Learning to cook starts with learning to eat. Our sons’ education, in contrast to mine, started at a young age. During the lockdown, when we’ve been forced to live together for the first time since they went off to university, that education has paid off handsomely. Only last night James cooked us an excellent fillet steak with garlic mushrooms as a treat after a rather trying couple of days.
If you want to learn to eat classic French food in style there are few places better to start than Le Train Bleu. We were in Paris sans maman (who was looking at rocks somewhere in Spain) and we needed somewhere to go for James’s birthday.
Le Train Bleu came to mind as the ideal venue due chiefly to Mr Bean’s Holiday, which features the lad himself struggling through a platter of fruits de mer under the watchful eye of Jean Rochefort. Mr B, clearly, had not been successfully taught to eat during his childhood. The boys thought it was hilarious.
The boys, while charming in the photographic record, were not always on their best form during our stay in Paris, generally flipping between boredom and bursts of sibling rivalry. My best ally in keeping a lid on my own temper was the patron of the bar across the road who gave me free wi-fi, occasional childcare (‘Bonjour les gars! Qu’est-ce c’est aujord’hui?’, and pastis.
He also gave me his enthusiastic assessment of Sarko (it was an election year), his robust opinion on the French football team (‘Pas français’) and London (‘Trop d’immigrés), which was less appealing but at least made me feel like I was really in Paris. I’d put a link but sadly it looks like it’s shut. Or should I say, ‘C’est terminé.’
I’m sure Le Train Bleu will survive this thing unchanged, as it has been pretty much since it opened. The room is vast, and it being a birthday I’d booked a table over-looking the platforms so that the boys could watch the trains pulling in and out. Inside the décor is beautiful frescoes of sunny destinations on the line south through the Midi to Nice and Menton. Even a trip to the loo is a treat with a walk past the former newspaper room (now a nice little cubby hole to slug a whiskey while waiting for a train) and period traps when you get there.
The food is top quality trad French cooking so it’s best to have laid in a tour of the Jardin des Plantes (as we had) prior to arrival to earn those calories. The boys took snails to warm up while I had a gin and tonic.
Mains, we had a few (it is twelve years ago after all) and then on to the main event. I’d asked for a cake and boy did we get a cake. A certain amount of jealousy ensued from le benjamin but that was swiftly overcome by our filling ourselves on cream, meringue and juicy raspberries.
After that it was a stroll to the jardins to do character-building climbing (them) and sleeping on a bench (me).
This was the first of quite a few trips to Le Train Bleu and each time it was a highlight of the trip to Paris, whether a full-blown lunch or a pitstop for a quick steak and red. Service, food and ambience – that’s what you want. And good company – despite the gags the boys were, and are, good company. Please let us be eating good food in happy restaurants with family and friends soon.
To see other restaurants I’ve been to (possibly near you!) go to the 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).