On a soft night in early September, the dining room at this long-running bistro with a winsome 1940’s charm in the heart of the Golden Triangle, or the chic neighbourhood that’s the powerhouse of the French fashion industry and which is bound by the Champs-Elysées, the Avenue Montaigne and the Avenue George V, is filled with a well-dressed and intriguingly international crowd.
“Everyday is a living alphabet of nationalities here,” quips a friendly waitress when she arrives at the table with flutes of Champagne over which to study the menu and is asked about this hugely popular bistro’s clientele. It’s easy to see why too, ever since it opened in 1936, Chez André has been a picture perfect rendering of what the whole world thinks a Parisien bistro should be right down to the big zinc-clad bar just inside the front door. As soon as you’re seated on a banquette, you’ve got a ringside seat to a busy, happy, lively show. There are the happy sounds of Champagne corks popping and cutlery on china, plus the low laughter-punctuated murmur of a crowd that’s eating well, the busy ballet of the waitresses in black dresses with white Collars, like something from a 1950’s film about Paris. Then there’s the visual and olfactory pleasure of a great gastronomic spectacle as white tureens of onion soup capped with melted cheese, pink slabs of foie gras, and garlicky-smelling escargots go by. In this spot of happy place, everyone looks at everyone else’s plate, so that the nice couple from Christchurch end up advising their pleasant opposites from Chicago that the roasted French lamb, a house specialty, is just delicious. “And since we’re Kiwis, we know a thing or two about good lamb too,” says the gent. But Chez André isn’t just for visitors to Paris. A young dark eyed Italian born designer who’s just moved to Paris to work for a famous French fashion house is happily tucking into a platter of roast chicken with a well-known Parisien fashion editor in another corner of the room, and an easily recognised French politician is sharing a bowl of chocolate mousse, and a spoon, with a strikingly beautiful blonde woman who may or may not be his wife. And a well-known weather girl from one of the major French television stations stoically and politely responds to repeated requests from other diners as to whether or not the weather will be good the next day as she tries to enjoy a perfectly cooked veal kidney with sauce Béarnaise. Then there’s the dapper older man in a well cut grey suit with a cornflower in his lapel who is clearly a regular, since he’s immediately escorted to a quiet corner table when he cornes through the front door and served a glass of Lillet, the apéritif from Bordeaux, a minute later “I’ve been eating here ever since my grandmother first took me as a boy the week that they opened,” he volunteers to the bemused English honeymooners next to him “And I think it may just be the only good habit I have,” he says with a chuckle, adding, “As long as we have Chez Andre, well always have Paris “
Where – Morris Visitor Publications