Paris, home to some of the greatest museums on earth, is also home to some of the most incredible cuisine in the world. How wonderfully fortuitous when the cultural and food arts can be enjoyed together. And outdoors, at that! So, here is a round-up of eight exceptional outdoor cafés and restaurants situated in Paris museums you may never have heard of…but, nonetheless, where you can enjoy the artistry on the walls, and then on your plate. Bon appetit!
16 Rue Chaptal, 9eme, 01 55 312 95 67
Hidden out of sight behind stone facades and down narrow alleys one occasionally discovers some of the loveliest secret gems of Paris; a village street, a quiet courtyard, flowering gardens, fountains, even a nineteenth century house that could have been plucked right out of the French countryside. One such find is the home of nineteenth century portraitist, Ary Scheffer, which now houses the Musèe de la Vie Romantique, named for the nineteenth century art movement. You enter the gate at 16 rue Chaptal, in the heart of the hip La Nouvelle Athènes neighborhood of Pigalle, stroll down the shaded path to a flagstone courtyard with outbuildings to the left, the main house in front, and to the right you discover a trellised wall of rose bushes which conceals one of the most romantic tree shaded café terraces in Paris. It’s easy to imagine Scheffer entertaining his friends Liszt, Chopin, Delacroix or Dickens here.
After taking in the Romantic Heroines exhibit (through Sept. 4, 2022), the garden café is the perfect place to contemplate and discuss the art you’ve just imbibed over a plate of artful pastries from Rose Bakery, the menu for which offers a constantly changing assortment of sublime sweets and snacks to enjoy in the picture- perfect setting. The carrot cupcake (their best seller) and cup of coffee offered the perfect respite. I also highly recommend the vegan red fruit muffin or the lemon rose cake, which was refreshingly tart; and the cranberry scone was both flaky and tasty. As a shameless chocolate fiend, my favorite treat was the marble cheesecake, a pastry that is as hard to find as a buffalo nickel in France.
27, Quai Branly, 7eme 01 47 53 68 00
Le Musée Quai Branly, on the bank of the Seine, is one of the most important world culture museums. Architecture enthusiasts will appreciate the fact that the building was designed by the world-renowned architect, Jean Nouvel (Guthrie Theater, Louvre Abu Dhabi, 53W53 in Manhattan). The museum’s Musical Instrument Tower features ten thousand instruments “across cultures,” and the Atelier Martine Aubert Hall is an eclectic collection “reminiscent of a cabinet of curiosities.” It also features breathtaking Aboriginal art on the ceilings, one of the building’s facades and the rooftop terrace floor.
After viewing the impressive world-culture (and the architecture) the museum itself has to offer, you can then prepare to be wowed by the food, design and view at either of the two Alain Ducasse restaurants in the Musèe Quai Branly’s large garden. On the ground floor, the elegant modern glass enclosed Café Jacques offers surprisingly affordable and very casual fine dining, pastries and baked goods. The menu of seasonal dishes includes classics such as, the croque-monsieur; salmon tartare with cucumber, granny smith and wasabi; a glorious gazpacho and a fish and a chicken dish. The stand-out for me were the vegetarian “meat” balls with tzatziki and finely cut vegetables in a light vegetable broth.
What elevates eating on the expansive outdoor patio to a near nirvana experience is the magnificent unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower matched only at the sister restaurant, Les Ombres, Ducasse’s latest white tablecloth marvel on the top floor of the same building. Thanks to Chef Alexandre Sempere’s towering talent, and the staff’s exceptional service, eating at this fancier restaurant is quite an experience. I was treated to a tasting from the lunch menu, with two perfect summer appetizers: a roasted green asparagus with smoked cod roe and coriander and a fine marinated mackerel from Brittany, with romaine lettuce and black olives. The main course – a grilled sea bass with fried artichokes, seaweed tum and garlic flowers – offered up a fine balance of textures and flavors signaling the work of a true artist in the kitchen. While the first two courses were hard acts to follow, pastry Chef Eve Minialai’s soft spherical chocolate cake was a worthy finale.
158 Bd Haussmann, 8eme 01 45 62 11 59
In 1869, as Baron Haussmann was transforming Paris, banker Edouard André and his wife, Nélie, constructed one of the city’s most sumptuous mansions which now houses their private collection as well as temporary exhibits that make this a world-renowned art-lovers destination. The gilded wood-work walls, paintings, sculpted pieces on period furniture and ornate marble mantle pieces, frescoes on ceilings overhead, and the creak of the detailed wooden parquet floors below create a truly immersive time-bending experience. The his-and-her bedrooms and the breakfast rooms give a sense of the daily lives of these famous collectors over a century and a half ago.
You can enjoy a light lunch as well as fantastic pastries in the museum’s regal café room or its spacious balcony overlooking the graveled courtyard. Main course selection is limited but delicious –I always go for the fluffy quiche. There’s an impressive selection of teas and luscious desserts, which are tantalizingly displayed in a case at the front of the room where you point out your choice to the server. My favorite is the pear tarte fine (from the amazing neighborhood patisserie, Les Enfants Gâtés).
