It is not a tragedy by any means, but since we live at quite a distance from the horrors of Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, other concerns rise to the surface and bother me, irritate me, and sometimes keep me awake at night like a loved one snoring – our dog. Human nature abhors a vacuum, after all.
So, having saved a few euros by working night and day, and in search of something special, I take the family to lunch at Quai des Artistes. All around us people are eating as if there’s nothing special about it. For them this Paris-styled up-market brasserie on Port Hercule is no more than a canteen, handy for the office, close to underground parking, a place to bring mother, to lunch with colleagues, to spend the lunch coupons.
For me it’s more special than that. I haven’t been here for months and months, except for once when Covid retreated for just a few weeks. We soak up the ambience. And we do what most other people do, stare at those on other tables, trying to figure out if it’s a man and wife, a man and his mother, a man and his prematurely fat wife, two lady lovers, a boss and her intern, a CEO and his 12 year-old marketing manager who thinks Instagram is the answer to every daily promotional challenge, or ordinary people.
We start with soup, asparagus soup, which tastes of asparagus but is not too warm. No chance here of scalding one’s lips.
Our family’s special guest, my middle son’s girlfriend – we wanted to impress her – finds a short and curly black hair floating in the middle of the bowl. We summon one of the five waiters who so far has visited us at long intervals during our stay, and inform him in bad French that there’s a horse in the soup. He pretends not to see it, but shrugs and takes the soup away still pretending he can’t see the hair. He brings it back, without the hair.
We all order trout, except for my son’s girlfriend who’s allergic to nuts – they come with almonds – who chooses the choucroute du jour, which is a bowl of sauerkraut, potatoes and a couple of sausages. The top sausage is limp and exhausted, resting inert on the cabbage, as if there’s a historical connection, just maybe, with the short curly hair. There is no deliberate misrepresentation in the dish. It’s just very unappetising.
We soldier on. My wife, wisely, chose to have the pudding and not the starter, and I have to say the slice of raspberry tart is very tasty. We all wish we’d done the same thing, or chosen the starter and the pudding and given the fish and sad sausages a miss.
However, we have a very good time, but it’s despite the food and not because of it.
The bill comes to 157 euros. That should not surprise me, but what does disappoint me is that there was no apology for the hair in the soup, no discount, no ‘let’s make it up to you’ with a free slice of raspberry tart.
It will take another year or two before we’re back.
ILLUSTRATION: A choucroute dish (not at Quai des Artistes)