Paris is inextricably linked with a host of writers and artists that have passed into legend: creatives from Edith Piaf to Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso to Josephine Baker, have taken pleasure in the city of light and used it as their inspiration. La Coupole is no exception: this Art Deco restaurant, in the unassuming location of the fourteenth arrondissement, has seen all of these famous faces and more meet and romance under its roof. Today it continues to welcome locals and tourists alike – although despite the place’s eminence, it remains surprisingly easy to get a table (alright, so October isn’t exactly high season – but still). So is this ease of reservation a bad omen? Has La Coupole, after years of basking in its legendary status, finally succumbed to a rut of mediocre food and overpriced drink, and bitten the dust?
Not at all. It’s evident that there are many local businessmen who visit the establishment regularly, judging from the welcome accorded to them by staff, and regular local visitors are always a good sign. However, newcomers are certainly not frozen out either: we too were greeted warmly, despite my mother blatantly being a tourist, me being 20 minutes late, and us ordering nothing more exotic than tap water to drink. On the whole, this was most unFrench but most pleasant.
Very French, however, was the food. Having plumped for the two-course €30 menu, we began with a classic of a main course: a beauty of a Hereford steak, served with chips and Béarnaise sauce. Cooked to perfection (we asked for medium rare, and that was what we got), the meat was beautifully tender and flavourful, with a wonderful crust serving to contrast the Béarnaise sauce in both flavour and texture. This dish also represented exceptional value for money: if we had ordered it à la carte, it would have cost €25 by itself.
Dessert, equally, did not disappoint: while my mother ordered the dessert of the day (a layered pistachio and raspberry concoction), I went for another French classic: a fondant pudding made with Guanaja chocolate, served with salted caramel ice cream. While texture-wise it was a little dry (with my opinion likely being influenced by the most wonderful chocolate fondant recipe I have found, by London-based chocolatier Paul A Young), the flavours were undoubtedly supreme.
Staff were swift and courteous throughout proceedings, which was impressive given the size of the place, which has hundreds of covers. We did, however, have time to admire the art adorning the walls and ceilings of La Coupole. While some Art Deco features have been kept, such as the rectangular golden columns, there is also a fair amount of graffiti-style modern art on the walls, which doesn’t appear to be of as good quality and detracts from the venue’s 1920s history. Nevertheless, the surroundings are magnificent, and as far from red-and-black restaurant clichés as you can get.
While some might consider a price tag in the region of €60 for two people as being a little expensive for lunch, you without doubt get value for money: excellent food, bustling surroundings (even on a weekday lunchtime in low season), a unique taste of history, and yes – even efficient and friendly service. Now THERE’S something I never thought I’d say in Paris. Wonder if Hemingway would agree…
102 boulevard de Montparnasse, 75014 Paris