Quirky restaurants

Time Out's favourite restaurants for dinners with a difference

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© Alexandre Duguer


For dishes that are talking points in themselves, or décor with a difference, these restaurants go out of their way to stand out from the crowd. Dinner in the pitch black? Aphrodisiac menu? Cats on your lap through teatime? Penis-shaped bread? It's all here, and more.

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Le café des chats

Inspired by similar 'neko' cafés in Japan, Paris's first cat café, installed in the trendy Marais, offers a relaxed environment where you to enjoy your coffee and pastries in the company of felines, without the worry of litter boxes and vet's bills. The café is set over two floors with lots of comfortable sofas and a grand piano in the basement, and serves a range of cakes and pastries. Staff are young and slightly disorganised, but since everyone is really there for the cat therapy, it's fine...

Le Wagon Bleu

The gloriously nostalgic ‘Blue Wagon’ in the 17th arrodissement is set inside a 1920s carriage from the legendary Orient Express. Cherrywood panelled walls and rich royal blue banquettes, set either side of neat wooden tables, look just as they did 90 years ago – even the original overhead luggage rack remains. On the menu, expect a mix of French classics like steak frites alongside Corsican dishes like figatellu rôti (roasted Corsican sausage)...

La Cantine Russe

A hundred yards along the Seine, just up from the flame memorial that marks where Princess Diana died, is a rather sober building that houses the grandly-named Sergei Rachmaninoff Russian Conservatory of Paris. This august establishment opposite the Eiffel Tower was founded in 1923, and continues to train budding musicians in French and Russian. But when the school closes up for the day, a more intriguing locale, La Cantine Russe, opens up in the basement...

Legay Choc

Run by two brothers (one gay, one straight) whose surname just happens to be Legay, this Marais boulangerie and pâtisserie is very popular. The pastries are delightful, and the lunch-hour sandwiches are generous, so expect lengthy queues. A satellite store, serving only sandwiches, is at 17 rue des Archives (01.48.87.24.61). For that special occasion, try their penis-shaped loaf...

Dans Le Noir

Even if your loved one is gorgeous, total darkness is quite possibly the best way to discover (or rediscover) your partner over dinner. Revive your sense of touch, smell and of course taste, in Dans le Noir’s quirky darkened dining room, inspired by a blind charity...

Derrière

Derrière restaurant on the edge of Paris’ Marais district is a clandestine restaurant that is one of the hottest meals in town. First, locate the unmarked door between the 404 restaurant and Andy Wahloo that leads into a courtyard and from there into eccentric Derrière. Dining at Derrière is like dining in a restaurant and also in a friend’s boho-chic home. You choose if you’d like to sit in the living room with the live ping-pong table, the bedroom with the mosaic mirrored ceiling...

Helmut Newcake

Opened at the end of 2011, Helmut Newcake was the first place for 100% certified gluten-free pastries in Paris, and is the reference for the new generation of bakeries opening up around town. The location by the trendy Canal St-Martin is nestled among a slew of new eateries and coffee shops that are worth a visit. But those looking to enjoy authentic French pastry, like classic éclairs and lemon meringue tarts, can stop in and take a seat in the modern, yet cozy loft-style shop for a cup of coffee and a snack...

La Coupole

La Coupole in Montparnasse is the grandest of grand Parisian brasseries. An Art Deco triumph on an extraordinary scale, its famously vast dining room was once regularly graced by the top tiers of the artistic Rive Gauche set like Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. People still come here from all over the world, to marvel at its splendour - all 1000 square metres and 33 pillars of it – and to people watch, a timeless La Coupole pastime...

Le Souk

Potted olive trees mark the entrance to this lively den of Moroccan cuisine. Start with savoury b'stilla, a pasty stuffed with duck, raisins and nuts, flavoured with orange-blossom water and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Don't fill up, though, as the first-rate tagines and couscous are enormous. The tagine canette (duckling stewed with honey, onions, apricots, figs and cinnamon, then showered with toasted almonds) is terrific. For dessert, try the excellent millefeuille with fresh figs, while sweet mint tea is poured in a long stream by a djellaba-clad waiter...

Au Pied de Cochon

Au Pied de Cochon is a Parisian institution, whose neon lights haven’t been switched off since 1947: it serves evry part of the pig you can think of, around the clock. Favourite haunt of hungry late-night drinkers, there's comething fortifying in the old-style brasserie décor as well as the hearty dishes. Among imitation leather banquettes, Belle Epoque lamps and paintings, white tablecloths and waiters in penguin suits, kitsch little details show a sense of humour – where else can you push a gilt pig’s foot to get to the toilets, or dunk a pink meringue piglet in your coffee...

Bel Canto

Bel Canto restaurant in Paris brings you a grand helping of lyric opera with your meal. Decorated in traditional red and gold with the air of a 19th century opera house, a grand piano in pride of place, opera posters and mannequins sporting costumes from the Paris Opera, Bel Canto is one restaurant where the world really is a stage. Students of the world-famous Paris Conservatory – who are also the waiters – burst into song several times an evening...

La Refuge des Fondus

Pass under the elaborate carnivalesque décor that adorns the entrance, and muscle your way through the mass of tightly packed diners to a spare table – from here on, providing you surrender all claims to personal space, you’re set for a highly original dining experience. Things are kept simple and unpretentious: in place of a menu you’re given a binary choice between red or white wine, and cheese or meat fondue (the latter consisting of chunks of raw meat dipped in a boiling broth)...

Ecole Ferrandi

Ferrandi is one of the most important cooking schools in France, a giant building on the Rive Gauche with over 1,300 students learning how to be bakers, barmen, waiters and chefs. Of course they have to practice their skills on the general public, so the Ecole has set up two restaurants that are firm favourites with foodies-in-the-know (the waiting list for a table can stretch for several weeks, if not months – bear in mind they are closed during the long French school holidays)...

Les Editeurs

Time was, Saint-Germain-des-Prés had some serious lit cred. All the big publishing houses were based here before rents soared and they were forced out to the suburbs, and in the early 20th century the tracks made here by Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and others are legendary – and it also attracted slews of local bohemian artists, writers and musicians. Today, the neighbourhood is still littered with bookshops – many of them second hand English vendors, plus a lot of comic book and manga vendors...

Pétrelle

Jean-Luc André is as inspired a decorator as he is a cook, and the quirky charm of his fresco clad dining room has made it popular with fashion designers and film stars. But behind the style there's some serious substance. André seeks out the best ingredients from local producers, and the quality shines through. Everything is à la carte and changes with the seasons: dishes might include marinated sardines with tomato relish, rosemary-scented rabbit with roasted vegetables, deep purple poached figs and a rather luxurious tournedos Rossini, consistently and perfectly pink...

Le Gaigne

It’s a familiar story: young chef with haute cuisine credentials opens a small bistro in an out-of-theway street. Here, the restaurant is even tinier than usual with only 20 seats and the cooking is unusually inventive. Chef Mickaël Gaignon has worked with Pierre Gagnaire, and it shows in dishes such as l’oeuf bio – three open eggshells filled with creamed spinach, carrot and celeriac – or roast monkfish with broccoli purée and a redcurrant emulsion...


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