Les Philosophes, Paris – our Restaurant Review

Our favourite quartier of Paris probably has to be Le Marais (more here). We try to spend at least a few hours there every time we visit town. Usually we start out on Place des Vosges, built around 1600. We get two cups of take-away coffee from one of the cafes on the square, then sit on a park bench or on the lawn, depending on the season and weather, just watching people and enjoying the tranquillity and sheer beauty of the surroundings.

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We had been to a few good restaurants in the Marais over the years and thought we had done our research, but our latest ‘find’, Les Philosophes, must rank among the best places we’ve been to and certainly the best place to have Steak Tartare at in that part of town. Incredibly juicy and fresh and tasty. Spicy with capers and onions, but at the same time very smooth. The other dish we enjoyed while sitting at one of the outside tables and watching the people go about their business was smoked salmon, which was also terrific. Prices were around €18 per main, which is reasonable.

The restaurant’s premises initially served as meeting place for socialist workers in the noughties of the last century, with Trotski being one of the regulars. It was only in the twenties, that it was turned into a restaurant. During WW II the owners gave refuge to a Jewish girl that had refused to flee France with her parents. She remained a regular until the early noughties of this century, one of the few survivors of her family, most of whom had perished in the concentration camps.

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In the 1960s a rabbi bought the place and it was renamed “Aviv”. A decade later René Spindel bought the place. This educated man and his philosopher friends were the ones who gave the current name to the restaurant. However, their business sense was less developed than their capacity to search for truth, so the venue went to Xavier Denamur. Main exponent of the Cafeine group, it now attracts travellers as well as locals.

The restaurant is known for its high-quality, fresh ingredients. Service is efficient and at times even friendly. We came back a few times since, and always enjoy the atmosphere there, with a bit of the bustle and low-key elegance of a 1930s cafe. Apparently it featured in some U.S. American tourist guides and TV documentaries, which is why there are usually a few of our friends from the other side of the pond around, but that is all fine in our book.

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