Originally created to cater to visitors of Paris’s Universal Exposition 1900, Le Train Bleu is one of the capital’s most beautiful reminders of the Belle Époque… If the dazzling decor alone would merit a trip, the cuisine has a special appeal as well.
Le Train Bleu? Travellers, native Parisians and businessmen and women all dine at the Blue Train for unique beauty of the surroundings.
The beginnings of this restaurant are linked with those of the Gare de Lyon. At the time when the Universal Exposition of 1900 was in the planning stage, the Compagnie Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée (the PLM) decided to build a new railway station with 13 tracks capable of handling tens of thousands of visitors. Designed by the architect Marius Toudoire, this monument has a 100 metre long facade adorned with allegorical sculptures and a clock tower 64 metres high. The station’s buffet, baptised Le Train Bleu, is also enormous, with an immense, richly decorated rectangular dining room, basket-handle arched ceiling, Caryatides, rococo mermaids, gilding, mirrors and 41 murals painted by 30 renowned artists evoking the most beautiful French landscapes traversed by the PLM railroad: a view of the Mont Blanc, Antibes, Marseille’s old port, the Lac du Bourget, etc… ‘No restaurant is more beautiful than that of the Gare de Lyon!’ wrote Louise de Vilmorin.
More precisely, Le Train Bleu is comprised of the Salle Dorée, 18.5 metres long and 11 high, whose name refers to the golden stucco covering the walls; and the Grande Salle, 26 metres long. Connoisseurs who desire peace and quiet know about the two smaller rooms favoured for business lunches: the Salon Tunisien and the Salon Algérien, decorated with geometric Arabian motifs and exotic landscapes. Having narrowly escaped destruction by the SNCF (French national railway company) after WWII, Le Train Bleu has been listed in the Historic Monuments Registry since 1972 thanks to the efforts of filmmaker René Clair and Louis Armand, former president of the SNCF.
Beyond the gorgeous setting, Le Train Bleu is also a very popular deluxe brasserie with a faithful clientele indifferent to trends and modes. ‘You won’t find emulsions here – the cuisine is quite traditional and portions are generous.’ At 50, chef Jean-Pierre Hocquet, who learnt the ropes at the Hôtel Intercontinental and the Plaza Athénée, shows his rebellious colours when he says, ‘The gastronomic-media-obsessed jet-set is not my cup of tea!’ For the past five years, his job has been to manage a 110-person team. ‘Le Train Bleu, that’s 600 meals daily with an average tab of € 75. We ask each customer how much time they have for lunch or dinner, and this requires a great deal of flexibility. The TGV menu at € 52 is served in 45 minutes; it consists of a slice of home-cooked foie gras, a beef steak tartare with freshly fried potatoes and a cup of coffee.’
Using only the freshest ingredients and traditional techniques, Jean-Pierre Hocquet concocts plentiful, time-honoured cuisine, including one of his (and his customers’) all-time favourites: roast leg of lamb with gratin dauphinois. ‘The entire leg is presented on a trolley and carved by the maître d’hôtel, which one rarely sees elsewhere nowadays,’ he says. A blast of the past! Other classics are crispy (boned) pig's trotter pancakes with horn-of-plenty and morel mushrooms; and, last but not least, the brisket of veal "forgotten in the oven" and caramelised, served sizzling with winter vegetables - a rich and succulent classic which hasn’t aged one bit!
But the one thing you mustn’t miss if you’re having a meal at the Train Bleu is the traditional baba au rhum: the maître d’hôtel sets it down in front of you, cuts it in two, douses it with rum and leaves the bottle and the bowl of Chantilly cream on your table to be used at will. You won’t find a more scrumptious old-fashioned dessert in all of Paris!
Le Train Bleu
Place Louis Armand
In addition to the TGV menu, the restaurant offers other choices such as the Réjane menu at € 49 (starter, entree, dessert and beverage) and an evening Tasting menu at € 96 (2 starters, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, coffee).