In the midst of a very good recent lunch at this long-running brasserie with a recently refreshed but charming 1925 vintage art deco interior, I thought, ‘this must be one of the most reliable restaurants in Paris’. The reason is that I think the same thing every time I come here, and that’s been for a very long time.
On a suddenly rainy Sunday morning 30 years ago, my brother and I ducked into this brasserie across the street from the Gare du Nord as much to stay dry as we did for anything else. It was lunchtime, but we were only 20 discombobulated minutes out of bed – our sleep alarmingly interrupted by the insistent knocking of the front-desk clerk shouting that we’d have to pay for a second night if we hadn’t checked out by noon. We’d had a very late night on the town.
Now he was heading for Greece to meet friends for a holiday, and I was hopping on a train back to London in two hours to stay in his flat for a couple of days before I returned to New York. The maître d’hôtel, in a black jacket, with half-rimmed glasses, looked amused as he watched us trundle our rain-dampened luggage inside. Noting the casual glamour of the place, I feared we might be turned away, since I think we looked rather rumpled and pretty obviously the worse for wear.
But no. The nice man greeted us, showed us where to stow our bags, ushered us to a table, and then suggested a glass of champagne, an idea that made both of us cringe in the condition we were in.
“It will make you feel better, I promise you,” he said; and cowed, we agreed. And he was right. The tiny, tight bubbles lightened our moods and brought the world into cheerful focus. Still, I wasn’t very hungry and neither was my brother. We were still staring blankly at our menus when he returned.
“May I make a suggestion?” he said with a little smile that suddenly seemed like it might be complicit. We nodded solemnly.
“Onion soup, and then a big tray of oysters, and a bottle of Muscadet, because you probably don’t have much money left.”
I wasn’t sure about the oysters in my fragile state but my brother signed off on our meal, which became hilarious when a tiny dog stood up out of the handbag of the woman sitting alone next to us and licked my brother’s hand. Seeing nothing, he nearly leapt to the ceiling, and then we laughed, and ate our soup, and by the time the oysters came we were hugely happy and all was right in the world again. Terminus Nord has a way of doing this.
You don’t come here for a gastronomic meal, but rather a good solid French one, often before or after a train. It’s a lovely place to say hello or goodbye to Paris, and the spectacle of the busy dining room, the wisecracking but impeccably professional waiters and the shimmer of a certain metropolitan glamour make it a quintessentially Parisian address, especially because it’s open daily for lunch and dinner.
On this most recent visit, I stopped in here because I was going to spend the weekend in London with a dear friend who’s a terrible cook. So after some smoked salmon to start, I hesitated between a good Strasbourg-style choucroute garni (sauerkraut with sausages and pork), sole meunière, steak tartare or scallops in champagne sauce. The sole won out, and it was beautifully prepared, as was the vanilla millefeuille with which I concluded my meal. Needless to say, I know I’ll be back again, and next time as a couple
so that we can share their very good crêpes Suzette flamed in Grand Marnier.
- 23 rue Dunkerque, Paris 10th. (terminusnord.com)
- Tel. +33 (0)1 42 85 05 15
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From France Today magazine