Le Chat Qui Pêche was our Paris restaurant. Not for us the pot-luck hunting out of a brand new bistro for every visit; instead we knew what we liked and we stuck with it. Le Chat Qui Pêche was small––at most 30 covers on a single floor––it was convenient––one street back from the Seine on the Left Bank, opposite Notre-Dame, at the end of a street reputed to be the narrowest in Paris––and the food was genuinely good, cheap, and unpretentious.
We tended to be as similarly lacking in experimentation in our choice of dishes as we were our choice of venue. The menu du jour remained fixed at a perfectly reasonable price of 12€ for decades, and gave a choice of three courses, although, as I have said, no choice for us: we remained ever faithful to French onion soup, followed by roast chicken, and with chocolate mousse for dessert. Sufficiently French to feel virtuous; sufficiently international to feel safe.
Despite its urban, touristy location, the restaurant had a rustic authenticity––it long sported a sign proclaiming ‘spécialités françaises régionales’––which, for us, set it apart from its more blatantly commercial neighbours. The window display was a tableau of a forest scene, with two toy deer standing in a glade of pine cones, wooden mushrooms, and woodchips. Anonymously––perhaps incongruously––we sent the restaurant a third stuffed toy deer, hoping without expectation that it might appear in their window and, there it was, the next time we visited, centrepiece of the display.
Over the years, waiters might come and go. However, the proprietor and one waitress remained a constant. She got to know us; saw our family grow up; witnessed my inability to speak French never improve. Le Chat Qui Pêche was our Paris restaurant.
And then it changed.
The 12€ menu du jour disappeared; the three deer––including our deer––were replaced. Le Chat Qui Pêche has become a crêperie. The little authentic Parisian restaurant, which we held so dear, had become subsumed by the pressures of commercial business. And with it, a myth was dispelled.
One of the things I loved about Paris in contrast to, say, London, was that nothing ever changed. But that is not true. Change is everywhere. And either you change too or you get left behind. As the French might say with a Gallic shrug: “C’est la vie.”
I would be only too happy to fall into line and comply: however, I really don’t like crêpes.