Located at the corner of one of Paris' elegant old covered passageways (galeries), Le Grand Colbert is a traditional French brasserie dating to 1900 — but its history stretches much further back than that.
Tourists and local business people come for lunch or dinner not only for the solid, reasonably priced cuisine, but also — if not more so — for the opulent period dining room. With its wall-to-ceiling mirrors, ornate wall paintings, green plants and zinc bar, the restaurant seems frozen in Belle-Epoque Paris, and that's precisely its charm. There's even an imposing, humorously pompous bust of the man the restaurant is named for — Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a minister to King Louis XIV — jutting out from one of the leather booths.
The eye-catching tile-mosaic floors that grace the premises are identical to those found in the adjoining Galerie Vivienne, and for good reason: before it was made into a restaurant at the turn of the 20th century, the Colbert was itself a covered passageway, built in 1825 and a rival to the Vivienne. This long legacy led to it being accorded a great honor: being named a Parisian heritage site.
Serving solid traditional French brasserie fare and large shellfish platters, Le Grand Colbert is a good choice for visitors wishing to enjoy a meal in iconically Parisian surroundings. It's not a Michelin-star establishment, but that actually comes with one clear advantage: the restaurant is accessible for visitors on average budgets.
It shares these qualities with other classic Parisian brasseries such as the nearby Gallopin (see our full review here). When you're looking for a bit of luxury and tradition but can't afford too much pomp and circumstance, these traditional city eateries are a very good bet.
Arriving at the Colbert, the first thing you'll likely notice is how spacious it is — a feature that's accentuated by the aforementioned mirrored walls. High ceilings, soft pinkish light, ornately painted wall decor and deep leather booths plunge you immediately into a long-lost era; the Paris of the boulevards and the theatres populaires. From the Folies Bergère to the Theatre de la Renaissance, these were theatres and cabarets primarily catering to working-class audiences; they symbolized a bold new period of modernity in the capital.
There's something uncannily romantic about catching a glimpse of that bygone period, whether you're wandering through the area's numerous covered galleries and perusing its shops, or as the case may be here, dining in one of its historic restaurants.
The Colbert is great for tourists in part because the vibe is elegant but not overly-fusty. A semi-casual lunch is just as possible as celebrating a special occasion for dinner, dressed smartly for a show at a nearby theatre before or afterwards.
The servers are friendly and accommodating, willing to fulfil requests that elsewhere in Paris might be met with a slightly snooty eyebrow-raise (adapting a dish to your dietary needs, or fitting a stroller for young children beside the table). This makes it doubly attractive to visitors who may feel intimidated by establishments that aren't quite as understanding of their patrons' needs and requests.
The Menu and the Fare
Current owner Joël Fleury and his chef offer a pleasantly accessible —if not particularly inventive – menu featuring French classics, from blanquette de veau (a typically Gallic veal dish) to French-style rib steaks served with thick-cut fries.
A la carte options include Sole Meunière with steamed potatoes, duck confit with garlicky potatoes and salad, vegetarian "gratin" and beef tartare. Meanwhile, the large shellfish platters can include oysters, lobster, shrimp, mussels, crab, or all of the above, and are best enjoyed with a glass of dry white wine, such as Pouilly-Fuissé or Chardonnay.
But the fixed-price menus, offered at the same price whether for lunch or dinner, may be your best bet, especially on a modest budget. Try the "Menu Grand Colbert", which includes two dishes (starter and main dish or main dish and dessert) for 30 Euros, or three dishes for 40 Euros. Wine and drinks are not included. (Please note: these and other prices mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication, but may change at any time).
Options for starters include hot goat's cheese on mesclun salad (vegetarian option), Onion gratin, six oysters, or lentil salad with filet of duck breast and quail eggs.
Main dishes to try include a delicate curried salmon and lentils option, which is mildly spicy and pleasantly creamy, with notes of fresh cilantro. Other options include beef cooked for seven hours and served with mashed potatoes; duck breast fillet served with sautéed potatoes and salad, and ray (fish) with capers and steamed potatoes. No vegetarian option is currently listed on the menu, but it may be worth requesting one.
There's also a child's menu (less than 20 Euros) that includes steak or salmon with mashed potatoes, water with flavored syrup, and ice cream for dessert.
For dessert, the "cafe gourmand" is highly recommended: it's a traditional collection of French desserts in miniature form, from macarons to Paris-Brest puff pastry filled with hazelnut cream, to mini creme-brulees, all served with a strong espresso. All the cakes and pastries included in this preferred dessert of indecisive diners are delicious.
Other options for dessert include Baba au rhum, a yeast cake soaked in rum and filled with cream; chocolate fondant (served warm), faisselle with red fruit coulis (a light, yogurt-like fresh cheese), and, on the a la carte side, a variety of French cheeses.
The restaurant's full drinks menu includes French and international wines from white to red, champagne, cocktails, aperitifs and digestifs (after-dinner drinks). The hot chocolate and tea is also reputed to be good, and is served primarily in the afternoon.
Le Grand Colbert isn't the place to sample Paris' most groundbreaking cuisine-- but for a pleasant, historic setting that feels a bit like time travel back to the Belle Epoque, it's a good choice for lunch or dinner. The fare is quite decent, and is particularly accessible if ordering a fixed-price menu. The desserts are particularly good, and the service is accommodating. This restaurant should be on your radar if you want to have a day out exploring the old covered galleries of the Grands Boulevards, shopping and taking photos of the photogenic covered passageways.
The Restaurant At a Glance
- French-style cuisine of good quality
- The opulent Belle-Epoque dining room is a draw card in its own right
- The restaurant offers reasonable fixed-price menus whose price remain the same for lunch and dinner: while this isn't a budget restaurant, it's decent value for money
- Elegant setting in an old covered gallery nearby the Palais Royale
- The restaurant is open seven days a week and offers continuous service
- Child-friendly/the staff accommodates babies and young children
- Few vegetarian or vegan options
- The cuisine is tasty, but not particularly inventive
- A la carte options are fairly expensive: around $50 per person for three courses
Location and Further Details:
- Address: 2 rue Vivienne, 2nd arrondissement
- Metro: Bourse or Palais-Royale Musee du Louvre (lines 1 3, or 7)
- Tel.: +33 (0)142 86 87 88
- Hours: Open daily from 12:00 pm to 1:00 a.m. (nonstop service); afternoon tea is served between 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm.
- Reservations: Not required, but recommended at lunchtime during the week and dinnertime on weekends
- Languages spoken: English is spoken by staff
- Cuisine: Traditional French brasserie fare and shellfish platters. The full menu includes a la carte items and daily fixed-price menus for lunch and dinner. Afternoon tea features cakes, tea, and speciality hot chocolate.
- Payment Options: All major credit cards are accepted
- Dress code: Business casual to formal attire is recommended (make sure to avoid distressed jeans and t-shirts; ties are not required)