The other day we ate at Chartier on the rue de Faubourg in Monmartre. Formerly known as Bouillons Chartier, it was once a soup (or meaty broth) kitchen, and has fed ‘a billion bellies’ over the years according to its website. The restaurant came into being at the end of the 19th Century, when belle epoche architecture swept through Paris like a new broom, making everything ornate and chintzy and elegant. The giant mirrors, art deco lighting and maitre d’ in best bib and tucker greeting you at the door might suggest a large chunk of l’argent is about to be liberated from your sac à main, but actually the prices have remained surprisingly generous in both the centuries its been open (and now into the third).
The biggest drawback is undoubtedly the queue, though being a Johnny Rosbif I’m prone to eat some hours before the rest of Europe (people go out for dinner at what time?) Add to that the fact that in Britain the later you eat dinner the more posh you are, and you wouldn’t be too far wrong in estimating my teatime to be about half three in the afternoon. Get it down yer fookin’ neck and get to bed I say. We got in without much fuss or bother or waiting.
The waiter was a lunatic though. I mean I quite liked him, but he didn’t so much take our orders as shout at us what we were going to have. Then he scribbled on the table in thick black ink and he was off, to shout at some more people. Amazingly he turned up with pretty much everything we wanted, which makes me wonder if he’s wasted as a garçon; he should be putting spooky snake oil salesmen like Derek Ancora out of jobs by getting into the clairvoyance game. Speaking of Claire, towards the end of our dining experience he started being nicer to her, which she said may have had something to do with the fact he wanted a tip. Just cynical.
Tipping is strange in Paris I’ve found. Indigenous folk I’ve met and had coffee with get cross if you suggest tipping, quite rightly observing how expensive it is here. Also, as my friend Bobby pointed out, waiters and waitresses actually get paid quite well here, whereas in the US they might work for tips alone. However, go to a concert, and someone will show you to the seat you could have found just as easily yourself and will stare you down like a psychopath until you cross their palm with silver. They’ll even demand the tip, like it’s obligatory to hand one over, and not move until you’ve given them some money. Even though tipping is optional. Not to these smiling mercenaries it isn’t; pay up or they will kill you. They will hunt you down, slice off your head and put it in a horse’s bed. Neeeiiiiggghhh.