Cafe de Paris – a Geneva institution

For more than 75 years, the charming Cafe de Paris in Geneva on 26 Rue de Mont-Blanc, a 45-second-walk from Cornavin, the central railway station, has been a local institution. And it’s still going strong, despite – or perhaps because – it only has one item on the menu: Entrecote Café de Paris avec les pommes frites et la salade verte for 39 SFr.

Cafe de Paris in Geneva

Your choice at Café de Paris is whether to have your entrecote medium or saignant. Every once in a while someone, usually a tourist, orders his steak well done. And that’s OK. The waiters are too polite to comment. Bear in mind that well-done here means you still have to work hard to keep your steak from jumping up and down on the plate. With the extra large cutlery, you should be fine, though. The forks can easily be used as weapons. Take care not to stab yourself inadvertently in the throat – from the inside.

Café de Paris is like a French bistro with red leather sofas, wood panelling and mirrors. The tables are so close together, you could pinch thin, crisp frites from the next table without being noticed. Very intimate, very cosy. Efficient white-shirted waiters, many of them well into their 60s, deftly manoeuvre gas burners and sizzling steaks between the tightly packed tables.

Here’s the thing. I don’t really like meat. I never eat steaks – except here. Whenever I’m in Geneva, I’m simply drawn to Café de Paris by some unseen magnet. It’s very weird. And like some wild carnivore, I devour blood-dripping steak that has barely kissed the grill. How is that possible? Must be the herb-butter sauce that’s bubbling all around it. The secret recipe, created by the proprietor’s father-in-law, Monsieur Boubier, in the 1930s, has remained unchanged. In his book The Last Days of America, Paul Erdman states that Café de Paris has the best entrecote sauce “of any eating place on earth”.

As always, the place is teeming with laughter and lively conversation in every language. Geneva is home to the UN after all. Everyone is busy chatting, except me. I’m on my own in the midst of people I don’t know, and will likely never see again in this lifetime. Shamelessly, I listen in on everyone’s conversation; taking notes even.

The clientele is never dull. Two elegantly dressed Genevois women in their 70s sit at the next table. We wouldn’t have to move an inch to greet each other with air kisses. Not that we do. They’re so busy with their mobile phones, they hardly have time to order. Elsewhere, a crowd of diplomats are discussing a Palestinian delegation. A man dressed like Liberace enters with a teenage boy. An elderly gentleman is enjoying his after-dinner cigarillo while reading the newspaper. He keeps looking at a picture ad for Lisa, mostly undressed, who’s only “too happy to satisfy your every request”. A man and a woman, both 60ish, look like they’re in love. They seem to be planning a trip to Cuba and she is lecturing on Che Guevara. It’s wonderful!

For dessert, I have mousse-au-chocolat. At Café de Paris, it’s as good as it gets; served in an egg shell made of thin white chocolate, bathing in whipped cream of the very dairy variety. Again, here’s the thing: I don’t really like mousse-au-chocolat, or whipped cream. And yet…

The air is ripe with the scent of meat, sizzling, spicy butter, discreet perfume, ripping matches, the slightly yeasty scent of a Pinot Noir – and smoke. All around me people are smoking. Café de Paris is not for you if you need a lot of personal space. Nor if you can’t stand the scent of Gauloises and smoke in your eyes with dinner. Here’s another thing: I kinda like my space and hate smoke. Yet I adore Café de Paris. Go figure!

This article was originally published in Boots’n’All in March 2007. When I was last in Geneva, in January 2010, Cafe de Paris was delightfully unchanged. However, as of 1 May 2010, Switzerland introduced a law banning smoking in public spaces, including restaurants.

16 Responses to “Cafe de Paris – a Geneva institution”

  1. katja 27 April 2011 1839 #

    ah, i love a good restaurant tip!
    will be sure to remember this place if i ever mke it to geneva!
    katja recently posted..Tree Camping

  2. Ayngelina 27 April 2011 2013 #

    I hate it when restaurants offer a book for a menu. If I only had 5 options I’d be happy, here with only one Id be in heaven.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Happy Anniversary to Me

  3. Bluegreen Kirk 28 April 2011 1600 #

    I guess if you like cozy this would be the place but I really like to have space and privacy when I go out to eat. i see that all too often people out to dinner and they spend more time on their phone then in the conversation with the people they came with. Why do you only eat their steaks are they really that good?
    Bluegreen Kirk recently posted..Steal A Page From Miami Vice With a South Beach Getaway

  4. Turkey's For Life 29 April 2011 1129 #

    Hmmm, I would have to be the philistine in the crowd and order well done steak – and even then, It still sounds as though there might be rather a lot of ‘pink.’ I do love a good steak though. This place looks really interesting – for the conversation, too. :)
    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Antalya Coast Shipwreck- Photo Story

  5. Jason 1 May 2011 0801 #

    Yum….sign me up for the steak!
    Jason recently posted..A Trip To The Supermercado

  6. Kim A. 5 May 2011 1008 #

    I’ve been to Café de Paris years ago. Loved it, so atmospheric. I love your description too, it takes me right back.

  7. Norbert | GloboTreks 13 May 2011 0240 #

    Just the fact that this restaurant is well known for its one-item menu makes me want to go there. I guess it must be really good… plus I love simple menus.
    Norbert | GloboTreks recently posted..6 Things to Do at Ibiza Besides Clubbing

  8. Raymond @manonthelam 13 May 2011 0612 #

    I like my space, but I Iike my steak even more, so I think I would be be willing to sacrifice… :)
    Raymond @manonthelam recently posted..Travel Photo of the Week — Getting Grilled in Göreme- Turkey

  9. John in France 13 May 2011 0716 #

    I’ve come across this before – it makes life so much easier!!!! The other thing you can find quite often in France is where it is actually a full set menu i.e. entree, mains and dessert (or cheese) – offering a full meal like that is wonderful. Just sit back and let it come to you – with even the wine included!!!
    John in France recently posted..Gardens in Paris- Part 3

  10. inka 13 May 2011 1407 #

    It seems to me that the conversations are ecven better than the 1 item menu. But, they do have more of a choice for desert, right?
    inka recently posted..The Pierre Loti Cafe in Istanbul

  11. adventureswithben 13 May 2011 1451 #

    That is one of the strangest restaurants I’ve seen.

  12. I love it that this cafe has made a living with one item on the menu! Why do we need page after page of choices? Sounds like a restaurant I would love but I too would have to order my steak on the medium well side :)
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Fabulous Friday- Discovering a Unique Festival in Germany

  13. Mark Wiens 14 May 2011 0238 #

    Sounds like 1 item is all they need. I just woke up this morning, and I’m drooling over a bite of that tender rare steak!
    Mark Wiens recently posted..Photo Favorite- Moorish High Court in Stone Town- Zanzibar

  14. Jeremy Branham 14 May 2011 0701 #

    That is a very interesting restaurant. I would love to visit Geneva and hope the rest of the city is as interesting as this place! :)
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..The 135th Sacramento Scottish Highlands Games and Festival

  15. Alice Dunn 12 August 2011 1711 #

    Only one item on the menu, they must have perfected it. I want to try it now! I’m not much of a steak eater myself, but I love to eat food people put a lot of effort in.
    Alice Dunn recently posted..Pay off your Student Debt

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