After a morning in the rather wonderful Museum of Immigration in Porte Dorée (worth visiting for both building and contents) we were famished. I’d scouted out Le Swann as the place to go in PD but that was shut so Bistrot de la Porte Dorée was our fall back option. And what an option.
To walk through the door was to enter a world that you’d find it very hard to find in the hipster fleshpots of the Marais or République. I suspected it would turn out to be an excellent lunch when the maitre d’ turned round sporting a burgundy shirt matched with a diagonally striped grey silk tie of which Doug Mountjoy in his pomp (c. 1978) would have been proud.
We were shown to a table beneath a kitsch version of a Dutch still life of fruits de mer and various other foods. Dotted around the room were portraits of legends of French chanson and film (Jonny Hallyday’s look was particularly fierce, he seemed to be giving me the gimlet the whole meal through) and the odd transatlantic icon, such as Bob Marley smoking a joint, thrown in for good measure.
A set menu was on offer, €32 for two courses and €41 for three, wine included. Bargain, especially as an apéritif of something pink and fizzy was part of the deal. The food was classic French stuff, making no concession to the past 40 years of culinary fashion and none the worse for that. With the apéro we munched on toast and pâté de maison and considered.
I went for a starter of beef cheek, always a favourite. A generous amount of cheek paired with a lentil salad and carrots. All good, apart from the carrots which were overly salted for my taste. A full-bodied 2009 Gaillac helped that down admirably and proved to be a more than adequate match for a main of rabbit and pasta. Did we want dessert? Yes, but we also wanted to be able to walk the half an hour to the Château de Vincennes so we just had a coffee instead.
So the food was good but the real joy of the room was the people watching. Our waiter, not a young man, had a plaited rat-tail beard of the kind found on superannuated trustafarians yet to reintegrate back into civvy street. Across the way a party of eight or so retirees consumed their lunches while arguing vociferously about politics. And to our left a lone lady of a certain age with improbably jet black hair demolished a bottle of rosé in single combat.
A bill of €70 was a bargain and the reason why I’ll never go back to the Bistrot de la Porte Dorée is that some memories are too good to disturb with fresh layers of experience. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, you should.
To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).