memories of our visit.
To make a long story short, if the food there is representative of what they can produce these days in France, at an exorbitant price, I can promise you that France will not last much longer as a leading EU-country. Perhaps it is too late anyway, as apparently the Muslims in Marseille and Avignon are having some success scaring charcuterie (pork!), wine merchants and lingerie sellers away. France without wine and sausages?
Nevertheless, Paris has a “Je ne sais quoi” and we enjoyed our 8 hours cruising Paris on foot, walking ourselves an inch shorter – even while some of the time we had to accept a light drizzle.
My personal enjoyment could of course be because of my memories from many trips to the city of cities – or Mother of all cities in today’s parlance - but we agreed it would ‘vaut le voyage’ to return.
Perhaps bringing our own sandwiches this time - - - -