First opened in 1896 as "Le Bouillon Chartier", a cantine for the working classes serving up simple hot dishes comprised of meat and vegetables, Chartier is now a much-coveted address for inexpensive French fare in a gorgeous setting. The restaurant, set near the bustling Grands Boulevards neighborhood, is housed in an imposing turn-of-the-century hall decked out on all sides with large mirrors, wooden panelling, and a mezzanine level that allows a sweeping perspective of the whole dining room. Chartier is as famous for its inexpensive, basic dishes as it is for its congenial, teasing servers wearing traditional black waistcoats and white aprons, who scrawl your orders out furiously on the white paper tablecloths in front of your eyes.
Considered by many to be one of Paris's best budget French restaurants, others are far less enthusiastic: certain well-respected food writers have recently accused Chartier of compromising quality for ambiance or even of practicing less than optimal hygiene. Having been to dine there several times over the years I've lived in Paris, I finally decided to weigh in myself on whether Chartier deserves the status it still enjoys as an institution in budget French dining.
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- Reservations not accepted; long lines outside often await
- Quality of food is often rather mediocre
- Hygiene and presentation could be improved
- Not ideal for intimate tete a tetes: tables are often shared with other patrons
- Very few vegetarian and vegan options
Practical Information and Contact Details
Address: 7 rue du faubourg Montmartre, 9th arrondissement
Tel.: +33 (0)1 47 70 86 29
Metro: Grands Boulevards, Bonne Nouvelle (lines 3, 9)
Hours: Open daily with nonstop service from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
- Cuisine: Classic French and continental dishes. House favorites include whole seabass with fennel, duck confit, steak with green pepper sauce, herring with potatoes in oil, shredded carrots in vinaigrette, and escargots. Lunch and dinner menus are the same. See this page for the daily menu.
- Drinks: House wine, beers, soft drinks
- Price range: Approx. 15 to 25 Euros per person for full menu (starter, main course, dessert, wine). Starter plus main course averages 10 to 15 Euros. Please note that while these prices were accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change any time.
- Crowd: Bohos, cash-strapped students, performers from surrounding theatres and revues, tourists.
- Reservations: These are unfortunately not accepted. Make sure to arrive early (around 6:30 or 7 p.m.) to avoid waiting outside in long lines with the crowd. This is a highly popular restaurant and nearly always full.
Setting and Ambiance
The first time you walk through the large wood and glass doors and under the red vintage sign reading "Bouillon Chartier", you're likely to feel transported to a Paris of another time. The vast turn of the twentieth century hall has a grand and elegant feel that works in interesting contrast to the boisterous ambiance, no-frills service, and simple, incredibly inexpensive food. Don't expect quiet and intimacy at Chartier-- the two levels of the restaurant are always packed to the brim-- and I and my guests have shared a table a few times with strangers (including one sad patron who drank a whole bottle of red wine over lunch on his own).
It's noisy, cheap n' cheerful all the way down the line. One pointer: avoid getting a table next to the kitchen doors, where the steam and noise and bustle can make the dining experience a bit too stressful. Counterpoint: if you enjoy getting a behind-the-scenes look at a busy Parisian brasserie kitchen, this is a prime seat.
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The Dining Experience: Service
I've heard mixed reports on the service at Chartier, but I've always found servers there to be cheerful and friendly, if a bit jokingly brusque, "in the Parisian tradition" that requires at least a little teasing. It's always entertaining to watch as they scrawl out orders with amazing speed on the paper tablecloths, and I've even found them to be accommodating to vegetarian friends asking for special orders. It's not a Michelin-star experience, but given the prices on menu items, service here is perfectly fine.
I do, however, feel that the restaurant could improve where presentation and possibly even hygiene is concerned. During my last visit there, glasses and silverware were a bit less than perfectly clean, and the bread seemed like it may have been a little less than fresh. I've had no encounters worse than this, but other food writers I respect have complained about hygiene and presentation there. Hopefully some efforts will be made to redress this in the near future.
Simple, classic ingredients and preparation is the nom du jour at Chartier-- you'll find no Asian-inspired "fusion" dishes, fancy combinations of seasonings, or elaborate presentations. On the whole, I've found the food to be good for the price you pay. My last meal there consisted of whole seabream roasted with fennel and accompanied by green beans and "English-style" potatoes. It was perfectly decent, if a little underseasoned and overcooked for my taste. I followed it up with a favorite classic dessert: mousse au chocolat.
It wasn't remarkable, but did the trick where my chocolate craving was concerned.
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My Bottom Line?
Between the enthusiasts and the detractors, I tend to take a middle ground on Chartier. I think it represents a good choice for budget French dining, and is worth a try if only to experience the gorgeous dining room. I agree that it could improve on presentation and quality, and wouldn't argue with the assertion that it tends to rest on its laurels-- after all, it's guaranteed a constant stream of tourists. Overall, though, I recommend it for a cheap and entertaining night out in central Paris.