The last time I went to Pharamond, many years ago, the food was very good and a tad expensive, and the place, with its beautiful Art Nouveau decor, was nearly empty. Now that it has new owners, it is called Le Petit Bouillon Pharamond, the food is okay and very cheap, and the place is packed. Thankfully, the beautiful decor and the spiral staircase are untouched.
Bouillons, inexpensive 19th-century workers’ restaurants – many of them, like Chartier, with the kind of lavish interiors we drool over today (were they considered normal at the time?) – are all the rage in Paris now. One example is the hugely popular Le Bouillon Pigalle, which has a modern decor and serves decent food at low prices. It obviously fills a need, judging by the long queues that form outside at mealtimes.
The story of Le Petit Bouillon Pharamond is a bit different. Opened at its current location in 1879 by the Pharamond family, Norman restaurateurs who had arrived in Paris in 1832, it was renovated by them in 1898.
Although it only converted to bouillon style in June 2019, word has clearly gotten out already. People from all over the world were waiting for tables outside at lunchtime on a Sunday. We even got into a spat with a couple who claimed they were there ahead of us, but who decidedly were not.
When my lunch companion, Aline, scanned the menu, which lists old favorites like escargots, onion soup, bœuf bourgignon and confit de canard, she said, “Back to basics!“ Not that she’s against it – she also pointed out that restaurants like this are a good alternative to fast food and fancy, expensive restaurants.
Although there were a few updated dishes, probably directed at vegetarians, like macaroni and cheese with truffle oil and roast pumpkin stuffed with lentils and mushrooms, we decided to stick to the classics and started with deviled eggs and leeks in vinaigrette. They were made with decent ingredients and were tasty without anything extra to make them stand out. Aline found the vinaigrette rather insipid.
For my main course, I had the daurade (sea bream), which came with a flurry of fresh, finely sliced carrots. I didn’t like the look of the white sauce at first, but it was fine, and the fish was properly cooked.
Aline had the andouillette with French fries. The fries seemed to be house-made but weren’t especially flavorful. I tasted the andouillette, but I’m not a good judge of it – I still can’t get used to its gamey taste and springy texture.
The dessert, a shared tarte tatin (upside-down apple tart), an old favorite, was exactly like the other dishes in terms of quality: good but not great. The apple part was tasty, but the crust was soggy.
What it boils down to is that there are three good reasons to go to Le Petit Bouillon Pharamond: for the decor, for the very low prices or because you are in the Les Halles area and don’t want fast-food or an overpriced café. Other plusses are the bustling atmosphere and the friendly, professional service.
The lovely small dining rooms upstairs, by the way, where gentlemen used to entertain their mistresses away from prying eyes, can be rented for your own private affairs for an extra fee of €150 for the small rooms and €300 for the large one.