Solo dining is something I find hard work. Eating for me is a very social activity and so I love nothing better than to share a meal with someone. Sitting in cafes by myself is not a dilemma, but eating at a nice restaurant sometimes feels a little strange alone. Eating at a restaurant is partly about the experience itself and often that experience just isn’t as good when you are by yourself. There is no one to discuss the food or your fellow diners with, there is no ones meal to steal bites of and ordering for one means that you only get to try a very limited part of the menu. My problem was that for most of my three weeks in Paris I was alone and so in order to try out all the restaurants I wanted to I was going to have to do quite a bit of solo dining.
Filette de canette roti aux pommes
This meant that I was delighted to read this debate
on Chowhound about the best places to dine solo in Paris. A recurring recommendation was La Fontaine de Mars
for the charming waiters who were apparently only to happy to accommodate tables for one. What’s more London Eater
recently gave La Fontaine de Mars a glowing review following his trip to Paris and Barack and Michelle Obama ate at La Fontaine de Mars
on their visit to Paris earlier this year. It looked like there was only one thing for it, I made a lunch reservation.
Almost in the shadow of the Eiffel tower on the Right bank, La Fontaine de Mars should be packed with tourists (and it is) however on both my visits there were a lot of Parisians dining there as well. The look is classic bistro with red and white check tablecloths, leather banquette seating and wood panelled walls.
They were turning people away at the door but did not seem at all perturbed that I was eating alone and so taking up a table that could have carried two covers. The waiters were just as charming as the Chowhound reports suggested. They conversed with me in my basic French and then asked whether I would prefer the menu in French or English. If you don’t speak French don’t worry as their English is also perfect.
The menu reflects a focus on food from the South West of France and bristles with classic French dishes from foie gras to escargots. It offers good quality cooking without any culinary fireworks. The escargots were a prime example of this. The snails were removed from their shells, which takes part of the fun out of it
, and served in a slick of parsley, chopped bacon and butter. They were tasty but the accompaniments drowned out the flavour of the snails and left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied.
From the mains, on my first visit I ordered the confit de carnard landais which was a duck confit served with sauteed potatoes. The duck was dry and bland in flavour while the potatoes erred more on the greasy than the crispy side. It was disappointing after such great reviews of La Fontaine de Mars and such lovely service to have a mediocre meal. However, I decided that this perhaps was the curse of solo dining and I had just ordered badly.
The next week I returned and ordered the plat du jour which was filette de canette roti aux pommes, more duck with apples. This time, the duck was tender and pink with a rich flavour that was heightened by the slow cooked wedges of apple that were golden and caramalised. Dessert was another hit, the “floating island” is a classic French dish and I savoured the fluffy white island of meringue floating in a pool of creme anglais and topped with a light caramel sauce and a sprinkle of chopped nuts. Apart from the fact that the service was top notch on both visits, I almost felt as if I had dined at two different restaurants.
The service at La Fontaine de Mars is fabulous and it is a haven for tourists and solo diners alike however in my experience the food can be hit and miss. I think it is still worth a visit (even just to say that you and the Obamas share restaurant preferences) but just choose carefully when ordering.
Details: 129 Rue St Dominique, Paris 7eme, 75007, France (Ph 01 47 05 46 44)
Damage: Pricey. Mains hover around the €30 mark and there is no set menu, although the plat du jour is only €20 so offers a cheaper option.
Following my last trip to Paris I posted on how to eat snails
(if they are served in their shells). For French bistro cooking in London with the added bonus of BYO on some nights try Bloody French
in Notting Hill.