Skip the art and go straight for a meal in museum restaurants that are rethinking food and design.
On a recent trip to Paris, I diverged from my usual spate of neo-bistros in Canal St. Martin and the Marais for a lively and delicious dinner inside Palais de Tokyo. Les Grands Verres opened this summer to great acclaim, adding to the already-building buzz around the museum restaurants in Paris.
"I actually think this is a recent phenomenon," Paris-based journalist and author of The New Paris Lindsey Tramuta says. "Paris had its own fair share of overpriced forgettable food and even their dining spaces were forgettable."
Tramuta points to the 2016 opening of Loulou at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs as a recent success in the space, combining a Joseph Dirand-designed dining room with an expansive terrace outside. "For Parisians, whether it is attached to a museum or not, it's simply a nice restaurant with outdoor terrace seating that overlooks the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens," she says. On a summer visit to the museum, the Loulou terrace was packed with chic Parisians sipping and laughing— one of those idyllic scenes that make you want to start researching how to move there. Add that to the restaurants that have taken up residence in must-see spaces from star architects like Frank Gehry (Le Frank at La Fondation Louis Vuitton) and Jean Nouvel (Les Ombres at Musée Quai Branly) in recent years.
The decision of Quixotic Group, which is behind cool-kid spots like Candelaria and Le Mary Celeste, to open in Palais de Tokyo is still an intriguing one. Why venture so far afield from the intimate spaces for which they are known? Joshua Fontaine, one of the three directors of the group along with Carina Soto Velasquez and Adam Tsou, says that their interest was driven by the space itself.
"We were interested in specifically the opportunity at the Palais de Tokyo because it is one of our favorite museums in Paris and completely unlike anything else here, or elsewhere for that matter," Fontaine says. "You can really feel the creative spirit of the Director [Jean de Loisy] and his team – it’s a place where anything can happen." The group saw a hole in the restaurant scene at museums that they thought they wanted to fill. "Les Grands Verres started from a simple premise: to offer museum visitors a restaurant and bar of equal or better quality than what they could find outside the museum," says Fontaine. "We found that for a long time the restaurant operators of museum restaurants in Paris took their guests for granted; they were, in a sense, a 'captive audience.' We wanted to create a restaurant that has great food and drinks, made daily in-house and treat our guests like they are regulars from the first time they walk through the door."
The menu is inventive and light with a Mediterranean tilt, with a fantastic wine list. The mix of the hip crowd, the delicious small-plate approach (don't miss the sweet potato appetizer) and the warm service added up to a wonderful experience in the lofty space tucked off the museum entrance. When the weather is warm enough in the spring, there will also be a terrace with an unforgettable view of the Left Bank (including the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.)
As Tramuta says of Les Grands Verres, "It's the best of old and modern Paris wrapped up in one." Great views, great design, great food, great experience – and did we mention the art inside after you're done eating?
Restaurants Worth the Trip to the Museum:
13 avenue du Président Wilson, 75116
8 avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, 75116
107 rue de Rivoli, 75001
27 quai Branly, 75007