In the heart of the 1st arrondissement, next to the Louvre, sits Le Grand Véfour, one of the oldest restaurants in Paris. Appropriately situated in the Palais-Royale, the boyhood home of France’s grandest King, Louis XIV (the ‘’Sun King’’), this majestic restaurant has not lost its charm or grandeur since the time of Napoleon. When there you get the sense you are standing at history’s edge, and you are : not only is the Palais-Royale the home of royalty, it is also the venue where, ironically, these peaceful gardens became the spawning ground for French revolutionaries that overthrew the monarchy of Louis XVI, the great-grandson of Louis XIV.
With one of the most beautifully preserved dining salons in all of Paris and, thus the world, this regal restaurant, plush with ruby red velour seats, smart white linens, and museum quality gilded mirrors, tapestries and paintings, is a place for royalty, just as it was 200 years ago.
Napoleon and Josephine, Victor Hugo, Jean Paul Sartre, Honoré de Balzac and other French notables dined here, as did Julia Child, who favored this as one of the great ‘’haute cuisine’’ restaurants in Paris during her time. Brass name plates adorn the booths where diners sit – Balzac apparently was a regular in the booth where we sat for lunch. Other booths have nameplates of Victor Hugo and Josephine (Julia Child missed such recognition).
The service is impeccable. Multiple waiters adorned in their tuxedos, but with restrained elegance (no snobbery at this place), take care of you with an art of pure perfection. And despite the sheer grandeur, the clientele included a mixture of smartly dressed Parisian women lunching with their friends, businessmen, and casual tourists who did not know how to dress better. While I took pains to wear a suit and tie and my wife Joy smartly dressed in a black dress, a man sitting next to us was dressed in blue jeans and a black Puma t-shirt (and the wait staff was too polite to ask him to wear a jacket !). Another couple — Americans in their 60s – were clearly on a blind date – as they were telling their respective life stories about their grandchildren and former spouses, and the man wore a sportscoat but still dressed in blue jeans and tennis shoes.
Our lunch floated by, from an amuse-bouche (an aspic gel with light cream, potato and a saumon tartare), to a first course (crab with radish and avocat mousseline; foie gras), to a cleanser, to a main course (a loin of lamb ; perfectly cooked monkfish with a light sesame froth), to the famed cheese “chariot”, another light cleanser, to dessert (a rich chocolate pastry and, separately, a light tropical fruit pastry), to a gastronimic tray of homemade chocolates and candies, to a final plate of cookies and fruit paté. I have never seen such artistry in the presentation of food. Each plate was a museum pieces of its own.
At no time did we feel rushed or was there a dead pause. Three hours later, we finished our coffee and could have stayed even longer (it was already 3 :30), but went outside to enjoy a stroll in the gardens where Louis XIV played as a child and nearly drowned in the giant fountains which operate to this day. The perfectly lined chestnut trees were trimmed in the shape of giant boxes, spanning the length of the Palais that is nearly half a kilometer long. The beauty of Le Grand Véfour is that, while a rich experience on its own, its proximity to the Palais Royale, Louvre, and Galerie Vivienne allows a full-day of sight-seeing, if you have the energy to do so.
At a fixed price menu of 88 Euros (inclusive of VAT and tip, but exclusive of drinks), this lunch menu is one of the great bargains in Paris. The wine menu is extensive but has good values. I ordered a nice bottle of red Sancerre for only 35 Euros (as recommended by the sommelier based on our respective ‘’entrée’’ and ‘’plat’’ choices). A coupe de champagne will always hit your pocketbook, but a glass of bubbly Tattinger rosé was the perfect way to begin a stunning lunch. As Paul Child said, “you are so hypnotized by everything there that you feel grateful as you pay the bill.” (Julia Child, My Life In France at 56).
It is a true privilege to dine at this historic place, and Guy Martin has demonstrated with his technical skill and artistry that he is truly one of the top chefs in the city (which makes him a rock star chef not only in Paris, but the world). Julia Child said that she and her husband, Paul Child, left Grand Véfour “in a glow of happiness.” And so it is true today, just as it was in her days in the early 1950s. I rank Grand Véfour as one of the most memorable dining experiences of my life. This is a must visit destination for anyone desiring a superb lunch experience with the historic trappings of a royal venue in the actual palace of France’s most storied king.
More information may be obtained here : http://www.grand-vefour.com/fr/navigation.htm.
The restaurant is closed on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.
17, rue de Beaujolais
Sur les jardins du Palais Royal
Metro : Palais Royal
Contact Information :
Tel : +33 (0)1 42 96 56 27
Fax : +33 (0)1 42 86 80 71