Prior to the French Revolution, if you lived in Europe and wanted a meal away from home, you sought what was available at a local inn. There you could participate in what was called the table d’hôte, the owner’s table. If he was having chicken, that was what you ate, whether you liked chicken or not. If you didn’t, you could find another inn and take pot luck on what that proprietor dined.
The institution of restaurants, places where you could choose from a variety of different dishes, had not yet been invented. The very first known restaurant was a modest one opened by a soup maker, Andre Boulanger, in Paris in 1765, where he advertised the restoratives offered in his establishment. Those were primarily a selection of his soups and broths.
In 1785 a luxury restaurant was opened in Paris by Antoine Beauvilliers, called La Grande Taverne de Londres. Its owner was an authority on the culinary arts and gastronomy, and his establishment quickly drew the praises of another authority in French cuisine of that time, Jean-Athelme Brillat Savarin.
Until the French Revolution, most wealthy Parisians maintained their own private dining establishments in their homes. After the revolution, many talented chefs who had been employed that way were discharged by their employers, who were down-sizing. From that pool of talent, a lot of them made their way in the creation of a new Parisian institution: the restaurant. By 1804, there were 500 of them in the City of Light, each offering a multitude of choices for each course of a meal.
Some of the most-renowned were located in the Palais Royal, including the Véry, which was considered at the time as the best. It was later assimilated into the Grand Véfour, which had started out as the Café de Chartres, and dates from 1784. It is a minor miracle that the same restaurant, Le Grand Véfour, with much of its original exquisite 18th century décor, is still in business today.
If you are in the mood for a quintessential Parisian dining experience, with fine cuisine provided by the current owner and chef, Guy Martin, in an unforgettable setting, book a table at the Grand Véfour. There you will rub elbows with the spirits of some of its former patrons, including Napoleon and Josephine, or Victor Hugo. Doted with two contemporary Michelin stars, that guide estimates the cost of a meal there between 215 and 285 euros per person. It is closed on week-ends and holidays.
Le Gand Vefour:
17, rue de Beaujolais 75001
Phone +33 (0)1 42 96 56 27