— 25th July 2003
and the other restaurant was.....
- We walked out of our hotel and down into an area call the Grande Boulevards, which is just really a string of roads in the north of Paris. We were looking for somewhere a bit closer to eat this night. I’d had a look in the guide book but we’d not really found anything. We didn’t really find anything on foot either. There were a few places that caught our eye but nothing really stood out and we came to a big crossroads and needed to make a decision about which way to turn.
- I don’t know about you but when I’m walking out to find a restaurant for the night on holiday I always go through the same thing. I start out happy and optimistic but if we don’t find anything quite soon I start to get slightly concerned. Once I’m concerned then it’s harder to find a nice place because my waning optimism causes places not to look as nice. After we’ve been searching for a while the hunger starts to kick in (obviously because it’s time to eat - that’s why I’m out there) and suddenly I’m just desperate to get somewhere (anywhere) just to get a seat and know that food is on the way. We hadn’t got to the last stage this night but I could see it looming up ahead.
- As we were looking around for somewhere to go Kirsty noticed the sign saying “Chartier” a little way down the road to the right. We both thought we recognised the name from the guide book so we thought, "what the hell", and headed towards it.
- Under the sign there was an entrance to a narrow side street with the restaurant door at the far end. Outside the door were a group of people forming a not-very-orderly queue. A couple of groups of four and then a crowd of around 9 young people (it wasn’t even clear if these were queuing but we kind of hung around behind them and soon people started arriving and waiting behind us). We couldn’t really see what was going on inside, and there wasn’t really any movement at the front. After a while a little man came out. He was middle aged, swarthy and thin and was wearing a grey suit. He looked hassled, with a sheen of sweat on his brow and slightly wide eyes. He was asking everyone in the queue for numbers. He was looking for a couple and luckily for us we were the first in the line so when he got to us and we said “deu” he immediately turned his back saying “follow me” and walked quickly back to the door. We followed.
- When we got in the first thing we noticed was the noise. There was a lot of it. Talking, shouting, plates, cutlery, bottles. And light too. After the dreary evening side street we’d come from this was a blaze of colour. Bright red, yellow, gold, all moving and in reflection on the mirrors lining the wallss. The room was big and square with a high ceiling and it was filled with tables. Rectangular tables to seat four placed along the walls and then in rows down the middle of the room. Above the tables were brass racks (like you’d get in old train carriages) were you could store your baggage. They were mostly empty although we did see a pair of roller blades on one. Throughout the restaurant waiters were scurrying. They all looked over 40 wearing black and white, and they all had that same slightly hurried (and slightly moist) look as the man who’d brought us in. He was now was signally into the centre of the room where a large fat man was standing signaling back. The message seemed to be “I don’t want 2! I want 4!” so our guys told us to “wait here” and disappeared out through the door again. We stood looking into the body of the restaurant and then looking back at eat other, sort of in awe.
- I don’t know whether this all sounds scary to you or not. It really wasn’t. There was definitely a feeling that we’d lost control of the situation, but at no time did I feel uncomfortable. You just got the feeling that these guys kind of knew their business and that you would be looked after. There was an assurance to them which underlay the quick business-like approach which caused them to dispense with pleasantries.
- Our guy returned with four people and ushered them into the restaurant telling them to go towards the big man in the center. The big man took them off out of eyesight presumably to seat them and in a moment returned signaling that he was now ready for us. "Follow that man". We walked off towards him. Not looking at us as we approached he continued to survey the restaurant looking for more free seats. Just as Kirsty (in front) reached him he looked down at her and giving her the biggest grin I’ve even seen turned on his heel and said "this way".
- We followed him across the room to the far corner where he promptly sat us down on a table for four with two people already on it. We had to squeeze past them to get to our seats, and so we found ourselves sat facing each other with two menus (an A3 sheet, printed one side) thrust into our hands. A quick scan of the menu showed that the food was the usual blend that we’d seen around and so we decided on a couple of steak based meals. The waiter came back to take the order but we hadn’t quite chosen a wine yet. I turned to Kirsty just to check which one she preferred and when I turned back he’d gone. Not enough time to stand waiting while people discuss the wine, he had other things to do, but sure enough he returned a few minutes later, by which time we had our choices thoroughly rehearsed. To our surprise he noted down our orders on the paper table cloth next to Kirsty and took no record of them with him when he left.
- The food was nothing special but it arrived promptly and tasted nice enough. The wine was good and the couple next to us finished and left only to be replaced almost immediately with another couple. Somehow it didn’t seem to matter. We spent most of the meal just looking around at the room at the waiters and the other patrons. There was a definite feeling of having stepped into another world. A step back in time.
- There was something gangstery about the place too. Maybe it was the all male staff (all of whom had a kind of Italian look) or the big guy in the centre directing traffic. Maybe it was some of the guests - half way through a group of 3 men arrived and sat on a table behind Kirsty, at least two of them looked like they’d come straight from the set of The Sopranos, and after the meal they all lit huge cigars and were still sat puffing away when we left. All this combined to create a sense of excitment which was great.
- At the end of the meal the waiter returned and using the notes he’d made earlier totted up our total onto the table cloth and we payed. I tried to catch the eye of someone on the way out (something I like to do) to say thankyou or just to give them a smile. They were all far to busy to notice.