The bistrots of Paris have witnessed eras of gastronomic change. They began as unpretentious eateries for the working class, evolving with the city’s shift to industrial urban living in the 19th century. In the 1950s and 60s, as the urban post-war French population changed its tastes, these straightforward dining venues saw a rise in their appeal. Such was the case that many Nouvelle Cuisine chefs began their ventures in these modern bistrots: Michel Guérard with his Pot-au-Feu, Alain Senderens at L’Archestrate, and Jacques Manière at Le Pactole. This was a stark contrast to the lavish grandes maisons where they had learned their craft. Yet they did rapidly elevate their cuisine to meet the Michelin star standards.
|Table of contents
|1. The origin of bistronomie
|2. Bistronomie outside of Paris
|3. Bistronomie today
|4. The best bistrots in Paris
Unfortunately in the 1980s and 90s, many bistrots faced a decline in food quality, slowly lessening their charm. This downturn coincided with the rise of industrial agriculture, marked by intensive livestock methods and the prevalent use of synthetic fertilizers. Simultaneously, the adoption of freezing and microwaving became commonplace in many restaurants.
Still, a small revolution was to come.
The origin of bistronomie and its key players
In the 1990s, Paris’s culinary scene experienced a transformation with the emergence of ‘bistronomie’. Central to this change was chef Yves Camdeborde, who, while cherishing the sophistication of fine dining, was disheartened by its exclusivity and exorbitant prices. Further complicating matters, the economic fallout from the Gulf War made launching a restaurant gastronomique a daunting task. Tackling these obstacles head-on, Camdeborde introduced a restaurant that seamlessly blended gourmet quality within an ambiance that was convivial, relaxed, and approachable.
Camdeborde’s vision had a profound influence on the established culinary world. Many chefs wholeheartedly embraced this evolving trend, including his mentor Christian Constant, Thierry Breton, Stéphane Jégo, Eric Frechon and Antoine Westermann, a three-star chef. Many of these pioneering chefs, including Camdeborde, Constant, Frechon and Breton, had crafted their skills at grandes maisons like the Hôtel de Crillon. More notably, even Alain Senderens, a stalwart of the Nouvelle Cuisine, would make a bold statement in 2005 by giving up his three Michelin stars to introduce a simpler dining ethos too. As the momentum of the bistronomie trend continued, Bertrand Grébaut and Sven Chartier, both trained by Alain Passard, further amplified its popularity.
Soon enough, chef-businessman Alain Ducasse also jumped on the opportunity to cash in. He started with Spoon, a fusion casual eatery, in 1998. Then, he added a bouchon-style restaurant, Aux Lyonnais, to his collection in 2002. His growth didn’t stop there, with the addition of two more bistrots, Benoît in 2005 and Allard in 2013.
The term ‘bistronomie’, amalgamating ‘bistrot’ and ‘gastronomie’, would be coined by food critic Sébastien Demorand as late as 2004. Essentially, bistronomie represents a fresh take on classic dishes, using modern culinary techniques. It emphasizes the importance of local and seasonal produce, supports small-scale producers, and allows chefs to showcase their creativity. This movement distances itself from any Michelin star aspirations, allowing chefs the freedom to create dishes that truly resonate with them. Nowadays, characteristics of bistronomie include a friendly dining environment, smaller venues, straightforward layouts, fewer staff, simple table settings, and notably delivering high-quality food at more affordable prices.
The rise of bistronomie, at its heart, is an homage to conviviality, the joy of dining, a sentiment reflected by Brillat-Savarin. By placing conviviality at its core, it democratised haute cuisine, making it accessible to a wider demographic. The goal was clear: to reintroduce the essence of haute cuisine in a more approachable manner, thus eliminating the intimidation factor. As Camdeborde succinctly put it, bistronomie is about appreciating ‘the good, the beautiful, and the shared,’ highlighting that great taste isn’t just about the cost of ingredients.
While Camdeborde’s vision was instrumental, one mustn’t overlook the influence of Le Baratin during the 90s and 2000s. With its emphasis on natural wines and traditional cooking set against the backdrop of an authentic bistrot ambiance, it set the blueprint for establishments such as Le Chateaubriand by Iñaki Aizpitarte and the later and more modernistic Septime by Bertrand Grébaut or Frenchie by Grégory Marchand.
