In Review: Chartier Restaurant, Paris' Most Coveted Budget Brasserie

Restaurant Chartier
bnnvs/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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 in Paris, is housed in an imposing turn-of-the-century hall decked out on all sides with large mirrors, wooden paneling, 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 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, we finally decided to weigh in on whether Chartier deserves the status it still enjoys as an institution in budget French dining.

The Pros

  • Simple, classic French fare for very reasonable prices
  • Unbeatable Belle-Epoque setting
  • Friendly, vivacious service and warm ambiance abounds
  • Nonstop service all day long, including weekends
  • Central location: in close reach of several right-bank attractions and interesting neighborhoods

The Cons

  • 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 Details

  • Address: 7 rue du faubourg Montmartre, 9th arrondissement
  • Metro: Grands Boulevards, Bonne Nouvelle (lines 3, 9)
  • Cuisine: Classic French and continental dishes. House favorites include the 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.
  • 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 it's not uncommon to have to share a table with strangers.

It's noisy, cheap, and 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. 

The Dining Experience: Service

We've heard mixed reports on the service at Chartier, but have 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 we've even found them to be accommodating to vegetarians asking for special orders. It's not a Michelin-star experience, but given the prices on menu items, service here is perfectly fine.

However, the restaurant could improve where presentation and possibly even hygiene is concerned. During a recent visit, glasses and silverware were a bit less than perfectly clean, and the bread seemed like it may have been a little less than fresh. Other food writers have complained about hygiene and presentation there. Hopefully, some efforts will be made to redress this in the near future.

The Fare

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, the food is good for the price you pay. A recent 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. It was followed up with a favorite classic dessert: Mousse au chocolat.

It wasn't remarkable but did the trick for a chocolate craving.

The Bottom Line

Between the enthusiasts and the detractors, we tend to take a middle ground on Chartier. It represents a good choice for budget French dining and is worth a try if only to experience the gorgeous dining room. There could certainly be improvements on presentation and quality, and we 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, it's recommended for a cheap and entertaining night out in central Paris.

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