You will either love Chez Janou or you’ll hate it. At least that’s the conclusion I came to after reading the TripAdvisor reviews. I’ll get straight to where I stand on the matter: I bloody well love it.
This Provençal restaurant close to Place des Vosges in Paris is no hidden gem. Look up #chezjanou on Instagram and you can spend a good 20 minutes scrolling through photos of tourists slurping on onion soup and serving themselves from a giant bowl of silky chocolate mousse. It’s clichéd, it’s cheesy (I’m not just talking about the soup), it’s pricey and if you don’t have a reservation you may well find yourself, like we did, crammed in between tables at an odd little bench-like half table. But it’s glorious. To come here for lunch is to be transported to the countryside in Provence (you’ll have plenty of tourists for dining companions there, too). The menu boasts all the bistro classics – pâté de campagne, moules farcies, coq au vin, pot au feu, and of course, good old French onion soup. Now, I love onion soup and it is almost impossible to find it on the menu in decent Paris restaurants, at least in the trendy Marais. Its reputation has been tarnished by the watered down or instant varieties, dished up one too many times in tourist restaurants around the Eiffel Tower. The soup I had at Chez Janou was a different story altogether. Deliciously savoury and rich dark brown in colour, as I dug in I unearthed chunks of beef from the stock, which I took as evidence that it had been made from scratch. The broth had just the right amount of sweetness from the onions: the sweetness that comes from gently sautéeing, slowly and steadily over a low heat. The soup soaked into the crusty bread topping, which in turn was topped by a lid of salty, stringy gruyère.
On a rainy day in Paris, Chez Janou’s sunny interior will cheer you up instantly. Vintage travel posters cover the yellow walls. Pretty jars of olives and jolly bottles of Pastis line the zinc counter bar. Chez Janou is so heavily themed that it is almost a parody. The waiters shout to one another as they weave through the tightly packed tables, gently teasing their guests. Mr Little Piece of Paris was mortified when they jokingly refused to serve him a coke, asking the diners around what sort of indecency this was (he was feeling under the weather). Of course, he ended up ordering wine to go with his petite friture de poissons – a crunchy heap of tiny fish, deep fried and served with homemade mayonnaise.
On a sunny day, if you manage to bag a table in the square outside, you’ll be even more convinced that you have left Paris behind for a cobbled village corner in Provence. Sip on rosé wine and tuck into stuffed tomatoes, prawns flambéed in pastis or roasted goat’s cheese with honey and rosemary as the sun trickles through the leaves of the tree that presides over the restaurant terrace. Watch as tourists and locals come and go – the former stopping to take photos of the postcard-perfect setting.
At Chez Janou you get unpretentious, Provençal comfort food, cheap wine and a holiday-like atmosphere. It is unabashed, over the top, well and truly on the tourist trail and to me, pretty much perfect.