I should learn to read the signs. Allard, a restaurant in the Alain Ducasse chain, boasts a “voiturier” – that’s French for someone who parks your car.
But who turns up to a restaurant in rue Saint-André des Arts, just off the Boulevard St Michel, expecting valet parking? It’s central Paris so you can walk, take the metro, hail a taxi. And even if you were to drive yourself (definitely not recommended if you drink alcohol), you would act like all Parisians and find a pavement somewhere to leave your vehicle.
Well, I ignored this indication. And paid for it. Hugely.
A close relative said Allard was wonderful for a celebration – you would remember it all your life . And we had a special occasion to mark. Founded in 1932, it claims to be one of the oldest traditional bistros still in business – its website boasts of a history going back to Marthe Allard who brought her peasant cooking to Paris.
Sadly, for our own pockets and the reputation of Parisian cuisine, what we remember most was paying three times as much as elsewhere in Paris (and it’s not a cheap city) for not much more. And it certainly has little left of the original spirit other than the building.
Our service was passably good – but hardly outstanding. I ordered gassy water – and a bottle of plain arrived. It was promptly changed. Still, and with no tap water on offer, this should not have happened.
We started – as it was a celebration – with a glass of Kir Royale. And we ordered a 500ml carafe of one of the cheapest white wines – €38.
The “amuse-bouche” consisted of cucumber in a vinegar sauce. It was tasty but with a touch too much of vinegar.
My starter was Pâté en Croûte (€28) while my partner had duck foie gras (€28). They were both delicious but would have been far less elsewhere.
I had sea bass (€42) for my main course. It was cooked well and with some imaginative berries on top. But it was minuscule and poor value for the price. My partner had turbot (€48) which she said was OK but nothing special. The vegetables were good.
The potatoes we ordered never arrived – except on the final bill although they were immediately removed.
Looking at the desserts on the next table – again nothing that stopped our taste buds in mid-sentence – we decided against a third course, moving directly to coffee which came with some decent chocolates.
The bill came to €210 – roughly three times what we paid for similar meals elsewhere.
What did we get for all those extra euros? The service is average. The ambiance is nothing special. While the tables are well spaced, sound travels easily so you can hear conversations all over. And some were loud.
There were no French people there when we went – mostly Americans who seemed to adore it, adding huge and unnecessary and unwarranted tips to their bills.
Other than my tiny Sea Bass, it’s hard to fault the cooking although it’s far from an “out of this world” experience. Why does it have to be so expensive? The answer remains – for me – opaque. The €34 lunchtime menu looks a better choice.
Allard has sadly become a pricey tourist trap. It does nothing to further the cause of traditional French cooking. Or the celebrity chef who owns it.
41, rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006 Paris
Open every day for lunch and dinner
01 58 00 23 42
Nearest metro St Michel