Bistro au Vieux Chêne

Bistro au Vieux Chene

Bistro au Vieux Chêne

It being my last night in Paris and close to the last before my pilgrimage, I thought it appropriate to mark the occasion with a last supper of sorts -however when in Paris who ever really needs an excuse? While I’m out walking during the day, I often come across places that I might return to. They may take the form of an extra special earring shop, a stunning piece of graffiti art that I didn’t catalogue with my camera, or a traditional French restaurant.

Bistro au Vieux Chêne fell into the last category, and I decided when walking past it during the day, that its decor, menu and ambience were perfect. I can’t emphasise enough the impact of decor and ambience in a restaurant. For me, it needs to look settled, confident and welcoming. I believe these qualities mirror the food that gets produced and the service that is offered. The restaurant doesn’t necessarily need to be open for you to get these impressions. When I passed it during the day on one of my walks around the 12th, I could tell from the planter boxes outside, the traditional tables and the name, that this place would be a pleasure to eat at.

I needed to check it would be open on the evening of my last supper, so during the day I visited again. My assumptions about the kind of bistro it was were confirmed, when I came across the staff sitting outside preparing with the host, their work for the day. One of the waitresses (who served me at night also) shared a joke with me when I asked for a menu – she detected an accent and also offered one in English. I didn’t actually pay much attention to the menu, just my budget. On that basis I asked what time they opened for dinner – and so returned just after 8pm that night.

My host kindly asked whether I minded being seated at the wobbly table next to the pot plants outside, and I was happy to oblige. As is usual practice for restaurants, there is often a reduced price for a set menu, and the eligible dishes are marked on the menu. I like to eat well, so of course I chose 3 courses. Who can do without dessert?


Cheesy profiteroles

Since trying Kir (wine and cassis) and Kir Royale (champagne and cassis) on my very first visit to France, I have always enjoyed it, so I chose it for the night again. To accompany it, and in addition to another basket of bread, little profiterole triplets dribbled with cheese arrived as well. They were the most delicate I have ever tasted.

Entree - Toast de blettes et sombresada roti au miel, salade de roquette

Entree – Toast de blettes et sobresada roti au miel, salade de roquette

I asked what the sobresada was and was told that it was like chorizo.  I was imagining a dish with chorizo as we have in Australia, big chunks of sausage.  This was nothing like it. There was just a hint of the sausage flavour and the whole dish was very light.

Les Plat - Poitrine de veau confite, petite legumes Printanniers a la sauge

Les Plat – Poitrine de veau confite, petite legumes Printanniers a la sauge

The veal was tender in texture and flavour and the small carrots, baby onions and potatoes were so fresh and equally as tender – perfect with the parsley decoration.

Le Dessert - Chocolat noir Manjari au praline croustillant

Le Dessert – Chocolat noir Manjari au praline croustillant

A beautiful dessert that I ended up taking half of home for leftovers, it was so rich.

The meal was a real treat.  I love sniffing out little spots like this one. As I guessed the service was excellent, and by the time I left at 10.30, the place was full and still going strong.  I don’t know exactly what it was that gave me the impression that this was going to be a special place, but the idea was confirmed for me in the write up in the menu:

“Une cuisine, une ethique.

Contre une agriculture ultra intensive et non respectueuse de l’environment,

Pour un rapport proche et humain avec des fournisseurs passiones parleur metier,

Pour un repect des saisons qui seul garandit qualite et fraicheur

Et surtout, pour le gout!

Jusqu’au dernier petit lardon de votre assiette repondra a nos exigences” …

In my basic understanding of French – ethical cuisine based on agriculture which respects the environment, builds relationships with passionate suppliers, is seasonal, of high quality and fresh.  Most importantly – it tastes good.

I have now looked up the meaning of the name, Bistro au Vieux Chêne.  It means bistro at the old oak.  Given I spent many hours climbing the old oak trees in the front yard at my grandparent’s house, I now know why this lovely restaurant satisfied my need for settled, confident and welcoming.

