Best Little Paris Restaurant You’ve Never Ever Heard Of

Les Fêtes Galantes

Les Fêtes Galantes

This Friday night, Oct. 23rd, I will be eating in my favorite restaurant in the world: Les Fêtes Galantes. I can already taste the lamb or veal shanks, the pâté and the rich desserts. Even now, I am virtually salivating as I write. Quietly tucked along a dark, nameless Parisian street within almost spitting distance of the Pantheon, this little hole-in-the-wall café serves sensational French food with exquisite taste and panache – all for just a fraction of the price of a BIG NAME bistro in the guidebooks.

I have dined here perhaps 10x over 13 years now, since 1996. That was the year my then 11-year-old son, Andrew, and I were searching for a good meal in the Latin Quarter (Rive Gauche) in the 5th arrondissement of Paris one crisp, chilly Spring night.

The front desk clerk at the St. Jacque Hotel (where we were staying) along Rue des Ecoles highly recommended our walking just 3 blocks up Rue des Carmes, then to turn left. He advised us to skip the pizza and have a French meal we’d truly remember.  Mai Oui! – was he right. I should have thanked him profusely. Perhaps even kissed him, as the French are wont to do, on both cheeks later.

Les Fêtes has just 11 simple tables and is tiny. I’ve seen walk-in closets bigger. There are business cards and cut out photos taped to the walls. It’s an eclectic place that eventually grows on you. Don’t kill the messenger, but women have been known to leave their brassieres for the chef, Bibi, who has a very unique sense of humour, hanging their lingerie in the rafters. Then again, do not expect all the sniffy arrogance of the Michelin star chefs: This is straightforward French fare cooked with simple creativity at a reasonable – for Paris – price.

The chef, Bibi, is not French but Egyptian. And the food he serves is fabulous. I use that word sparingly. But it’s true: La cuisine? C’est tres tres bon! Bibi has 3 levels of fixed priced 3 course meals. Go for at least the mid-priced one and you will NOT be disappointed. The desserts – and Rebecca knows this all too well – are to die for. The word CHOCOLATE will quickly have new meaning.

You have to arrive before 8pm to get a table. Anything later and you’ll stand in line. They now take Visa & MasterCard, but please realize going in that the tables are cheek-by-jowl next to other diners, so close you can finish someone else’s conversation. Within that cozy, shared atmosphere, I have sat and talked to patrons just feet away from me who have waxed eloquent about their dining sojourns to Les Fêtes.

On our very first visit, a student from La Sorbonne confessed that he saved up his francs to dine at Les Fêtes whenever he could…a meal there had become his monthly pilgrimage. I didn’t subscribe to his addiction at first, but I soon understood his convictions after just one tantalizing meal. I, too, became hooked; Still am. So, after Friday, I will have dragged Rebecca 3x to eat there. She indulges me. Anneke, now 18, has been there 2x. Lucky pup.

They say that people either eat to live…or live to eat. I’m the latter. Doesn’t make me a foodie. But as my waistline shows, I certainly know my way skillfully around a knife and fork. One of the perks of world travel is to try new foods, flavours and cuisines. That’s my explanation for now.

In the mid to late 90s, I travelled through Paris frequently on my way to Africa. My usual overnight stop was the Hyatt Hotel at Charles des Gaulle airport. On a few late Saturday afternoons I’d take the RER train into central Paris just to eat at Les Fêtes, then head back into the cool night on the train back to the Hyatt to sleep, then catch my Sunday morning flight to the Dark Continent. The long journey into the city for my very special meal at Les Fêtes was worth it. Good memories.

I could – and can – write far more descriptive phrases about the casual atmosphere and Bibi’s superb cuisine. But I will leave the web links below to provide better information and guidance. Click and enjoy.

But I WILL be enjoying every morsel on Friday night. Join us?


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