Located in a corner of the Galerie Vivienne, a historic covered passageway in Paris, Le Grand Colbert is a traditional French brasserie that opened its doors in 1900. But the history of the site goes back much further. Tourists and local professionals come for lunch or dinner, not only for the fixed, reasonably priced cuisine, but also– if not more so– for the Art Nouveau dining room.
Serving hearty traditional French brasserie fare and large seafood platters, Le Grand Colbert is a great choice for visitors who want to enjoy a meal in iconically Parisian surroundings. It’s not a Michelin-star establishment, but this actually comes with a clear advantage: the restaurant is accessible to visitors on average budgets. It shares these qualities with other classic Parisian brasseries such as nearby Gallopin.
With its wall-to-ceiling mirrors, ornate murals, green plants and large zinc bar, the restaurant seems frozen in Belle-Epoque Paris, and that’s precisely its charm. There’s even an impressive, humorously pompous bust of the man the restaurant is named after– Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a minister to King Louis XIV– looming above one of the leather booths.
The striking tile-mosaic floors are identical to those found in the adjoining Galerie Vivienne, and with good reason. Before it was transformed into a restaurant in the early 20th century, the Colbert was part of a separate covered galerie, built in 1825 and a rival to the Vivienne. This long legacy led to it being named a Parisian Heritage Site. The Galerie Colbert, incidentally, still exists, and boasts a striking rotunda topped with glass and adorned with statues.
When you’re looking for a little luxury and tradition but need to avoid eye-watering prices, these traditional city eateries are a very good bet. Keep reading for more on the ambience, the menu, and why to consider booking a table here for lunch or dinner.
Arriving at the Colbert, the first thing you’ll probably notice is how spacious it is– a feature enhanced by the aforementioned mirrored walls. High ceilings, soft pink lights, painted wall decor and deep leather booths instantly throw you into a bygone era; the Paris of bustling boulevards and théâtres populaires. From the Folies Bergère (famous for hosting the likes of Josephine Baker) to the Théâtre de la Renaissance, these were theaters and cabarets primarily catering to working-class audiences, and they symbolized a bold new period of modernity in the capital.
There’s something eerily romantic about catching a glimpse of that now-quaint era, whether you’re wandering through the area’s many covered galleries and old-world shops, or dining in one of its historic restaurants. In any case, the sensation of stepping back in time is uncanny at the Colbert.
Of course, being as photogenic as it is, the restaurant has made starring appearances in numerous films and TV series. Most recently, a scene from the hit Netflix series Call my Agent was filmed at the restaurant. It’s also served as a set for scenes from films including Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give (starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton) and Luc Besson’s Angela.
While the elegance of the place may feel a little daunting, the Colbert is great for tourists in part because the vibe is prestigious without feeling overly stuffy. A semi-casual lunch is as possible as celebrating a special occasion for dinner, dressed smartly for a show at a nearby theater before or after the meal.
The servers are friendly, informative and helpful, willing to fulfill requests that might be met with an eyebrow raise or a flat-out “non” elsewhere in Paris. When I dined there with a friend whose one-year old baby was in tow with us, the servers graciously found us a table where we could comfortably fit the stroller to one side, and were also happy to adjust menu items to my friend’s special dietary needs. This is a real quality to watch out for in a city where restaurants are sometimes less than accommodating on these sorts of counts.
The Menu at Le Grand Colbert
Current owner Joël Fleury and his chef Steven Blondel offer a pleasantly accessible – if not especially inventive– menu of French classics, from blanquette de veau (a typical Gallic veal dish) to French-style rib steaks served with thick-cut fries. A la carte options include Sole Meunière with steamed potatoes, duck confit with garlicky potatoes and salad, roasted chicken, and beef tartare.
Meanwhile, there’s a large selection of seafood dishes and platters that can include oysters, lobster, shrimp, mussels, crabs, or all of the above, and are best enjoyed with a glass of dry white wine, such as Pouilly-Fuissé or Chardonnay. And while menu options for vegetarians and vegans are not abundant, in recent years the restaurant has offered creative, attractive dishes such as a vegetable “millefeuille” and vegetarian gratin.
(Please note that these menu items were accurate at the time of publication, but may change any time. Consult the official website for up-to-date menus).
But the fixed price menus offered at the same price whether for lunch or dinner may be your best bet, especially on a modest budget. Try the “Menu Bistrot”, which includes two dishes (starter and main course or main course and dessert) for 22.50 Euros, or three dishes for 31.50 Euros. Wine and beverages are not included.
Options for starters include organic soft boiled egg with parmesan and mesclun salad, French onion soup, escargots, six oysters, or green lentil salad. Main dishes to try include a delicately curried salmon and lentil option, which is mildly spicy and pleasantly creamy, with notes of fresh cilantro.
Main course options include beef cooked for seven hours and served with mashed potatoes; duck confit with polenta and mustard sprouts, and skate fish with capers and potatoes.
For dessert, the “cafe gourmand” is something I highly recommend: this is a traditional collection of French desserts in miniature form from macarons to Paris-Brest puff pastry filled with hazelnut cream, to mini creme brulées, all served with a strong espresso. All the cakes and pastries included in this favorite dessert of indecisive diners are delicious.
Other dessert options include Baba au rhum, a yeast cake dipped in rum and filled with cream; chocolate fondant (served hot), faisselle with red fruit coulis (a light, yogurt-like fresh cheese), lemon meringue tart, and on the a la carte side, a variety of French cheeses.
There’s also a children’s menu for kids 14 and under that includes roasted chicken with French fries, water with flavored syrup and ice cream or crème caramel for dessert.
The restaurant’s full drink menu includes French and international wines from white to red, champagne, cocktails, aperitifs and avec (after-dinner drinks). The hot chocolate and tea are also reputed to be good and are served primarily in the afternoon.
While you won’t necessarily get to sample the city’s most groundbreaking cuisine at this restaurant, the Colbert offers a pleasant, historic setting and good value for traditional French fare at lunch or dinner. The food is quite decent, and is especially accessible if you order a fixed-price menu. Desserts are especially good and the service is attentive and accommodating.
In short, this restaurant should be on your radar if you want to have a day out exploring the old covered galleries of the Grands Boulevards, and it’s also just steps away from the equally elegant Palais Royal.
Location and Practical Info
- Address: 2 rue Vivienne, 2nd arrondissement
- Metro: Bourse or Palais-Royale Louvre (line 1 3 or 7)
- Tel: +33 (0) 142 86 87 88
- Visit the official website
- Hours: Open daily from 12:00 to 01:00 (non-stop service); Afternoon tea is served from 15:00 until 06:00
- Reservations: Not required but recommended at lunchtime during the week and dinner on weekends
- Cuisine: Traditional French brasserie fare and seafood dishes. The full menu includes a la carte items and daily fixed price menus for lunch and dinner. Afternoon tea features cakes, teas and specialty hot chocolates.
- Payment options: All major debit and credit cards accepted
- Dress code: Business casual for formal attire is recommended (be sure to avoid distressed jeans and t-shirts; tie is not required)