With 1 Michelin star, and an impressive menu of classic French dishes, Benoit gives you the tradition you’re looking for, in a relaxed Bistro setting.
Everyone knows that France excels at food. From its fine cheeses to its pâtés and crepes, and baguettes. they have created some of the best dishes. They have also developed a food culture to match, and the whole experience of dining is a fine-tuned art. When you think of French restaurants, you imagine quaint and cosy little bistros with period furniture, golden age artwork, and dark red awnings overhanging the sidewalk seating. These are the traditional eateries of France, and to visit one is to get a taste – not just of French food – but of French culture.
These bistros are all over the place in Paris and I’m sure that every one of them serves up some delicious food. Being the foodies that we are though, we wanted to try the best, so we made a point of visiting Benoit – the only Parisian bistro with a Michelin star.
Both outside and inside this place has that classic look, and as we were visiting for dinner, the warm glow emanating from its windows made it look extremely appealing in contrast to the darkness surrounding it. It looked just like the café from the film Amelie! The smells which greeted us were equally inviting, as was the busy but relaxed atmosphere. Every seat was filled with people drinking from little glasses of champagne, and the waiters danced around them to bring food which looked as good as it smelt.
All this is overseen by the manager who strolls around supervising his staff and holding a truffle in his white gloved hand. It was an added bonus to be there during truffle season and I eagerly accepted his offer to grate some off for me. So far Benoit had scored full marks, and despite its classy take on the bistro experience, it managed to get the balance right. There was no unnecessary stuffiness or formality, and despite the high-class food it retained the classic Parisian atmosphere.
The restaurant first opened in 1912, and was passed down through several generations of the Petit family for almost a century. Over the years it established itself as a popular spot amongst locals, and was the go to place for traders at the local Les Halles market. The Petit family developed a menu (complete with quaint hand drawn designs) which they drew from France, and which tried to incorporate dishes from as many of the varied regional cuisines as possible.
They must have been doing something right because in 2005 the Benoit brand was bought by superstar chef Alain Ducasse whose restaurants hold a staggering twenty-one Michelin stars. He set about adding his own twist to the restaurant’s menu while at the same time retaining the ethos behind its offerings, and all its traditional charm of the building itself. He has since gone on to open Benoit restaurants in Tokyo and New York, so if you are ever in either of those cities it is worth keeping an eye out for them.
As soon as we sat down, we were given a basket of fresh French bread and hand sliced butter. Both of these are made in house, and they were just perfect. The butter had the perfect amount of salt, and it was so good that I was tempted to try and smuggle some home with me to eat with breakfast the next morning!
After perusing the menu while enjoying the bread, we ordered our starters and mains. To begin we went for two uniquely French dishes and shared them between us. The first was Pâté en Croûte – a dish made by baking paté in a pie-like pastry crust. It was delicious, and served with butter lettuce leaves. Our second starter was a cookpot of tiny spelt and spiny artichokes, served with Foie Gras.
One of the specials that evening was pan seared sea scallops and tender leeks drenched in truffle cooking jus. The whole thing looked and tasted great, and despite its rich taste it was surprisingly light. Chris went for the mallard duck which was cooked in a cocotte dish, and came with beetroot and dolce forte – a sauce which mixes unsweetened chocolate with vinegar and raisins. Despite the unorthodox list of ingredients, Chris reported that it was very tasty and that all the flavors came together perfectly to compliment the duck. The icing on the cake (literally as well as figuratively) was dessert. We shared a millefleur cake which an impressive combination of bitter chocolate and creamy butter sandwiched between layers of puff pastry. Alongside this we ordered iced pistachio and passion fruit nougat, which was sweet, tangy and refreshing.
Benoit turned out to be everything we had hoped it would be. We got to experience that authentic bistro atmosphere, while at the same time sampling some of the exceptional food. It would make the perfect place to meet up with friends or to celebrate a special occasion. It is also a great option for visitors looking to get a slice of Parisian culinary culture.
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