Chartier was a risky choice for dinner. On the one hand, the charms of a budget meal in a venerable institution still decked out in Belle Époque decor were obvious. On the other hand, the recent dining reviews had also been scathingly bad. But when we landed in the neighborhood with 45 minutes for dinner and no backup after our original choice in the equally atmospheric Passage de Panoramas was closed, we found ourselves at the revolving doors of Chartier with nothing to lose.
Indeed the atmosphere is the main draw at Chartier. The oversize dining room with soaring ceilings and mirrored walls is outfitted with elegant details from the 19th century, when the restaurant operated as a bouillon, or a soup kitchen focused on serving the blue collar crowd. Even the servers are dressed in outfits of yore, complete with bowties, waistcoats and long white aprons. I believe the contrast between the lovely room and the proletariat fare served would have been jarring even 100 years ago. The atmosphere was great too even in the early evening, the hustle and bustle within the dining room providing substantial entertainment value.
Like the decor, the menu has defied generations of change in the culinary landscape. On it, you will find brasserie stalwarts like eggs mayonnaise, grated carrots and roast chicken very gently priced with the cost of most mains hovering around the 10 Euro mark. With such humble pricing, table-turning is key for the restaurant, so everything, besides waving down the server, happens at a breakneck pace. It took us about 5-10 minutes to catch the attention of our pleasant but elusive server, but once he scribbled down our orders on the paper tablecloth, our plates arrived under 5 minutes. Even with dessert, we exited the restaurant within 30 minutes of sitting down, with ample time to walk to our next destination.
The food’s nothing to shout about by a long shot, but they largely met our dialed down expectations. I thought P’s confit de canard tasted slightly plasticky but he did not seem to mind it, while my sauteed pork with olives came with a very dippable savory sauce that I mopped up with bread. The semolina cake, which looked and tasted like bread pudding, was again ok but not quite worth the calories.
So would I recommend Chartier (not that it needs my help, it was positively teeming with tourists the night we went)? Err…. No. While it is perhaps one of the best-preserved relics of yesteryear’s Paris and the cost of entry is low dollar-wise, my focus is always on the food and our meal sadly did not pass muster. For a great cheap meal, I’ll rather spend my money at Chez Gladines, where you get not the old school experience but another authentic feel of the boisterous French bistro. And if you are bent on dining in a Belle Epoque space, I would steer one to an affordable luxury that is a pitcher of hot chocolate (you can even share!) at Angelina or Laduree. Either way, you’ll get a better price-quality ratio than at Chartier.
7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009, Paris