Getting a dinner reservation at Le Comptoir du Relais in Paris is similar to winning the lottery. This tiny bistro in St Germain is booked solidly for several months in advance. Luckily for the disorganised amongst us (myself included) no booking is required at lunch and during August this policy extends to dinner. Time your arrival correctly (think just before 12.30 or just after 1.30 for lunch) and you are likely to only have to wait a couple of minutes for a table.
Diners on the pavement outside Le Comptoir du Relais
The chef and owner of Le Comptoir du Relais, Yves Camdeborde is known in France as one of the founders of bistronomie after he quit Michelin star chasing at Hotel de Crillon
and went on to democratise gastronomy by opening the bistro La Regalade
. Following on from there he opened Le Comptoir du Relais in 2005 with the aim of “perpetuating a French tradition of conviviality, but with a new younger generation” and the place has been packed ever since. Along with pedigree part of this popularity is to do with the size of the bistro, Le Comptoir du Relais occupies a tiny triangle of space although there are large French doors which open out onto the street. It is your quintessential bistro with an intricate mosaic floor and cheery buttercup yellow walls with red trimmings which pick out the colours in the mosaics. The team of waiters are almost balletic in their mastery of the confined space of the bistro, weaving their way between tables to fold a napkin here and top up a glass of wine there.
Freshly cut chunks of brown bread are brought to each table and in the French style there is no butter but you can always ask for some. Request tap water and a carafe will instantly appear allowing you to select from the wine list which includes very reasonably priced and eminently quaffable house wine at €3 per glass.
There are lots of options for a light lunch as well as the traditional bistro dishes. The salads on offer range from traditional salad Nicoise to the intriguing sounding Burrata
, tomato and fig salad. The latter is a jumble of Romaine lettuce, ripe tomatoes, quartered figs and large torn pieces of milky Burrata which is a cheese made from Mozzarella and cream. On a warm Parisian summers day it is refreshing yet still filling.
Burrata, tomato and fig salad
If you go, you must order Le Comptoir du Relais’ version of a Croque Monsieur which puts all other Croque Monsieur’s to shame. It is made with smoked salmon, Comte cheese and topped with a dash of caviar. Served with a small salad of Romaine lettuce smothered in a creamy dressing this truly is the Rolls Royce of Croque Monsieurs. Your smile will be even wider when you discover the price is only €9.
The dessert menu also offers plenty of treats from creme brulee to pannacotta. On my most recent visit there was a special dessert of strawberries bursting with ripeness which had been macerated in sangria. Served with a sprinkling of almonds and orange peel on top this was a true summer dessert and I could almost taste the sunshine. The quality of the ingredients and the simple preparation exemplified just why Le Comptoir du Relais is so popular.
Details: 9 Carrefour de l’ Odeon, Paris, France (Ph +33 1 44 27 07 97) Metro – Odeon. Le Comptoir du Relais is also supposed to incorporate a crepe stand next door but it is currently under renovations.
Damage: Reasonable (particularly for lunch)
Gourmet Traveller Tips
I stayed at hip hotel Mama Shelter
, a Phillipe Starck designed wonder out in the 20th. Housed in a converted garage each room has a slick imac which you can watch DVDs on, TV or use the internet, there are Kiehls toiletries in the bathroom and basically it is designer heaven. Rooms from €89.
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my review of lunch at the Rose Bakery
in Paris or if you are looking for a Parisian style bistro in London you should try Galvin Bistrot de Luxe