Stretched along the left bank of the Seine at the edge of Saint Germain des Prés, and just a stone throw away from the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame, the Quai des Grands Augustins has been the domain of “les bouquinistes” for over four centuries.
An Historic Paris Institution
As soon as the Pont Neuf, the then new bridge that is now the oldest remaining one in Paris, was inaugurated in 1609, people flocked there, drawn by the spectacle of its lively stew of street vendors, performers, quacks and charlatans of all stripes. Before long, it had also become a favorite of second-hand book peddlers, who doubtless found this medieval version of the shopping mall a convenient alternative to itinerant markets. Over time these bouquinistes, as they were called, spread out along the banks of the river. They are still here today, with their traditional green box stalls overflowing with used and antiquarian books, vintage magazines, posters and postcards.
The Guy Savoy Touch
But my favorite place to linger on the Quai is not a bookstall but rather the habit-forming “avec Guy Savoy” bistro across the street, Les Bouquinistes, named as an accolade to this historic Paris institution. Widely recognized as one of the greats chefs of his generation, Guy Savoy is known for his nuanced adaptations of the grand French culinary classics. In addition to his eponymous luxury-dining shrine, he is the owner of five bistros around Paris, including Les Bouquinistes. Here, he takes an active part in the development of the overall menus and individual dishes while entrusting their execution and the management of the kitchen to talented young chef Stéphane Perraud.
Bisto Fare with Flare
My most recent meal here begins with a sumptuous gazpacho where all the flavors of garden fresh summer vegetable and herbs are further enhanced by generous dollops of cucumber sorbet and perfectly aged, creamy Burrata cheese. My dining companion also opts for a soup starter, a foamy emulsion of velvet crab bouillabaisse garnished with crab ravioli. I can’t resist claiming of spoonful of it. The frothy liquid is a subtle burst of complex ocean flavors blended with lemon grass and a touch of ginger, a perfect foil for the generous crabmeat ravioli.
My entrée is a luscious carré d’agneau en croute, a lovely medium rare loin of lamb wrapped in golden, flaky puff pastry and served with grenaille (roasted new baby potatoes) and braised eggplant. My friend’s braised breast of suckling pig is set on a bed of haricots de Paimpol (delicate fresh white beans from Brittany) and topped with a golden pulled pork dumpling.
Predictably, I zero in on the All Things Chocolate dessert – a sinful medley of chocolate mousse, butter cream and a light flourless cake wrapped in ganache. Meanwhile, my friend declares herself delighted with her pyramid of profiteroles on a bed of red fruit compote.
For our wine selection, we follow the sommelier’s advice and opt for an interesting red Côtes du Rhone (2013 Le Temps Est Venu) from Domaine Ogier d’Ampuis, which beautifully enhances both our menu choices.
The Right Setting
An additional attraction of Les Bouquinistes is the space itself, recently redesigned by noted French architect and designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte in his understated black and white contemporary style. With its fully glassed-in exterior walls and signature transparent wine refrigerator divider wall, the serene interior fades from awareness. All that remains is the relaxed bistro atmosphere in which to focus on the romantic backdrop of the Seine and Notre Dame, and on the moveable feast on my plate
Good to know
- Les Bouquinites, lesbouquinistes.com, 53 Quai des Grands Augustins, 75006, Paris, is open every day for lunch from 12:00 pm to 2:30 pm and for dinner from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Advanced reservations are usually necessary. Contact: Email firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +33 (0) 1 43 25 45 94.
- In addition to its a-la-carte menu (average € 75 per person excluding beverages), Les Bouquinistes offers a six-course tasting menu (€ 89). At lunch, there are also daily two and three-course set menus ranging from € 32 to € 45 that include one glass of wine.
- Nearest Metro stations are Odeon or Saint Michel. Both are within a five-minute walk.
- Guy Savoy’s brilliant career began with his apprenticeship with the legendary Frères Troisgros in Roanne, in the Loire Valley. He went on to hone his skills at Lasserre in Paris and the Lion d’Or in Cologny, Switzerland, before becoming Head Chef of Claude Verger’s La Barrière de Clichy. He then opened his own restaurant in 1980 at the age of 27 and earned his first Michelin star the following year, followed by a second one in 1985. A third star followed some years later. In addition to his signature restaurants in Paris, Las Vegas and Singapore, he also own five bistros around Paris, each with a different culinary focus.