Bistronomie outside of Paris
Though bistronomie is deeply rooted in France, it did not emerge in isolation. For instance, its rise coincided with the launch of the Slow Food manifesto in 1989, led by Carlo Petrini. Although initiated in Paris, this predominantly Italian movement was a counterpoint to the increasing dominance of fast and industrialized food. Around the same time as Camdeborde’s ventures, in 1994, across the English Channel Fergus Henderson opened St John’s, heavily influenced by traditional French cuisine. Located in an old smokehouse, the ambiance of his restaurant harkened back to a traditional butcher shop – simple and genuine. Here Henderson championed his ‘nose-to-tail’ philosophy, which resonated with the bistronomie‘s use of lesser-known meat cuts to keep the experience affordable. Interestingly, 1994 also saw Paul Bocuse introduce Brasserie le Nord in Lyon, reflecting the evolving culinary mood, though not directly linked to bistronomie.
In Spain, where the opulent ambiance of French grande maisons is less common, bistronomie has nevertheless flourished. Places like Gresca and Nairod in Barcelona, along with the more sui-generis StreetXo in Madrid, are good examples of a technical cuisine, with great produce and wine in a relaxed ambiance. The UK mirrors this trend with restaurants like Lyle’s, Harwood Arms, and The Sportsman. Meanwhile, in the last decade, Italy has rekindled its love for the classic trattoria-style restaurants, spearheaded by the efforts of Diego Rossi at Trippa.
Bistronomie in the modern sense covers a vast culinary spectrum, often priced under 100 euros, the minimum one might typically expect to pay at a restaurant gastronomique. While the original essence as conceived by Camdeborde still lingers, Contemporary bistronomie can, at times, command prices upwards of 50 euros per person and the cuisine has become very creative with a return to focusing on aesthetics. Nonetheless, the heart of bistronomie remains consistent: quality food, evocative flavours, and a relaxed atmosphere.
During our stay in Paris, we identified several types of bistronomic restaurants:
- Some centred around the increasingly popular natural wine. A wonderful article by Chris Howard in Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages explains this phenomenon well, complemented by his correspondence with Katia Nussbaum.
- Others appeal to a nostalgia of traditional and regional dishes in a 1930s bistrot setting.
- Meanwhile, other neo-bistrots try to offer modern creative gastronomy in a relaxed ambiance.
We will structure our guide according to these different types of bistrots.
Where to find the best bistrots in Paris?
|Bistrot des Tournelles
|Café des Ministères
|Le Comptoir du Relais
|Bistrot Paul Bert
Bistrot des Tournelles
Located near Place des Vosges, Bistrot des Tournelles might have just opened in 2022, but its aura is steeped in an idealised classic Parisian charm. Designed by Édouard Vermynck, previously of Entrée des Artistes, its interiors showcase a 1930s Paris, complete with vintage bistrot chairs and a grand French marble bar. Chef Geoffroy Langella, with roots in Aix-en-Provence and training from École Ferrandi, crafts a menu that celebrates French culinary traditions. Each dish, from the rillettes and andouilles to the cordon bleu, the sirloin steak or the daube à la Provençal, sings of simplicity, authenticity and precision. The care devoted to the cooking and the quality of the produce exceeded our expectations.
The wine list is still evolving, primarily featuring natural wines with offerings from Valette, Ruppert-Leroy, Puzelat, Foillard and Dutraive.
Café des Ministères
In the posh 7th arrondissement, Café des Ministères has transformed from a neighborhood café into a popular, hard-to-book bistro, while retaining a similar look. This remarkable transformation springs from the combined efforts of Roxane and Jean Sévègres. Jean, enriched by his experiences in haute cuisine kitchens including those of Alain Ducasse, Franck Cerutti, and Bernard Pacaud, directs the kitchen, while Roxane ensures a warm and well-coordinated dining experience. Their menu marries France’s rich culinary heritage with fresh, innovative twists. Standout dishes include the vol-au-vent with sweetbreads, poultry, and truffle jus, as well as the award winning stuffed cabbage (chou farci). However, we were unimpressed by a dry and overcooked boeuf bourgignon and found the wine list lacking a bit of excitement.
Bottom row (from left to right): Profiterole, glace vanille, sauce au chocolat de Nicolas Berger; Babà au rhum.
Le Comptoir du Relais
Le Comptoir du Relais, situated in the heart of the bustling Carrefour de l’Odéon, encapsulates the vibrant spirit of Parisian bistronomie. With its close-set tables and strikingly yellow walls, this noisy establishment offers a menu from noon to 11 pm, deeply rooted in local and fresh market produce. Originally under the guidance of Yves Camdeborde, after several back-and-forths, today chef Bruno Doucet continues its tradition, merging casual with refined dining. During our visit, we deemed the food quality to be decent. However, the prices seemed a bit steep considering the service and the dishes’ complexity. Their wine list stands out, especially the natural wine offerings; however, be prepared for a hefty markup. It seems that the restaurant was more budget-friendly in its earlier days.
