You’ve got to try really hard to find a poor café in Paris; there’s a few rather dodgy joints around the Gare du Nord, and in the depths of Les Halles, but even the clear tourist traps along the Left Bank serve decent food at only moderately inflated prices.
So favourites are more a matter of mood than food, more emotion than calculation. I’ve long been a fan of the Café Panis looking out on Notre Dame, but it has slightly spoilt its copybook by having a Subway chain store built beside it, and a recent repaint that’s left it with a faint scent of faux.
So I’ve settled on a new official favourite, Le Nemours on Place Colette. It is tucked under a grand classical arcade beside the Comédie Française.
The menu is pretty standard fare: various croques, sandwiches and salads, although the names for these are given a local touch. La Molière is what is called elsewhere country salad; La Comedienne is prety much Nicoise.
Inside the long narrow room is decorated with paintings of grand era of 19th-century theatre. And miracle or miracles this is nonfumeur (non-smoking) – a rare such space to be treasured, although often very full.
But if the weather is fine pick your seat carefully outside – Americans can be annoying to listen to but they are rarely smokers so you won’t get caught in the slipstream.
Look out on the wonderfully mad Metro entrance, quite possibly at the queue for the cheap late tickets for the Comédie, should you be here late afternoon, and at the lovely highbrow bookshops across the square.
That kiosk is grandly titled “Le Kiosque des Noctambules”. To find an explanation you’ll have to descend the stairs to the Metro entrance, where a plaque explains that it was designed and put in place in 2000 by Jean-Michael Othoniel to celebrate centenary of metro. The official description says it has a two faces, the luminous and obscure, the former coing from the sky coming through the metal circles, the latter from the colour ceramic that fills some of them. Personally I just call it fun.
You are, lunch digested, only metres from the Louvre, a short stroll from Tullieres, or if you fancy some window shopping, or even real shopping if your pocketbook is bulging, the stores in the area are currently, so the writers on such matters say, the height of fashion.