In our current era of easily accessible services for food and travel facilitated by modern information technology we often find ourselves longing for the atmosphere of bygone days, sometimes forgetting that what we seek from that time was the privilege of the affluent few. Such experiences, if authentic, will often require substantial funds but one of the adventures with which you can easily embellish your journey to the French Riviera is dining at Le Train Bleu. Steeped in history, this establishment is filled with a distinctive and unique atmosphere where time and space fade away. Just be mindful of when your TGV departs. We didn't need to keep an eye on the time, having just arrived on the ever-comfortable Eurostar from St. Pancras, travelling no further than Paris.
Opening in 1901, marking the occasion of the World Exposition, and initially called simply ‘the station buffet’, this sumptuous brasserie was designed by renowned architect Marius Toudoire, who was also behind the Gare de Lyon’s facade and clock tower. He was commissioned to create a restaurant that would embody the grandeur of France’s upper-crust rail cars and services. The management of the railway company hoped to create an unmissable gourmet experience in a luxurious, modern and legendary setting. While it only gained its present name in 1963 – in tribute to a prestigious train line called ‘Paris-Vintimille’ that ran along the French Riviera in the 1860s – the restaurant elicits the charm, opulence and cheerful bustle of an old-school rail dining car. In 1972, some of Le Train Bleu's halls were listed as historical monuments: the restaurant, the gold lounge and the Tunisian and Algerian lounges, as well as the passageways and their decor. The establishment made a name for itself, as can be seen from the impressive list of celebrities who came flocking. The restaurant has also served as a backdrop for numerous film scenes, including Nikita and Place Vendôme.
The collaboration between Le Train Bleu and renowned French restaurateur Michel Rostang highlights sumptuous as well as regional cuisine. The two Maisons share a passion for high-quality ingredients and seasonal cuisine. Together, they have reinterpreted the legendary Station Buffet to offer a menu that combines French tradition with a wide range of culinary delights. The focus is on classic French cuisine with a few signature dishes such as Regional French roast leg of lamb, served at your table from the carving trolley with Michel Rostang’s potato gratin dauphinois. The service in the restaurant puts on a real show with flambéed dishes and meat carving performed with precision and care by a team of passionate maître d'hôtel. Thus you might say that Le Train Bleu offers travellers and Parisian customers a moment frozen in time, an experience that feels like the beginning of a fabulous journey of discovery through the most beautiful regions in France.
These seductive regions of the South of France are indeed easily imaginable while enjoying your lunch, every part of the ceiling depicts a possible destination, Aix en Provence, Marseille, Nice, Juan Les Pins, Cannes, all places that we love and know well as well as a few more. In the words of renowned French architect and civil engineer, Jean-Marie Duthilleul: “Conveying these images to people makes them dream of another world. Le Train Bleu was like a doorway to the Mediterranean in Paris and trains on the platforms are like ships setting sail for exotic destinations.” So it is apparent that Le Train Bleu is more than a stopover for travellers passing through the station and curious tourists. This establishment, whose excellent reputation has remained unchanged over the years, welcomes regular customers won over by the quality of its surroundings as well as its cuisine. In addition to the two large listed lounges of its restaurant, Le Train Bleu also offers a bar area composed of several small lounges with luxury decor. Its intimate and cosy atmosphere invites you to escape for a rendezvous or by yourself at any time of the day.
We almost felt a sense of regret not having booked the onward journey to the south but decided to stay in Paris. It seems the most fitting context for a visit to Le Train Bleu, to be destined to travel further, visit those places in the sun, those destinations adorning the ceilings. Yet, visiting this magical place gives you the opportunity to experience the wonderful sensation of stepping inside a time machine and finding yourself in the Belle Epoque. Here, you can kick back and relax before returning to everyday life. Give your taste buds a treat and feast your eyes on the 1900s interior worthy of a film set or a novel. Just imagine yourself to be the star in that movie, the protagonist in that novel. We did and we will again, sometime soon.