Bistrot Paul Bert
Bistrot Paul Bert is the brainchild of Bertrand Auboyneau, showcasing his profound love for local produce and wine. Situated in the traditionally working-class neighbourhood of Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the bistrot, with its classic Parisian ambiance, boasts mirrored walls, eclectic art, and tiled floors, which, alongside roving chalkboard menus, evoke a quaint, timeless charm. The menu, curated by chef Thierry Laurent, is a hearty celebration of French cuisine, spotlighting seasonal ingredients sourced from their own Normandy farm à la Passard and Brittany’s best shellfish, courtesy of Auboyneau’s wife familial ties. Amidst a bustling atmosphere, patrons are enticed by an array of classic dishes, from a quintessential tartar to steak au poivre with frites, sole meunière, the babà au rhum or soufflé. The cuissons are impeccable and the wine list is one of the best in the city.
Bottom row (from left to right): Ganevat Plein Sud; Soufflé au Grand Marnier; Babà au rhum.
At the top of the hill of Belleville, Le Baratin has remained a haven of unpretentious charm since its inception in 1987. The driving force behind its enduring appeal is Raquel Carena, the Argentine chef and owner. Remarkably, without any culinary training, Carena found inspiration in Paul Bocuse’s La cuisine du marché and her visits to gastronomic restaurants like that of Olivier Roellinger. With the guidance of a new hire with experience in Paris’ grandes maisons, her cuisine grew into an authentic and unpretentious style that would mark the world of bistronomie forever. During its peak of popularity in the mid-’90s and 2000s, Le Baratin was the go-to spot for chefs like Pierre Hermé or Michel Bras. Iñaki Aizpitarte considers it one of his biggest influences.
The bistro’s ambiance is very casual, embodying a that 1950s aesthetic that fosters a nostalgic feeling. With the tables and chairs tightly squeezed to maximise the covers, the centrepiece of the main dining area is a bar, abundantly stocked with wine bottles. Towards its tail end, Raquel can be seen hard at work in her open-door kitchen. A neighbouring room boasts a commanding painting and shelves brimming with culinary and wine titles, from Conticini’s Sensations to The wines of Burgundy.
Before ‘natural wine’ was a buzzword in Paris, Le Baratin was already leading its advocacy. Philippe ‘Pinuche’ Pinoteau, the manager/sommelier and Raquel’s partner, has been amassing an outstanding wine collection in his cave. Some of the most treasured wines aren’t listed (Leroy, Mugnier, Overnoy), seemingly reserved for close friends and longtime visitors. Still, their by-the-glass offering presents over 20 affordably priced wines, many of which are Pinuche’s latest discoveries, perfect for those keen on trying new producers. If it’s your first visit and Pinuche greets you, brace yourself for a cool, perhaps abrasive welcome. Bénédict Beaugé in his book Plats du jour sheds light on the historically complex and sometimes sadomasochistic rapport between bistrot chefs and their clientèle. This power dynamic, be it through a mother or a grumpy chef, has always existed. Such a portrayal aligns fairly well with what one might experience at Le Baratin.
Bottom row (from left to right): Noix de ris de veau braisée entier au beurre citronée; Crumble aux pommes, crème crue.
The menu, inscribed on a blackboard, is a daily ode to fresh produce and authentic flavours, offering a spread that is both delicate and hearty. The offerings, while rooted in tradition, carry a personal touch, an echo of Carena’s culinary philosophy that champions the unadulterated essence of each ingredient. Since 2004, Raquel has been working extensively with offal, cooking some of the best brains and sweetbreads we have every had. It’s truly remarkable that regulars can enjoy a three-course meal for just 23 euros during lunch. In a way, the cuisine of Le Baratin reminds us to the soulful popular offerings of the original Can Roca restaurant – traditional recipes, accessible and done well. The difference here in Belleville is the quality of the produce, the care and consistency of the food coming out of the kitchen, the exciting wine offering and the more intimate setting.
A few hundred meters from Place de la République, Vantre is another example of modern bistronomie, bringing technique and produce from haute cuisine to a bistrot with contemporaneity. Under the guidance of Marco Pelletier, a renowned sommelier with notable roles at Le Bristol and Taillevent, the restaurant has flourished as one of the most forward looking wine selections in town. Be it natural or not, Marco will always surprise you with great new finds. The role of chef at Vantre has been less stable, from Iacopo Chomel, with his experience at Passage and Saturne, to Masaki Nagao, formerly at Le Clarence and now leading the kitchens at Gagnaire’s Duende in Nîmes. We haven’t been back since the departure of Nagao, so we can’t attest for the level of the food for now.
