I went to Paris for a brief reunion with my God parents who had come over from the US. After a lovely walk along the Seine and a visit to Notre Dame, we decided to go for lunch at France and the World’s oldest restaurants, Le Procope.
Opened in 1686, started as a café where gentlemen of fashion might drink the exotic beverage coffee, or eat a sorbet, served up in porcelain cups by waiters in exotic “Armenian” garb. In 1689 the Comédie française was established across the street and the Procope became known as the “theatrical” café, and remained so. The world’s first literary café was born and, for over two centuries, everyone with a name, or who hoped to have one, in the world of letters, arts and politics was a regular to the Café Le Procope. From La Fontaine to Voltaire, Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Balzac, Hugo, Verlaine to mention but a few, the list of Procope’s « regulars » varies little from that of the great names of French literature. In the 18th century, it was a seedbed for liberal ideas and the history of the Encyclopædia is intimately linked to that of Procope where Diderot, d’Alembert, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin could be seen. During the Revolution, Robespierre, Danton and Marat met here and Lieutenant Bonaparte left his hat here as a pledge.
As soon as you walk in you get knocked for six by the history of this place and the close ties that it had with the leaders of the revolution, which changed the course of French Society. The walls are yellow with wall paper inscribed with the french revolution moto “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternity. Citoyens, Citoyennes (The male and female translation of Citizen) adorn the men and women’s toilet doors. Indeed during the Revolution, the Phrygian cap, soon to be the symbol of Liberty, was first displayed here. Crystal chandeliers and oval paintings of the Cafes most famous patrons adorn the walls, and walk passed open books written by some of France’s most famous writers who ate in the same place as you are now eating.
The service was great and it wasn’t only the setting in the heart of Paris that was great. The culinary feast which we ate was marvelous. We started off the meal with a glass of champagne with cassis. My godfather ordered house foie gras with toasted Panettone for starters and my Godmother and I had the traditional onion soup with gratinee cheese. It was probably the best soup I had ever eaten, with a massive tick layer of melted cheese which made up almost a third of the plate. Just fabulous. For the main course I chose the duck and had to order thin chips separately as no sides are included with the meat. My Godmother chose the steak tartar, which I must say isn’t for the faint hearted. Essentially raw mince with herbs and mustard, this is a very famous dish and it tasted surprisingly good. It was however quite rich. My Godfather had the Calf’s Head stew casserole 1686 style, which sounds disgusting but actually looked amazing. The whole experience was wonderful and a great thing to do if only in Paris for a short time.
We went to a Musee de Cluny, an incredible museum dedicated to medieval art which is set in a 15th-century abbot’s mansion with ruins of ancient Roman baths. I particularly liked the Lady and the Union, the modern title given to a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders of wool and silk, from designs drawn in Paris around 1500. They were so rich in color, incredibly large and beautiful in detail. It is no wonder it is considered the best piece of art from the Middle Ages.