It was on Monday afternon that my companion suggested visiting another landmark of the Paris restaurant scene. We were drinking beer on a café terrace on the Place des Vosges, next door to Victor Hugo’s house: the setting perhaps lent itself to formulating grand plans. And this grand plan involved nothing less than Brasserie Bofinger.
Having nothing else planned for the evening, and after much thought and consideration (lasting 5 seconds) I assented to the suggestion. We made a reservation for the slightly-less-Anglo-Saxon hour of 8pm.
We were seated in one of the three upstairs rooms, up a spiral staircase that offers a great view of the Art Nouveau interior. Opened in 1864, Bofinger’s decor still offers the impression that the siècle is about to reach its fin.
However Bofinger’s reputation has preceded it, and there were a certain number of English and American accents on the tables around us. I also got the impression that the “tourists” were sent upstairs out of sight, while regulars were given preference in the grand salon under a spectacular illuminated stained-glass cupola.
For entrée, I chose an aubergine lasagne – tomatoes and stringy cheese in all the right places, while a certain other member of our group ordered half a dozen oysters: a dish that came with half a dozen pieces of special hardware including a dish of ice, fingerbowl and extra sauces of various descriptions. The butter was, of course, appellation controlée, and possibly the best butter we’d ever tasted.
My mistake was to have ordered an entrée. Because my main course was the Choucroute Spéciale Bofinger: a minor mountain range of choucroute with three different kinds of sausage, pork ribs, duck breast and potatoes. It was good, but perhaps a little too much for a single sitting.
We had however chosen the wine well – a moderately priced Alsatian Riesling which matched everything. I was defeated by the choucroute in the end. While my companions ordered dessert, I opted for a decaf espresso and a period of monastic contemplation.
Overall, I don’t think I would come back to Bofinger, unless a visitor to Paris really wanted to experience one of the city’s classic restaurants. The food was good, but not outstanding.
Far more entertaining was the activity in the rest of the restaurant. The waiters expertly shouldered enormous silver trays of food, wine bottles, glasses and napkins without ever dropping anything – even on the spiral staircase which led to the kitchen. The service was, like at Polidor, unfussy and professional.
Most impressive of all were the seafood platters ordered by our neighbouring tables – vast 100-euro-a-head affairs that looked like the entire cast of Spongebob Squarepants had been massacred on a satellite dish. Yes, we took photos.
All too soon it was time to leave. As my friend pointed out, almost nobody ever passes through Bastille métro station compeletely sober, and this time the buzz of Riesling was enhanced by a slow, deliberate waddle brought on by a little bit too much good food.
I’m on a diet for the rest of the week.
3 Rue de la Bastille
Menus start at 30EUR (Seafood platter for two: 112EUR)
Open 7 days