Over the last 20 years, the fabled Left Bank neighbourhood of Saint-Germain-des-Près has become increasingly gentrified, turning into a precinct of luxury boutiques and foreign-owned pied-à-terre flats. Consequently, it’s become a challenge to find a seriously good bistro meal in this much-loved part of Paris. There are Italian tables, pizza places and Japanese restaurants galore, but to the puzzlement of many visitors, good Gallic grub like roast chicken or cassoulet is tough to track down. That is why the locals are delighted that gastro-entrepreneur Alain Ducasse recently took over Allard, a storied but slumbering bistro with a décor worthy of the golden age of Hollywood. One of the last traditional bistros in the neighbourhood and a favourite power-table of French publishers – many of whom are based nearby – it was founded by hard-working Burgundian cook Marthe Allard in 1932 and has long reigned as a favourite with locals and travellers alike.

However, more recently, the kitchen seemed to have gone a bit slack and, as prices edged up, the locals regretfully started to back off. This looks set to change since Ducasse took over, as young chef Laëtitia Rouabah has shrewdly revised the bistro’s menu without deleting any of the classics which once brought in the crowds.

Working with first-rate produce, she changes the menu often, and on the basis of a recent dinner here, Allard is once again a charming address boasting solidly excellent traditional French bistro cooking. Among the starters, the one not to miss is the superb pâté en croûte by Arnaud Nicolas, a MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) charcutier. This dish is served as a slice of exquisitely seasoned pâté inside a buttery fold of pastry with garnishes of pickled vegetables. The garlicky escargots and the frisée salad with chunky lardon and croutons are outstanding, too.

Several of the finest main courses are served for two to share, the best being the roasted Challans duckling with green olives, with the sole meunière and roasted Bresse chicken also being serious temptations. The individual main courses, meanwhile, such as beef cheeks braised in red wine with carrots, frogs’ legs sautéed with garlic and parsley, and grilled salmon with Bearnaise sauce, are equally textbook-perfect bistro dishes.

Finish up with the profiteroles (choux pastry) with vanilla ice cream and lashings of hot chocolate sauce – made with chocolate from Ducasse’s Paris atelier, which produces some of the best in France – or the crème caramel.

Choosing between Allard’s two dining rooms, the one that I prefer is the cosy space at the front of the bistro, next to its large, traditionally zinc-clad bar.

Allard, 41 rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 43 26 48 23. Open daily. Average dinner for two €150.

Alexander Lobrano’s book Hungry for Paris is published by Random House. Find Hungry for Paris and more in our bookstore.

Originally published in the December 2013-January 2014 issue of France Today

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