63 Rue de Monceau, 8eme, 01 53 89 06 50
Keeping in the spirit of museums housed in magnificent mansions, the Musée Nissim de Camondo stands apart for its outstanding collection of furniture and decorative arts throughout the palatial home of a prominent nineteenth century French Jewish family. Nissim de Camondo was destined to take over the family banking business from his father, Ottoman Empire born Moise de Camondo. When Nissim was killed in action in WWI, his distraught father retired from banking and later donated his home and its contents as a museum in the memory of his adored son. Camondo had a peculiar habit of purchasing most items in his collection in pairs, so that if one were to be damaged, one would still remain, so there are lots and lots of twos of beautiful items.
The courtyard adjacent to the mansion was recently converted into a lovely restaurant with one of the most spectacular outdoor (and glass covered) dining spaces in Paris. The good news is that the food is as spectacular as the setting. The indoor portion feels very Soho, New York, while the garden patio is decidedly very Paree. The beetroot carpaccio with fresh goat cheese, roquette pesto and mustard seeds was outstanding. A chilled cucumber soup with crème de feta and croutons was a perfect summer appetizer. I was won over by the vegetarian main course, an eggplant and tomato confit, red pesto and scamorza (akin to mozzarella). For dessert I highly recommend the madeleines, perfectly browned and moist, which come with Valrhona chocolate dipping sauce, served with coffee. Sharing these is not mandatory, but hard to avoid.
VICTOR HUGO HOUSE, CAFÉ MULOT
6 Pl. des Vosges, 4eme 01 42 72 10 16
Places des Vosges, with its covered and columned arcades, is the oldest planned square in Paris, little changed since the time depicted in Les Misérables, and where you’ll find its author’s, Victor Hugo’s, house. Now it’s a museum with his memorabilia as well as his own masterful artwork. (Ironically he never exhibited or sold his artworks, but made them for his own pleasure and to share with friends and family.) After a visit, you can enjoy the pleasures offered by the lovely Café Mulot in the museum’s airy and tree-lined courtyard. Cheick, a particularly knowledgeable and gracious server, introduced me to some of Chef Rouillard’s divine desserts, pastries, and snacks. There’s an assortment of flaky quiches and sandwiches with fillings like the smoked fish, cream cheese and salmon eggs, which are all are served on elegant pain au lait rolls, as is the tarama tartine. But the sweet pastries are truly exceptional: a lime mousse and jelly confection with pistachio crème brûlée, and, the standout is a chocolate mousse with caramelized hazelnut sandwiched between a chocolate-almond and a fruit cookie, the magie noir. The entire experience is magical. Check the café’s website for outdoor music and author readings as well as neighborhood art and food tours they host.
23 Rue de Sévigné, 3eme 01 44 59 58 58
To better appreciate Paris, it’s worth a visit to the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of the history of Paris. There are several galleries of old hanging shop signs, a basement filled with early and pre-historic archeological artifacts, and the third floor has an unparalleled collection of revolutionary and Napoleonic memorabilia.
The expansive graveled courtyard is spotted with plants and seating for outdoor eating, serving a local and earth-friendly menu of snacks and sweets. After being immersed in Parisian history, you’ll find forward leaning and not-at-all Parisian dishes such as, a poached egg in a greek yogurt base with grilled eggplant and infused oil or there’s a zucchini carpaccio with feta and “punchy” condiments. The Kefta vegetarian hot dog with peanut and coconut sauce, onions and pickle looks promising, but I didn’t try it. Chocolate fudge cake with puffed rice and creamed sarasin, and the chocolate chip and hazelnut big cookie are mighty tempting.
PETIT PALAIS/ CAFÉ DU PETIT PALAIS
Av. Winston Churchill, 8 eme 01 53 43 40 00
Just feet from both the Seine River and the Champs Élysées is the opulent neo-classical styled Petit-Palais, originally built for the Exposition Universelle de 1900 (Paris’ 1900 World Fair), and then turned into a museum to house the art works of the city of Paris. Known for its resplendent mosaic tile floors, the museum, with its vast glass ceiling is an instantly recognizable Paris landmark. The Spirit of Art-Nouveau runs until September 11th, and an exhibit of the painting of the Italian portrait artist, Giovanni Boldini, who captured Parisian high-society, runs through July.
The garden café is a perfect oasis for refreshment seemingly far from the bustle just blocks away. Simple metal park chairs and tables dot the patio and veranda, encircled by grey marble columns topped with rich architectural flourishes. From any seat you have a splendid view of the imposing rotunda with its crescendo of details, sculptural reliefs and ornate picture windows. While there is a full-service indoor restaurant available, the very accessible, tasty food and cafeteria style self-service for those eating on the garden terrace is a refreshing counterpoint to the ornate surroundings of this lovely garden café. There is a seasonal assortment of terrific, composed salads–for example, a lovely chicken and tomato salad, which, with a dessert, can be had for under fifteen euros. (The place is also available for private events, catered by the premium Lenôtre Catering company and patisserie.)
Philip Ruskin is an External Lecturer (ESSEC Bus. School), Consultant (food & travel marketing), writer, drummer and regular contributor to Frenchly. He loves to bike around his adopted hometown of Paris. Find him here, on Instagram.
All photos taken by the author.