The whispers and queues on the streets of Paris have increasingly centered around the latest bouillon to open. If you don’t know what a bouillon is, you wouldn’t be the first. Think of them like Paris’s traditional working man’s caf’ – a pillar of 19th century society when it held the place of the paired down brother to the much fancier and pricier brasserie, which had arrived from the Eastern region of Alsace courtesy of Mr Flo (of the iconic Brasserie Flo).
Think heart home-cooked fare and brushing elbows in leather benches or along the bar. Yet, over the decades, the once elaborate interiors of the city’s Bouillons lost their sparkle in a nicotine-stained hew, steeped in a tiredness that even the hearty home-cooked fare couldn’t resurrect. Only Chartier, with its 8 euro steak frite and endless queues of tourists, was left. If the concept is historic, the recent revivals are anything but.
Take Bouillon Pigalle, which was the first of the pack to open last November, in the artsy neighborhood of Pigalle, with a contemporary interior, big wooden sharing tables and starters (think beef broth and home-made fish rillettes) that barely grace the 5 euro mark.
Following on, Bouillon Julien, designed by English designer John Whelan, opened in last September and has already been tipped as the city’s latest hot-spot thanks to its art-nouveau design and seasonal affordable dishes from head chef Christophe Moisand. It is the 4th bouillon/ brasserie that Whelan has redesigned in the past two years, encapsulating Brasserie Excelsior Reims, Brasserie Flo in Strasbourg, and finally, Paris’s iconic Brasserie Flo’s make-over in 2017. Yet Julien is Whelan’s first Bouillon, where he worked with a team of over 20 local artisans to recapture the atmosphere of a time long past, and accessible enough for every man to enjoy.