April 14 2010
Bettina von Hase
For several years, my parents rented a house in Burgundy in August, to spend three weeks en famille – in my case, that meant 30 members of a German family travelling from far and wide to the pretty town of Moulins-sur-Alliers. The way to get there from London was to take the Eurostar to the Gare du Nord, transfer to the Gare de Lyon, and then catch the 14.02 train. Each year my sister, her husband and I would work ourselves into a lather of excitement at the prospect of having an early lunch at Le Train Bleu, one of the most extraordinary restaurants I have experienced.
The Gare de Lyon was constructed as part of the major building programme launched for the Paris Exhibition of 1900, as were the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais and the Bridge of Alexander III. The façade of the old station still has some features of the belle époque, with its curvy, exuberant design and vibrant colours.
But when you go up the elegant double staircase to the dining rooms, the interior is its most astonishing example. Gigantic paintings, 41 in all, line the walls, depicting scenes from along the old rail network, sites such as Orange, Villefranche, Monaco, even Mont-Blanc, as the then PLM company operated trains to the Alps. The painting on the ceiling in the Gold Room, La Bataille des Fleurs, is by Henri Gervex (1852-1929), a friend of Renoir. As for the furnishings, every detail, including the chairs, red leather seats and coat racks, is preserved.
The waiters in their black suits are exactly as you’d expect from such an august Parisian establishment. And the food is, well, very French, and delicious: I recommend (from the bar menu) the snails in garlic, followed by Salade Niçoise and isles flotantes, a gooey egg-white and vanilla sauce treat. The restaurant menu, meanhwhile, has French classics such as steak tartare, roast leg of lamb, and crème brûlée with chocolate and crystallised ginger. For me, to eat there is to be on holiday.