You are here
Food options for Paris Opera fans
IN many major European cities, the opera house is a focal point of city life.
Think of Vienna, where the imposing Staatsoper is the beating heart of the Austrian capital, or of Berlin, whose most storied opera company sits elegantly on the tree-lined boulevard Unter den Linden, a stone's throw from many of the city's monuments.
Not so in the City of Light, where the Paris Opera, one of the world's oldest and most distinguished companies, is divided between two locations separated by three kilometres, or a handful of Métro stops: the neo-Baroque Palais Garnier, inaugurated in 1875, and the jarringly modern Opéra Bastille, with its convex glass facade, which opened more than 100 years later.
Paris teems with visitors, but its opera houses are a safe distance from its most tourist-infested quarters. With an intriguing mix of perennial
favourites, rediscoveries and brandnew works, the Paris Opera's ambitious 350th anniversary season provides ample reason to spend time in the orbit of the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille.
With its larger stage and greater technical capacities, the Bastille location hosts most of the season's operatic offerings: 14 titles ranging from Giacomo Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots to Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
"A lot of people don't know that I am the boss of two theatres. They think that we are very separate," said Stéphane Lissner, director of the Paris Opera since 2014. He recommended some of his favourite local haunts.
"There are lots of good options around here, but if you want my opinion Le Square Trousseau is the best restaurant in this area. It's a 10-minute walk from Bastille, it's open 365 days a year, and you can come after the opera at 10 o'clock," he said.
Set across from a playground in a residential area, it's a brasserie of down-to-earth sophistication where attentive service and excellent wine by the glass enhance a menu full of creative meat and fish options. Make sure to leave room for the house dessert, a heavenly tarte au citron with a gravity-defying layer of creamy meringue.
Close by is Coulée Verte René-Dumont, a leafy path that was opened in 1993 over a disused rail track, a Parisian precursor to New York's High Line. "I like to take walks here. It's a very young, bobo area," Mr Lissner said, referring to the affluent young professionals with countercultural pretensions who have flocked there.
Philippe Jordan, a Swiss conductor who has been the opera's music director since 2009 - and who will depart at the end of next season to take up that position at the Wiener Staatsoper - said the opera house had succeeded in revitalising the entire Bastille district, which had been one of the hopes in 1989.
"It's a very nice, upcoming neighbourhood. That's why the opera was constructed here, to bring more life to the area," he said. "This is one of the reasons that you have Rue de la Roquette, which has become so famous," he said, referring to the long, vibrant drag that originates at Place de la Bastille and is lined with bars and clubs.
"Paris is expanding because the centre keeps getting too expensive for people to live in," Mr Jordan continued. "Life is now in the 11th and 12th arrondissements behind the Bastille. That's where the young people are, especially around the Canal St-Martin, which is very beautiful.
"Twenty years ago, it was nothing special," he said. "But now, with all these cafes it's like a little Amsterdam, especially in summer, with everybody sitting outside along the water and having a good time."
For a bite after the opera, Mr Lissner and Mr Jordan both recommended Café Français, a classic brasserie that is part of the restaurant empire of Gilbert and Thierry Costes. It's a stone's throw from the opera, and the kitchen stays open until midnight. As Mr Lissner puts it: "Everybody goes to Café Français."
"I also like very much a cafe on the other side of the stage entrance, Les Associés," Mr Jordan added. "That's where all the musicians go after the performance or between rehearsals."
A more extravagant option close to Bastille is Bofinger, whose sumptuous dining room has been serving Alsatian specialties since 1864. "When I have out-of-town visitors, I usually bring them there, because of the belle époque splendor," the maestro said.
The area also offers some excellent non-French options. Mr Lissner pointed to Passerini, where Roman chef Giovanni Passerini serves up contemporary Italian fare. He also raved about the beef at Biondi, an Argentine steakhouse closer to Place de la République.
Speaking separately, the director and conductor both admitted that finding places to explore, relax or dine by the Palais Garnier can be more challenging. Mr Lissner frowned slightly. "To take a walk around the Garnier is not especially nice," he said of the severe 19th-century area of the Grands Boulevards.
With the bulk of the opera season being performed at the Opéra Bastille, a guided tour of the Garnier is the surest way to glimpse the lavish interior, with its famous murals by Marc Chagall that adorn the dome of the auditorium.
The surrounding area teems with luxury hotels, and Mr Lissner recommends the Hôtel de Crillon and Le Meurice for a post-performance drink. For a more laid-back cocktail, visit Harry's New York Bar, a century-old watering hole that doesn't look as if it has changed much - if at all - since Ernest Hemingway was among its regulars in the 1920s.
The Garnier area is far less residential than that around Bastille and fairly high-end. Even so, Mr Lissner was ecstatic about a local brasserie, Le Persil Fleur. "It's a small restaurant, modest but very good and just right next to the Garnier," he said. "They have daily specials, and I always go for the fish of the day."
For a more opulent experience, he suggested Drouant, the storied restaurant where the Prix Goncourt, a French literary prize, has been awarded since 1914. "It's more sophisticated," he said. "La grande cuisine française." His other top dining choices for the area are the high-end Japanese destination Takara, and Mee, a popular Korean restaurant with a surprisingly affordable menu. "It's fantastic, and you can eat for 15 euros (S$24), which is incredible, especially in this city," he added.
Mr Jordan's insider tip for eating around Garnier is similarly budget-conscious.
"Le Roi de Pot au Feu is a tiny restaurant that still feels like Paris in the '50s, and Parisians still go there," he said. "They have other things on the menu, but the pot au feu (a classic French beef stew) is the specialty. First you get the soup and then you get the meat with the vegetables and then you have a glass of red wine. That's it. It's perfect. And you're full for the next two weeks."
"Even in Paris, there are still plenty of secrets," Mr Jordan said with a smile. NYTIMES