Polidor, previously known as The Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor, after the cream deserts they served, like lots of cafes and restaurants in the Latin Quarter, is steeped in a rich history. Founded in 1845, it's said to have been a favourite of André Gide, Joyce, Kerouac, Miller and Hemmingway (where wasn't?), even making an appearance in Woody Allen's latest film 'Midnight in Paris'.
The last time I visited Paris was on a trip my aunt, where we spent a fabulous few days eating, drinking and pounding the streets of the city. We came here for the first lunch of our visit, and liked it so much that we ended up coming back a couple of days later. I bored The Ewing so thoroughly with stories about how wonderful it was before our trip that it soon made it onto the 'banned subjects' list.
Not to be deterred, I devised an itinerary that cleverly meant we would be in the Odéon neighbourhood on our first morning in France. Cunning. Being as the Ewing is easily lead when it comes to meal times, happily agreeing to visit if it would mean I would finally shut up and she could finally eat something, we soon found ourselves tucked up in a corner table, making inroads into a bottle of house red.
Luckily she was instantly charmed by the friendly waiter and classic dark wooden tables, mirrored walls, and red and white checked tablecloths (although less so with the "legendary" bathrooms, unchanged for decades and certainly not an experience for the faint-hearted). While the place is firmly on the tourist trail plenty of locals still lunch here too, and the cuisine is still firmly rooted in 19th century, with bistro classics such as snails, steak and ice cream sundaes.
Firstly, apologies for the slightly dodgy photos; I could blame the romantic French lighting, but in truth the vin rouge may also have had something to do with it. We both started with the fois gras from the Landais. When the unadorned slab of butter-topped liver arrived it reminded me why I love French food so much; simplicity and saturated fat. Accompanied by nothing more than a few crisp roundels of baguette and another glass of wine it was a little slice of perfection.
While Proust may have had his madeline moment I've got Polidor's hachis parmentier; served here as the plat du jour on Tuesday and Friday. When I first ate this with my aunt, sitting elbow to elbow with penniless French students eating steak tartare et frites and smoking Gaulioses, life seemed quite perfect. When I think back to that day it's easy to imagine rose-tinted nostalgia (and yet more red wine) clouded my memory, but sitting here in the same room, surrounded by the same mixture of scruffy academics and map-wielding tourists, it's somehow even more poignant than I remembered it.
The pie was exactly how I remembered it too. Rich chopped beef topped with glorious clouds of burnished potato. A handful of mustardy salad leaves helped mop up the gravy.
The Ewing chose the duck confit, served with a great heap of sweet and sour choucroute. The duck shredded apart into a glorious tangle of crisp, rich meat, while the cabbage provided an astringent counterpoint. Why on earth don't the Brits eat more duck legs (Aside from the fact the French have probably snaffled them all)? They're cheap, simple to cook and utterly delicious.
Apparently Polidor has one of Paris' better tarte tatins, not being an expert I must confess I found it a little bland. Both the base and apple layer were rather duvet-like, instead of being light and crisp, and the whole thing was desperately lacking hot pockets of buttery caramel. Served sans accompaniments it all became a little dry and cloying.
Adding a dolllop of the Ewing's rather decadent Caramel Liégeois to my tart helped make the whole thing far more palatable. On it's own the huge tower of rich caramel ice cream, bitter caramel sauce and sweet cream was pretty special, but combined with the piping hot apple and pastry it became quite brilliant. The Ewing, not renowned for her sharing nature when it comes to the sweet stuff, generously let me dig in.
Some memories are best left untarnished, some are best forgotten. Luckily my Gallic shepherd's pie was an experience well worth revisiting.