The queues stretch down the rue Saint-Dominique reasonably early. Paris chef Christian Constant dominates a short stretch of this street in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower. His three establishments, Cafe Constant, Les Cocottes and Violon d’Ingres are within metres of each other and none accept bookings.

Constant’s website says ‘good fresh food all day when you want it’ – as long as you don’t want it before 7pm (for the dinner sittings). Cafe Constant is open before then for a drink but if you can’t get a space at the tiny bar, forget about it. Such are the vagaries of eating and drinking in Paris.

Joining the queue at about 6.45 pm, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband got bar seats just inside the door. Larger groups need to be at the head of the queue. There are very limited spots for parties of four or more. The clientele is a mix of tourists and locals. A hearty ‘bonsoir’ and we were sussed out immediately by the wait staff, given English menus.

‘Les Cocottes’ refers to the small iron casserole dishes in which many of the menu items are prepared and served, rather than the other translation of the word which is ‘prostitutes’. Violin d’Ingres was Constant’s first venture since leaving the famed Hotel Crillon, while Les Cocottes and the cafe came along soon after.

Arguably the biggest thing to happen to Constant since opening his own restaurants was having Les Cocottes featured on US celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations TV show. It has certainly ensured a steady stream of international visitors in an area of Paris not noted for a tourist passing parade, despite its proximity to La Tour.

After a tasting menu the night before, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were determined to be good. Greedy Girl chose the ‘special’ – champignons and lobster served with green leaves, a crostini and strong vinaigrette dressing, while gluttonous husband opted for foie gras, presented simply with brown bread toast and rocket. The vinaigrette was a little strong for Greedy Girl’s liking, but both starters went down quickly, helped by a very passable Kir Royale.

For mains, Greedy Girl opted for what she thought would be reasonably uncomplicated – a cheese omelette. Gluttonous husband got sweet-talked into the main special – veal served with girolle mushrooms ‘en cocotte’. Duly the cast iron dish arrived with a beautifully crunchy ‘sausage’ of veal coated in light breadcrumbs atop a bed of leaves and very tasty mushrooms. The best was to come – the veal contained a delightful centre consisting of iberico ham and parmesan cheese. It was truly delicious.

By this stage, there was a hefty queue again. The wait staff did well in the sense that no-one was pushed out the door and the meal, for the most part, was decently spaced. Not everyone was happy however, and an elderly British couple in the prime position – the only table for two (all other ‘twos’ had to sit at the long bar) took exception to the pacing of their meal, the fact that what they chose was essentially ‘meat and gravy’ and the lurking presence of the first people waiting in the queue for their turn. Greedy Girl was waiting for them to order a nice egg and chips. The wait staff bore their criticisms with good humour, offered them dessert and coffee and didn’t raise an eyebrow.

A young couple from Philadelphia were seated next to gluttonous husband and provided a preview of the desserts, specifically a ‘special’ chocolate mousse slice drizzled with dark chocolate and topped with a selection of berries and Constant’s modestly titled ‘fabulous’ chocolate tart. Not ordering both ourselves seemed like an insult. The tart was served with a quenelle of very thick buttery cream while the slice was adorned only by the berries. Having determined we were only going to have one dessert, seeing both disappear in a matter of minutes left Greedy Girl groaning and gluttonous husband very content.

Of the three establishments, Les Cocottes definitely treads the middle ground. Cafe Constant also serves a limited range of food, while Violon d’Ingres looks to be more upmarket with starched white tablecloths and mood lighting. None of the restaurants takes bookings, so it’s a case of being prepared to queue from around 6.30pm to be sure of getting a spot for dinner. For twosomes wanting a later feast, queueing around 8-ish should result in a table at Les Cocottes within 30-40 minutes. Groups? Fuhgeddaboutit. Be first in line at the outset or find somewhere that does take bookings.
All in all, a very pleasant, tasty treat that hits the budget somewhere around the middle.

Les Cocottes

135 rue Saint-Dominique, Paris

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