Early Wednesday morning, Daria and I brisk walked over to the right bank shortcutting via Notre Dame and the Hotel de Ville to get to the Centre Pompidou in the Beaubourg. I wanted to get a gift for my six-year old and she suggested we head to the museum’s design shop to get him something unique. We browsed around and I got him some invisible ink pens and a book from the Flammarion as well.
Afterwards, we went home to change for our lunch at the Brasserie Balzar. Daria’s husband was meeting up with a jewel designer he met on the Eurostar who had been to the same school in Paris as Daria twenty years ago. Aside from him, we were also supposed to meet up with a friend of Daria’s from Dubai, anesthesiologist Sylvie who was in Paris for a few days.
Brasserie Balzar has been in the same spot on the corner of the Rue des Ecoles and the rue de la Sorbonne since 1947. It is one of the last few remaining authentic bistros in Paris, like the Lipp, La Coupole and Bofinger (the latter two also owned by the Flo group). With it’s tiled floors, red leather banquettes and old-time waiters in their black waistcoats and long white aprons, it has remained a classic. It was a favourite haunt for literary left bank types that the French refer to as “intellos” because of it’s location right beside the Sorbonne.
I used to eat here alone a lot when I was completing my Cours de la Civilisation Francaise course in the early 90’s and loved the classic cuisine and the bustling atmosphere. The last time I had dinner at the Balzar was in 2001 when my husband and I met up with my in-laws in Paris for a few days. Since it’s also one of their favorites, they wanted to take us there for meal.
Many say that since the restaurant group Flo Brasseries bought them out this little place has never been the same and to a certain point, I tend to agree that the food is lacklustre but the atmosphere has never changed and the authentic brasserie-ambiance has remained the same throughout the years.
Clockwise from upper left: Poireaux Vinaigrette, Salad of lamb’s lettuce and beetroot, Steak Tartare and Rumpsteak
We arrived at 1:00 p.m. sans reservation so had a dink on the terrace first while we waited for a table to free up. We were seated about half an hour later and were starving by then so we ordered right away from their traditional menu that hasn’t changed at all. Daria and I shared the poireaux vinaigrette to start while the others had the salad of beetroot and lamb’s lettuce. For our main courses, everyone had meat – steak tartares, a steak au poivre and rumpsteaks along with a chilled Brouilly.
The food arrived quickly and didn’t disappoint. The leeks were soft and tangy in their mustard-based vinaigrette and my rump steak was very good and came with a big plate of hot, crisp frites. I tried a mouthful of Daria’s tartare to get rid of my craving and it was excellent – perfectly seasoned, spicy and sour and full of cornichons and capers.
The conversation bounced around the table and we talked about life in Dubai and life in France and how we all met – a very pleasant meal. Afterwards, the men refused desserts but us three decided on sharing the creme caramel and a mousse au chocolat. The creme caramel was light and not too sweet while the chocolate mousse was made from bitter chocolate and came with crispy, flaky gavottes or crepe dentelles which were very, very good. So good that Daria pocketed the few remaining packs to bring home to the kids for their afternoon snack. Espressos as usual to round up the meal then we parted ways with the men and I rode back to Daria’s with Sylvie in her tiny Smart car and Daria walked home as we couldn’t fit three people in the car.
We then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and as soon as the kids were tucked in, we went down the road to get some fantastic Vietnamese takeaway from Kim Lien – nems and summer rolls, lemongrass pork ribs, beef in onions and a chicken in coconut curry. Delicious and something I can’t get in Marbella. Daria and I stayed up chatting until past midnight then it was off to bed. Another full day in the city of light.
49, rue des Ecoles
5th arrondissement, Paris
Tel: +33 01 43 54 13 67
** Food – bistro classics that can’t go wrong at reasoanble prices
**** Atmosphere – bustling and authentic, try to get a banquette seat to best enjoy the view
*** Service – quick, effiicient and friendly to both locals and tourists