Tuesday 11 March 2014

Sardines En Boite

Chartier - unchanged since 1896. They are impatient with tourists, expecting all customers to order instantly, eat and get out

Celebrity oldie and cook Mary Berry has betrayed British tradition by admitting that she serves cheese before pudding at dinner parties - read the shocking story here.

Now I can shed some light on this serious matter...

About thirty year ago I was dining alone in the famous Belle Epoque white collar workers' budget restaurant Chartier on the Rue Du Faubourg Montmartre, sitting opposite a middle-aged Parisian with whom I struck up a conversation.

He said he could not understand why the British served pudding before cheese. Why not, I asked. He replied in utter dismay (I translate) "Do you not see the appalling confusion for your palate of going straight from a savoury main course to a sweet pudding and then back to savoury cheese?".

I had no answer to his charge of first degree food crime and to this day I do tend to eat cheese before pudding.

Like most Parisians my fellow diner's family came from elsewhere but retained their roots - in his case in the Auvergne. He jotted down the names of a few bars in central Paris where fellow Auvergnats hung out to eat their famous sausages and drink their less famous but very acceptable wines - I went to two of them and enjoyed the hospitality of that remote and mountainous region in an improbable metropolitan setting.


In those days Chartier still served "sardines en boite" - meaning a tin of sardines opened and just plonked on a plate still in the tin - 2 francs (20p).

Sounds like a bare-faced Gallic insult...but actually it makes a nice starter.

I just checked and I'm afraid it's no longer on the menu at any price.