Paris restaurants

(Important in The Mistaken Wife)

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century a new type of eating establishment emerged in France – the restaurant.  Previously, the public had to make do with taverns or caterers’ shops.  Caterers (traiteurs) sold cooked meats, ragouts, and pastries to take away, while taverns provided set meals at set times at set prices.  The innovation of the restaurant was vastly to expand choice.  Patrons could choose from a long menu of dishes, each of them individually priced and served at any time of day.  Thus the table d’hôte gave way to ordering à la carte.  When the Revolution broke up aristocratic households across France, many of the chefs fled to other parts of Europe, particularly England.  Some remained and became restaurateurs, however, and their expertise helped to elevate the range and quality of the food provided at these establishments.  Certainly English travellers were astounded by what was on offer.  Accounts of famous restaurants such as Beauvilliers and Robert’s mention menus the size of a newspaper requiring at least half an hour to study their contents, while the verdict on price and quality was generally very favourable.  The better Paris restaurants, too, were elegantly appointed and served a discriminating clientele.  The fact that women dined at these establishments also gave them a certain je ne sais quoi.