I knew Restaurant Le Coupe-Chou was going to be a memorable dining experience before we’d even set off for Paris. With just three days to explore the city, we wanted to have at least one ‘special’ evening meal guaranteed. And with a boyfriend who likes to research everything about a destination before we travel, I knew he’d have compiled a shortlist of must-try restaurants leading up to our trip.
Le Coupe-Chou was a hotspot that kept coming up. Everyone was raving about it on Tripadvisor. Lonely Planet named it an ‘overwhelmingly romantic’ spot. And I’d got my hands on a magazine pull-out guide – again, I think from Lonely Planet magazine (thanks LP) – which featured it as one of the top places to eat.
Described as a 17th century townhouse with beamed ceilings, antique interiors and quintessentially French dishes, I was sold. Oh, and with a name that translates literally as ‘the cabbage cutter’ (it refers to a razor used by a barber who was once in the building), I knew this restaurant had character.
The restaurant is tucked away on rue de Lanneau which is a pleasant 25 minute walk from Le Legend Hotel in St Germain where we were staying.
I couldn’t miss the leaf-covered exterior and cobbled street setting that I recognised from the pictures. And the entrance through a rather crumbly-looking side door made for an exciting arrival.
There’s nothing glamorous about the entrance at all. With a sloping ceiling that looks like it could give way any second and bare stone walls just about keeping the building together, you almost feel like you’re walking into an old decrepit house. But as we emerged from the rabbit warren, we were greeted by smiling waiting staff and an incredibly warm little haven. We exchanged a few ‘Bon soirs’ and followed them to our table.
Stone walls turned into oak panelling and paintings of hunting scenes hung above our table. Lamps were dotted around the restaurant and all sorts of antique ornaments filled the nooks and crannies of the room. Classical music was playing. It certainly had character.
Browse Le Coupe-Chou website and you’ll find (as mentioned) all sorts of information on the artefacts found in this building from the Middle Ages and even remains of the Gallo-Roman city.
They even tell gruelling tales of a 13th century barber slitting people’s throats with his ‘coupe-chou’ or cabbage cutter. It wasn’t until the 60s that three actors turned the building into somewhere spectators could eat after a show and it became known as being a hotspot for romantic lovers. So it had a bit of a chilling history before it became the charming restaurant it is today.
Speaking of chilling, it’s here I throw the question to the jury over the chilling of red wine. I’ve heard of this happening in warmer climes but does this happen in France? Apparently so.
I’ve been on a few wine tasting courses (read about the Vinopolis French Wine Labels Unravelled here) so I’m far from being a expert when it comes to French wine. But what struck us about our bottle of 2011 Calicé by Jean-Phillipe Padié was its surprisingly cool temperature.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have asked for a recommendation but we were dissuaded by the other, rather spenny options.
A little research since has revealed that this is a fairly young brand of wine (founded in 2003) from the Catalan region of France known as Roussilon – so not far from the warm Mediterranean climes.
As a small artisan producer, Jean-Phillipe Padié cultivates grapes in an organic and biodynamic environment with few additives and only wild yeasts. As a result, the wine carries a refreshing, ‘sea breezy’ quality.
Was it meant to be served like this? (someone please advise). But as someone who enjoys smooth and mellow reds, the chilly and pared down flavour didn’t really go down well with me. Perhaps it had come straight from their chilly cellar. And perhaps if it was the height of summer I’d have felt differently about a cooler red wine. But hey, it was good to try something new.
As for the food, I was impressed from the first bite. The other half ordered the Terrine de campagne accompagnée de confiture d’oignon au cassis (in other words a terrine with onion jam and blackcurrant) (8.90 Euro) which hit all the right flavour buttons (I could tell because he went into a satisfied silence).
I had the Feuilleté de saint-jacques sur lit de fenouil which for the non-French speakers is scallops on a bed of fennel and a filo-style pastry. Ordering fish will immediately add to the bill (at 18.90 Euro, this dish was a whole 10 euros more than the terrine) but when I saw the size of it, it was just about justified – no stingy portions here. Plus the crisp filo pastry was an indulgent contrast to the juicy scallops.
Top that off with a rich and buttery sauce poured over the top and you have a starter that’s delish with a capital ‘d’. I equally went a bit quiet when I tasted this. I wanted to refrain from eating the whole thing but I couldn’t. The glutton in me took over.
Main options at Le Coupe-Chou are equally oozing with traditional French flavours. And I’d decided that devouring a big juicy pot of Beef Bourguignon was obligatory before I’d even stepped on the Eurostar. So I was made up when this sizzling pot of beef chunks, lardons, potatoes, onions and mushrooms arrived at the table. It had that distinctive slow-cooked quality where the beef barely needs to be chewed and the sauce is thick and silky with that beautiful shiny glaze. Deceivingly filling, the portion was just perfect. This meal has remained high up there in my memorable restaurant experiences ever since.
While I savoured my bourguignon heaven, the boy wasn’t quite so impressed with his lamb cutlets. Personally I think this can be a hit and miss cut of lamb, wherever you are on the planet. And unfortunately, for him, the cutlets here were more ‘miss’, mostly because the flavour was just a bit lacking. Perhaps the duck confit or veal ragout would have been a better choice. Who knows.
We didn’t do dessert (I was incredibly full) but instead, we soaked up the relaxed atmosphere and marvelled at the historic setting around us before taking a stroll around the Latin Quarter.
We left with an equally warm farewell and a feeling of privilege that we’d eaten in such an amazing establishment.
Many foreign visitors claim they’ve suffered huge queues to get in here and its ‘overly-priced’ and ‘over-hyped’. While others make the bold claim that it’s one of Paris’ true hidden gems.
Personally, I’m leaning towards the positive . Visit at the right time and you’ll feel like you’re miles away from the city’s tourist traps.
Just don’t go down the rickety stairs to the toilets by yourself. That barber with the cabbage cutter might be lurking down there.
Until next time x
Restaurant Le coupe chou, 11 Rue de Lanneau, Latin Quarter, Paris
Nearest metro: Maulbert-Mutualité