Raised garden beds

Despite a great stopover in Seoul breaking up my journey, when I awoke on my first morning in Paris, I realised that I would need to get out and about to avail myself of some fresh air and sunlight.  My Airbnb apartment in the 12th arrondissement was a short 10 minute walk from Gare de Lyon train station, the line that I would take south to Arles in the next day or so.  I had to get my ticket and also breakfast, so I decided to take a wander to a landmark I had heard about from my friend, Delphine, the Coulée verte René-Dumont or Promenade plantée.  From street level there is not much to give away the verdant raised bed that tops this disused railway line.  Many shops now occupy the supporting arches of the Viaduc des Arts, but you can imagine that probably not that long ago this area was neglected space.  Now it is home to all kinds of artisans and creative types, both within and outside the walls.

Arch of the Coulee Verte

Arch of the Coulee Verte


Tour de France

While the shops and arches provide a lovely diversion, the real surprise is upstairs.  You can access the promenade at each crossroad, and if you happen to be there on a Sunday morning as I was, you will share your amble with joggers of all shapes and sizes.  You can be enchanted so much by the garden you are walking through, that you may miss certain other interesting things.  In some places the trees and shrubs are tall, and only give glimpses of the buildings on either side. I was lucky enough at one point to spy a sculpture on what I found later was the Police station.  It was an impressive lazy nude male caryatid probably a storey high. He wasn’t supporting anything, just leaning. I needed to walk on a little further to realise that there was a whole regiment of them decorating the top of the building.  At another point, as I was coming to the beautiful pool in the middle of the path, I heard Gregorian chant coming from an open apartment window – apt for a Sunday morning in France.

And it seem that the vegetation was Day of the Triffids like spilling from the path onto people’s balconies and planter boxes.  At 8am in the morning with the night’s freshness just retreating, I can understand why herbaceous smells spark whole industries of wine and perfume.  They remind us we’re alive.

Tranquil pond

Tranquil pond

You can walk the full linear park for 4.7 kilometres from Bastille, but I turned back at the Jardin de Reuilly, after taking in sculptures and the most beautiful display of summer flowers.

Summer display

Summer display

I didn’t want to leave this magical place, so I walked all the way back to the other end at Bastille. Wending my way back towards Gare de Lyon, I noticed some activity on a side street.  As one does in Paris, one tends to follow one’s nose to check things out, and I found myself at the edge of a bustling Sunday market at the Place d’Aligre. Blueberry yoghurt in a glass jar, a half a baguette and some camembert – voila! Breakfast.

The final pack

I have enjoyed taking the opportunity to explore an area of Paris I previously haven’t spent much time in, the 12th arrondissement.  It was quick and easy to catch up with my early music buddy, Jerome and his wife, Laurence, who live close to Colonel Fabien metro in the 19th – one change at Nation.  When we’re together we exchange early music tidbits and Youtube clips and indulge or mutual love of Kate Bush. They kindly agreed to caretake my luggage until I finish my pelegrinage.

The day finally arrives. I get to let go of my little carry-on suitcase and pack up my backpack. This is the real thing now.  I’ve attached the little shell (actually quite big shell) to my pack so it will be obvious I’m a pilgrim (I think that is good thing?). A lovely Couchsurfing hostess in Dijon gave me her St Jacques Coquille shell when I rode part of the Vezelay route in 2011.

All the necessary

All the necessary

The view from my apartment took in the gorgeous five and six storey apartment buildings so characteristic of much of Paris, radiating out along six spokes. I had the useful pleasure of mounting the 121 steps each time I came home and could then look down on the Place to watch the fountain or the old men who gathered on the park benches to pass the time.  It was only after surveying the landscape a number of times that I noticed that the roundabout wasn’t round. It is coquille-shaped.

St Jacques roundabout

St Jacques roundabout