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I love hidden restaurants. I’ve been to many popular ones too, usually because their reputation for amazing food, view or service have made the experience worthwhile. But these days, I find that I am seeking out the more quirky eating establishments. The ones that are usually only accessible to “those in the know”. Like the place in Buenos Aires that is run by two sisters, where your seat at the table is only possible if you have been personally referred by a previous dinner guest.
Tucked away in a Boucherie (butcher) in the Marché d’Aligre, a bustling food market, is where you will find the hidden restaurant, Les Provinces. The restaurant, open for several years, started its life as an experiment by the owner. During a food festival he used the shop as a means of showcasing his fresh meat and was blown away by the success. So much so, that he decided to open up the inside of his shop for dining.
We arrived in the thick of the markets. With the square and side streets full of fruit and vegetable vendors, calling out to customers and one another, it was somewhat like organised chaos. Lettuce leaves, flung off their body by exuberant sellers, lined the path that I walked. It was nearly one o’clock and already the vans were starting to weave in and out as they established their spots to enable their goods to be packed up. I know I’m on my way to lunch, but perhaps I could just linger a little longer in amongst all of this wonderful fresh produce?
We are still searching for Les Provinces. We know it’s here somewhere, but the markets make it a little tricky to always get a clear view of the shops that line the paths behind them.
Before long, we find what we are looking for. If not for the name boldly emblazoned on the shop front, it could still be possible to miss.
From the outside it clearly looks like a working Boucherie. Do you think the pig’s heads are a giveaway?
As we take a peek through the window we can see diners. It’s not a trick. We haven’t been lead down the garden path.
Time to go inside
Entry to the restaurant is through the front door of the Boucherie, glass cabinets on the left showing off the most amazing cuts of beef, pork and other meats. It looks delicious already. And have I mentioned the smell ? This is a carnivores delight. Heady smells of caramelised meats drift through the air. I hope we aren’t too late and we can find a table.
Separating the Boucherie from the dining area is a high bench, already lined with lunchtime diners tucking into their food.
In the centre are some standard square tables and bench seats line the far wall. It’s about 1pm now and the restaurant shuts at 1.30pm on a weekday. We are in luck, and are shown to a table in the centre by a friendly host.
Les Provinces claim to fame isn’t just that it’s hidden. The wonderfully innovative part of this restaurant is that the meat is chosen fresh out of the cabinet and cooked for you.
The menu is kept simple, with only a few items each day on offer, but given its location, all of it revolving around the meat that is sold on site.
When I have a question about the type of meat on the menu, I am quickly invited by the host to go up to the counter and talk to the men at the counter. With that visual image of the meat in my mind, my selection off the blackboard is made much easier.
I can’t wait to eat. This place is abuzz and my eyes are flickering everywhere trying to take it all in. The counter has a steady stream of people coming in to buy their meat, and the six or so people behind the counter are engaging in vibrant conversation as they take aged beef off the wall, or sausages from the display cabinet. I can’t help but stare at them and smile at what a community the French make of shopping.
The food arrives for the men at the high bench and now my mouth really starts to water. Why didn’t I order that burger. It looks delicious. And, judging my the way in which they are being devoured, I would say the recipients think so too.
If I can’t have my food just yet, then the wine will have to do. A carafe filled with a light red wine, similar to a pinot noir, will be a fantastic match for our red meat.
As though they are teasing us on purpose, several more plates of food are swept past our noses, enroute to the young men sitting in the corner window. The rather large plate of boeuf tartare doesn’t overly appeal, but I understand how much the French love this dish. I imagine it to be of the highest quality in this restaurant.
The chef is working flat out in a very small kitchen environment at the back of the store. In the early days, the owner used to cook for his guests, but demand quickly overrode his ability to be chef and owner, so now a dedicated chef runs the kitchen.
Despite my wishing that the food would arrive pronto, it really didn’t take very long at all. My husband’s Filet de Boeuf looked and smelled amazing. Cooked in the traditional French way, without having to cover up the meal with anything fancy or unnecessary. A simple salad, some excellent roast potatoes and a bearnaise sauce. The meat, according to he who ordered it, was cooked very well and tasted wonderful.
Mine arrives and it looks just as amazing. I love ordering lamb in France, partly because it tastes awesome but partly because I love saying the word D’Agneau. It’s such a posh word for lamb !!
Les Provinces is a small restaurant catering for around 20 people. Reservations cannot be made so it is first in, first served. Whilst the Boucherie itself trades for longer hours, the restaurant itself is only open for a limited time each day.
It’s not the most inexpensive restaurant around, but it’s certainly not high end either. We paid €56 for our two main meals, tasty rolls and the wine. What you will get here, is exceptional quality, cooked beautifully, in a restaurant offering something different to the norm. We had great service the day we were there, and the ambiance inside the restaurant was awesome. I would happily return to this place.
20 Rue d’Aligre 75012 Paris
- Restaurant is open everyday for lunch 12pm – 2pm.
- Open Thursday and Friday for dinner 7pm-9.30pm.
- No reservations for lunch.
- Closest metro – Ledru-Rollin