Here, the ambiance also radiates a 1950s bistrot charm, enhanced by its quiet street and high ceilings. Inside, dark wood panels and roughly 15 marble tables set the scene. The menu with Nagao shined for its savoury preparations that reminded us of Christophe Pelé’s food, with the sea urchin and pigeon pithivier standing out. However, the desserts didn’t captivate us as much. The vast wine list, with well priced wine by the glass, also included some of Pelletier’s own cuvées as a vigneron, including the elusive Le Galouchey or his collaboration with Rajat Parr in Champagne, Le Mesnil sur Oger. A gentle reminder: Pelletier’s character can be a bit like that of Le Baratin’s Pinouche, although not so extreme.
Bottom row (from left to right): Tourte de pigeon with foie gras, pigeon jus enriched with fat of foie gras, quince jam, cresson sauce and green peas; Cuisse de pigeon confit, Produttori del Barbaresco 1990; Mont-blanc with meringue and hojicha.
Le Verre Volé
A notable mention goes to Le Verre Volé for its exceptional natural wine list. The food is unfortunately disappointing (poor cuissons, simple and boring) and expensive.
Jeanne-Aimée, established in March 2022, embodies the most modern form of bistronomie. Fresh organic ingredients, sourced directly from co-owner Dan Humphris’ farms, provide a canvas for chef Sylvain Parisot who has experience at haute cuisine restaurants like L’Astrance and La Marine. Breaking from the traditional aesthetics of 1930s or 50s bistrots, Jeanne-Aimée shines with a modern, minimalist design drenched in sunlight. The open kitchen, where Parisot’s skills are on full display, complements the soothing jazz that fills the room. The menu, a modest yet inventive array, echoes Parisot’s penchant for vegetable-centric creations with an aesthetic that aligns closely with Barbot’s at L’Astrance. Modern dessert offerings have combinations of flavors like green apple and Chartreuse crémeux with mozzarella and green peas. These showcase the more daring and creative type of bistronomie we mentioned earlier in this article. The price? A three-course lunch is available at 39€.
Opened in 2017 by the Franco-American chefs duo Robert Compagnon and Jessica Yang, Le Rigmarole marries French and Japanese culinary arts, particularly through its signature grilling on Japanese binchotan charcoal. Being English speakers, they have attracted a significant number of English-speaking patrons. The venue is marked by a warm, minimalist decor and a standout walnut wood counter. In 2021, the pair ventured into Folderol, centered on wine and ice cream, also hosting sporadic pizza pop-ups with baker Dan Pearson. Come October 2023, in an effort to harmonize their roles as parents and business owners, they’ve recommenced lunch services at Le Rigmarole.
Located on Paris’s vibrant Avenue Parmentier in the 11th arrondissement, Le Châteaubriand is steered by the inventive Basque chef Iñaki Aizpitarte. Unlike many bistronomie chefs, Aizpitarte’s expertise wasn’t crafted in grandes maisons but in more casual venues. Taking a heavy influence from Le Baratin, the restaurant radiates a similar ambiance and champions natural wines, but proposes a more creative cuisine. While inventive, the dishes are still unpretentious and like Carena’s, they respect the essence of the produce. The restaurant had a great reception, climbing to the 11th position on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2010, and further to the 9th position in 2011. This was an unprecedented recognition for a casual restaurant, topping the charts with Noma, El Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz, and even ahead of legendary French chefs Pascal Barbot, Joël Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire or Alain Passard. However, since 2016, it no longer features in the list.
The venue of Le Châteaubriand follows its original 1930s brasserie décor adorned with zinc fixtures, high ceilings, narrow tables and vintage signs advertising Chambertin Grand Cru for a few francs by the glass. Dominating the space is a large blackboard, heralding wines from a wide range of biodynamic, organic, natural or simply low intervention winemakers, most of which are available in the wine list. Think Foillard, Dutraive, Selosse, Ganevat, Radikon, Pfifferling, Berlioz, de Moor, Pacalet, Valette, Dario Princic, Tscheppe, Tschida, Oggau… On the culinary front, anticipate a carte blanche French menu with bold flavour combinations and sometimes touches of technical modernity like foams. The resulting space perfectly captures the modern bistronomie vibe, being both casually inviting and gastronomically sophisticated.
Bottom row (from left to right): Radikon – Ribolla Gialla 2012; Poulet fermier, polenta, ricotta fumée; Glace de rhubarbe, espuma de amandes.
Bistrots still in our bucket list
Le Bon Georges, Capitaine, Les Enfants du Marché, Le Servan, Eels, Le Villaret, Aux Deux Amis, Aux Lyonnais, La Poule au Pot…