On Tuesday April 5, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo officially opens the newly transformed Forum des Halles, once dubbed “the belly of Paris” by Emile Zola. Les Halles goes back 800 years – the first food stalls were erected in 1269 – but new features in the €1bn, five-year project include an uptick in high-end retail therapy, bucolic gardens and a spectacular 2.5-hectare glass roof – “the canopy” – created by Paris-based architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziuitti.
Beneath the canopy, Alain Ducasse launches Le Champeaux Brasserie Bar & Lounge. Booking has just opened for the 180 seats inside and 80 terrace tables, with views onto the modern meadows of Seura Urban Architects’ Nelson Mandela Gardens.
“This is a first for Monsieur Ducasse,” says Gérard Margeon, executive chef sommelier for Alain Ducasse Entreprise. Margeon, who has worked with the 19-Michelin-star chef for 21 years, explains that, although there are Ducasse bistrots and restaurants globally, Champeaux is the first brasserie.
While bistrots are small and intimate with starched tablecloths, silver cutlery and traditional service, brasseries are large, convivial places where eating is more informal – they open every day of the week, from breakfast to late into the night, and often serve the same menu all day. “A classic brasserie dish is steak frites,” adds Margeon.
Culinary accents at Champeaux, interpreted by head chef Bruno Brangea, are modern spins on brasserie classics of oysters, boudin noir (black sausage), snails, foie gras, pot au feu, roast chicken, freshly baked crusty breads, seasonal cheeses and sweet and savoury soufflés. No doubt there will also be some chocolate-based treats from Le Comptoir du Chocolat, and French wines inspired by the 1900s (which match this type of food perfectly). “And, as well as artisan beers, we’re working on signature cocktails based on French, Italian and Spanish-produced wines and alcohols,” says Margeon.
Champeaux is an homage to the district where, in the 12th century, Louis VI (1081-1137), known as “Louis the Fat”, located the market that preceded Les Halles. It is also a tribute to the 19th-century Brasserie Champeaux, located near the Stock Exchange – one of Zola’s favourite watering holes, and often referred to in the author’s L’Argent novels focusing on the controversial financial world of the Second French Empire.
Fast forward to today, and Champeaux’s edgy interior design, by Paris Studio Cigüe, is in harmony with the revolutionary new face of Forum des Halles: very bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a slick use of raw materials, making for an exciting and contemporary space. A state-of-the-art airport-style electronic billboard conveys relevant gastronomic information during the 7/7 service.