The English novelist Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) lived in Paris between 1903-1913. He invariably ate out in the first few years, before he married his French wife, Marguerite. Bennett could easily have been a restaurant reviewer, had he not been a novelist – if restaurant reviewing have been a regular profession back then. Many of his comments could apply equally well today, to dining in any big city.
On this day in 1904 he recorded his diary his impressions of the meal he had eaten at Paillard’s – supposedly one of the best restaurants in the city – the previous day.
“Yesterday when I was in Paillard’s it occurred to me that the difference between the most excessively chic restaurant and an ordinary good one is very slight. Paillard’s has the reputation of being the best, or one of the three best in Paris, and therefore in the world. Yet it is small, and not in the least luxurious, and the waiting is no better than it is elsewhere. The monde has no special appearance of smartness. The food was very good, and so was the wine. But scarcely appreciably better than at Sylvains, Maire’s or Noel and Peters. And the prices were about 25 per cent dearer that at those other places – not more. In the evening, at Boulant, I had for 6d. a bifteck and soufflé potatoes beter than which could not be obtained anywhere, at no matter what price. When you have thoroughly good, well-flavoured, tender meat, perfectly cooked – you cannot surpass that.”
Peel the potatoes to oval shape. Do not wash but wipe with a napkin. Cut lengthwise in strips about an eighth of an inch in thickness. Place in swimming fat or hot lared that is merely warm and put on fire to get hot. When the potatoes are nearly done they will swim on top of the fat and swell up like little cushions. When all are on top take out and throw into very hot fat to color them. Remove, salt, and serve on napkin.
The Hotel St Francis Cook Book. Victor Hirtzler, 1919.