If you’re after the new, the thrilling and the unexpected in food then you should stop reading this now. These are all things that Paris fashion is brilliant at and Paris food will sometimes have a go at, too. There is a new bistro movement in France, and I have enjoyed some places that provide it, but, really, I like red checked tablecloths and don’t think confit de canard can be improved upon.
I once arrived in Paris to meet a fellow I’d only spoken to online. This was in the earliest days of internet dating before everyone knew that everyone who does it is a loon. I should correct that as they aren’t loons now, they’re lazy loons. They can’t even be arsed to get dressed and leave their flats to meet you. They wait at home, hairy legged, for you to ring their bell. There is a word for that and it isn’t dating. Still, the fellow I was meeting had lived in Paris for five years, to which you may say lucky him except he hated every part of it, especially the red clothed part. We met near the Bois de Boulogne and he took me to a Brazilian-themed restaurant. Of course he did. There was wallpaper with birds on it and, I may be imagining this but I don’t care, jungle noises played through loudspeakers. If you think this led to romance then you are wrong.
The first place I head to after arriving at the Gare du Nord is Camille, in the Marais. It is service continué, so even if you turn up at four you’ll be able to have lunch. If you arrive before 12.30 you may find a table outside on the narrow pavement. They’re in the sun and I prefer not to squint while I’m eating. Anyway, I think the interior is more fun. I don’t suppose the decor has changed since it opened. There aren’t red-checked tablecloths, there are bare wooden tables polished by decades of elbows resting on them. There are wooden chairs and theatre posters and bustle. The general noise is a happy one, as you’d expect. The food served would surprise no one’s grandmother and will please everyone. Bread, as soft inside and crunchy outside as cliché allows, is delivered while you consider between, say, chicken liver salad and dressed leeks or smoked haddock and breast of duck. It may surprise you that the haddock is as bright and yellow as a child’s drawing of the sun. Desserts are of the île flottant and crème brûlée school of french pudding. You wouldn’t have it another way. Two courses will cost you €23, add a glass of wine and it won’t be much over €25.
These traditional brasseries aren’t touristy, although tourists go to them. They are part of quotidian Parisian life. Everyone eats in them and their lives are better for it. I’ll be in Paris again in September and I can’t wait to eat at Camille again.
Camille, 24 Rue des Francs Bourgeois, 4th arr.