Food & Drink: Bourgeois, and Proud of It ; Unchanged for over 20 Years, Aux Fins Gourmets in Paris Is the Unpretentious Bistrot of Your Dreams
Rogers, Ben, The Independent (London, England)
Like all the best restaurants, we discovered it by accident. There it was, opposite the flat in which we were staying on the western end of boulevard St-Germain, away from the tourists. A modest-looking establishment, with an old beige awning and brown, heavily varnished doors: Aux Fins Gourmets, Specialites Basques et Bearnaises. We ventured in on a weekday evening. It was crowded but not packed, and we were offered a table. After a heavenly meal we vowed to return next time we were in Paris.
We recently did so and it did not disappoint. Aux Fins Gourmets is a place that Elizabeth David might have written about; unpretentious, well- oiled (in every sense) and quintessentially French. The bistrot of your dreams.
It was opened "some time after the War" by a M Dupleix, from the south- west, and is now run by his son. Judging from the walls, once white, then yellow, now brown, the battered wooden telephone kiosk and cracked tiled floor, it has not been touched since. I can't say how long exactly the menu has been as it is, but it must be at least 20 years. I know because when I asked for a copy I was given one from the late Seventies: the prices were lower then, but the dishes on offer were the same as they are today.
The waiters have also clearly been there for ever - as have some of the clientele. On our second visit we found ourselves sitting next to an elegant old lady, freshly coiffured, with sparkling jewels and a bright silk shirt - and two well-groomed young men. A brass name-plate on the table identified her as "Mme Lefevre" and she quickly identified herself as 97 years old. She and her companions, she went on to explain, had been eating at the restaurant on a weekly basis for 15 years, although it was only recently that M Dupleix, in an uncharacteristic display of initiative, suggested that they dine together. The trio had the extraordinary capacity of the French - I can't make up my mind whether it is admirable or deplorable - to talk endlessly about the food they are eating and about nothing else.
The Basque roots of the famille Dupleix are reflected in the presence of peppers, onions and tomatoes in three or four dishes, but most are familiar bourgeois classics: cucumber salad and leeks vinaigrette, foie gras and escargots, haricot de mouton, cassoulet and grilled lamb's kidneys. Only one fresh fish features, Dover sole, but this, lightly fried, elegantly filleted and served with buttery, steamed potatoes, proved meltingly good.
Servings are extremely generous; in fact many dishes come to the table in pots or plates from which you help yourself. Thus the couple on the other side of us from Mme Lefevre began with a pate which came in a pot for two, and were then served a large omelette basquaise from a silver platter. …