What could be more delightful than celebrating one’s birthday at a restaurant in Paris? My French neighbour in Valencia had recommended Brasserie Julien, in the 10th arrondissement. She said it had lovely food, beautiful ambience, pleasant staff and was reasonably priced. (One can pay the equivalent of a deposit for a small car for a meal at some of the Parisienne fine dining establishments!)
A short trip on the Metro brings you to the top of the street in this restaurant district – and straight into the middle of the early evening-shift prostitutes lining up against the walls. Wade through that crowd to get to the brasserie, where a hatted doorman welcomes you into a vestibule and hands you on to a charming maitre d’. It was as though you have stepped back into La Belle Epoque.
The waiter was pleasant and attentive, spoke English, took our order … a glass of champagne to begin. The foie gras was a perfect entree: velvety smooth texture, tiny toast triangles, fig jam. When the plates were whisked away I thought he moved a tad fast. No matter, the red wine and conversation were lovely. Next, chateaubriande, placed onto the table so rapidly that the little dish of sauce slid off one of the plates onto the pristine white tablecloth! Mortified apologies, a hasty clean up and a replacement of sauce. (The chateaubriande was cooked perfectly – but we thought pommes frites an unusual accompaniment.)
After which things started really going downhill. The waiter nearly collided with a colleague carrying five plates (no tray). The plate bearer did an amazing move, nothing was dropped or spilt, and he sashayed along to his table. The waiter then dived into the pathway of another colleague, equally laden, who did an equally skilful manoeuvre, and cursed at him in French.
The maitre d’ began circling.
When the waiter collected our plates, he managed to tilt them so that the cutlery and a sauce dish slid onto the table, stopping just before dropping into my lap. His mortification was rising, and we weren’t feeling too happy either. The guests at the next table, observing what was happening at our table, cleared space in the middle of theirs and leaned well back when he served their soupe a l’onion (in mini-tureens placed on small plates). The maitre d’ was firing off hissed words.
Crepes suzette – batter, brandy, flames (plenty of theatre here) is normally prepared by the waiter. The maitre d’ obviously decided this waiter shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near any of those ingredients until they were cooked, folded and slid onto the plate – action that was not going to occur at our table. You should be able to reasonably anticipate that delivering two plates, one in each hand, to a table wouldn’t be too difficult. But it was. We even cleared space on the table and leaned back. As he placed my plate in front of me, he was unaware that he was tilting the other, pouring brandy sauce all over the spare chair. We and our neighbouring guests all cried out in alarm at this fiasco. There was still some sauce on the plate and at least the crepe didn’t disappear onto the floor.
No, merci, no cafe.
And no tip.