In Paris last week, with good friends Keith and Kathy, we were determined to do some serious eating. For Saturday lunch, we chose Hélene Darroze, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the 6th, not far from the apartment we had rented. For the Friday lunch, we settled on Le Train Bleu, a grandiose restaurant in la Gare de Lyon — one of the busiest railway stations in Paris, and the site of one of the funniest extended scenes in the 2007 movie Mr. Bean’s Holiday.
I can hear you snorting already: “Mr. Bean’s Holiday? Give me a break.” But really, if you haven’t seen this flick, please do. It’s not just classic bumbling Mr. Bean stuff, but a lovely, romantic and hilarious take on France, the French railway system, movies, the Cannes festival, with a great soundtrack, and much more. Including a priceless performance by Willem Dafoe (yes, really, as a completely self-absorbed director) and the scene in Le Train Bleu. In the restaurant scene, Jean Rochefort helps the hopeless Mr. Bean order the gigantic seafood platter, including whole langoustines and oysters that Mr. Bean has obviously never eaten. It’s wonderfully done. And so we — Keith, Kathy, my wife and I — thought it would be marvellous if we could try the same mountain of seafood for lunch.
So, back to us in Paris. Let’s start with the magnificence of the entrance to the restaurant, which directly overlooks the tracks (including the tracks for the high-speed train that goes to Provence):
But inside the restaurant, it’s a whole new (okay, old) world — of gilt and glamour and polished wood and brass and crystal. A blast from the past, you could say, but filled with business people in suits as well as tourists. So it’s a serious place. This next photo gives you a taste of the grandeur, but not the people crowding the restaurant, because I took the shot after our (very long) lunch was over.
My wife and I arrived first (Keith and Kathy having used the Parisian bicycle system, instead of a taxi, from La Musée d’Orsay, where we had spent the morning), ordered aperitifs, and studied the menus — only to find that, Mon Dieu!!, there was no seafood platter available. By this point, we were not about to be moved, and certainly our waiter (Christophe) was amusing and witty and charming, but we were still a bit miffed at missing out on the seafood. To start, both Kathy and I had the sausage encased in pastry, with a truffled sauce; pretty tasty, although the sausage was a bit firm (“rubbery” would be going too far — but not by much). It looked like this:
The main courses were, by and large, unremarkable — in fact, both my wife and I thought that our fish was a bit “fishy” and thus maybe not as fresh as it should have been. Probably the most remarkable finish to our meal was the cheese platter that Kathy selected. Here is what was served to her (with a roll in the centre of her plate). Note that this isn’t the cheese platter that was offered, this was the plate that she was actually served. Yes, it’s eight selections:
As a closing note, let me say that we were not very hungry that evening. But by Saturday lunchtime, we were ready to enjoy the food at Hélene Darroze. And so we did.