Steve’s best way to have a stressful meal in Paris
Welcome to Le Refuge des Fondus – the most ridiculous restaurant you will go to in a long time.
On a recent trip to Paris my friends and I made our way to this bizarre, little (an emphasis on the word little) restaurant in Montmartre, seemingly infested by tourists and lacking locals. It was such an experience!
Immediately you’re thrown into the craziness of the place: stiflingly hot, smelling of cheese, ugly and unreadable graffiti covering every wall, loud and raucous conversation all around you and everyone sat along two long tables, as if you were on some strange French summer camp. The actual size of the restaurant is approximately that of a corner shop and they make use of every square inch.
The usual French politeness is adhered to as they don’t just pull your chair out for you, but they pull out the entire table. The more daring of your party are then forced to make the treacherous journey onto a rickety chair, across the table covered in molten cheese and boiling oil, to the bench on the other side. Once sat down the truth quickly dawns on you that you won’t be getting up at any point throughout this meal as your means of escape, the table, is pushed over your legs.
I was one of the lucky ones, I got to sit on a chair on the other side.
Deciding to give myself enough space to comfortably eat my meal I sat down at a reasonable distance from the table, promptly to be ushered to push my chair in – apparently our meals had to be eaten whilst we inhaled our breath sharply. The actual table size would be spacious for one, comfortable for two, OK for three or four and downright absurd for the six people which now surrounded it.
At around this point, the below picture was taken, I felt pretty stressed:
One thing which particularly interested me about this restaurant was the lack of choice you faced throughout your whole time there. You essentially had power over two things: red or white wine? and, cheese or meat? The rest was already decided for you.
First of all you are given some tapas-like dishes, of which the spicy potatoes of death are present, alongside the classic gherkins and odd, bland cheese. Accompanied with this is a glass of Ros-ay (I don’t know how to do accents) with a rim dipped in sugar and a basket of hard-ish bread, necessary for the vital cheese part of your dinner.
Now, hopefully I’ve painted a somewhat insane picture of this place for you thus far, however the oddest is yet to come: you’re not given your wine in a sensible glass, instead you are given it in a baby bottle! What?!
Well, this resulted in numerous spillages of red wine on white clothing, twice from me, followed by the shouts of “has anyone got white wine? I need to put it on the red!” (On a separate note, this really does work, there’s no longer any trace of red, red wine on my white, white shirt). But I’ve got to say, the baby bottles did make the whole situation more interesting.
Once it appears that you have eaten approximately two things from the tapas dishes, they place the rest of them on your lap and forcibly put the fondue in its pride of place. The cheese fondue itself is good, enough wine, plenty cheese and refillable bread.
Once you’ve had your fill of nearly choking on your stringy cheese, they leave you to mull over the fatty crimes you’ve just done to your body and continue to ply you with more and more pieces of bread.
At this point it is customary to sing happy birthday, even if it is not anyone’s birthday it must be done. However, don’t expect to get anything free because every night is birthday night at Le Refuges des Fondus.
Finally, the ordeal is over and the sweltering cheese has been removed only to be replaced by the lovely bill. Now don’t expect to pay by card here, that’s not how they do it, cash is necessary and only cash is acceptable.
It may sound like I didn’t enjoy my meal, or my time at this restaurant, but that is preposterous. The whole experience was new and exciting – it stressed me out but I think everyone else was pretty chilled. I would highly recommend this place to anyone young visiting Paris – it’s vibrant, interesting and you’ll almost definitely get to meet someone new from the summer camp.
If I were to open a fondue restaurant, it would be nothing like this, but as for Le Refuge des Fondus, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Nor would I change my experience of it, it was a night to remember…