You want a real French bistro? You want change from 20 quid? Follow me in.
I’m frequently asked which is my favourite restaurant in France. I never know what to answer, as I’ve got dozens.
However, what I do know is that, if I’m paying for myself (tragically, it happens all too often), then I head for somewhere like the Bistro Gourmand. It stands to reason. You may eat here six or seven times for the price of one meal in a three-star Michelin establishment.
The place will not require a PhD in taste appreciation. It will be good, simple and usually friendly. If it were otherwise, it wouldn’t still be open.
Brighter than most
Follow my lead and you’ll see what I mean. Hard by the Forville market, Guillaume Arragon’s bistro is a classic of the genre - though slightly brighter than most. The little dining room has light-coloured panelling, daubs of modern art and – an absolute must, this – menus on blackboards.
Space is straightforward, but tight. (This is not a spot in which to propose marriage, unless you want many other customers to share your joy – or humiliation.) Beyond the expected French windows, a little terrace has spilled out onto the street.
And, wherever you eat, you’ll be tasting Provençal classics given a modern twist, and lovely presentation, by chef Arragon. Dishes like cod in fig leaves or lamb chops in a mustard sauce with cumin-flavoured chick-pea fritters are what I meant by “slightly brighter than most”.