There are only a handful of Parisian venues with gardens (like the Clos Belle Juliette), especially in the heart of the city. La Démocratie, open since last December, is a restaurant with a very pretty little hidden garden, great cuisine, and a few frustrating little details to change…
In the early 20th century at 34 boulevard Raspail, the house in which he lived and died, thinker and politician Marc Sangnier founded the movement Le Sillon and created his own newspaper La Démocratie. The name is still to be found over the entrance to the building, and there’s also a plaque in what is now a “café – restaurant – garden”.
The entrance is small, with a high feeling that becomes a strangely low ceiling within a few metres, and it’s only after going up a few metal stairs (brand new) that you enter a fairly neutral room with some Chesterfield and approximately four tables…
It is without a doubt the garden that makes the place special. This green space, thin but quite long, with a large tree at the end, is wonderful – peaceful, refreshing, intimate…
The tables are far enough apart for you to feel (almost) like the garden is just for you…
Comfortably sat at our table, we checked out the menu. It has to be said, despite the name the prices are not very democratic – it’s 11€ minimum for a starter (foie gras is 16.50€) and main courses are around 30€ each. For a luncheon, that’s quite a lot, even taking into account the great setting.
More importantly, six months after opening, there seem to be a few kinks and details that haven’t been worked out or addressed. The serviettes are paper – not super chic – one of our forks was filthy, one of the wine glasses was chipped… These little things turned out to be part of a pattern, and more little problems were to come later.
For example, as a starter we decided to share a mozzarella (deliciously seasoned, with wonderful olive oil and lovely cherry tomatoes), but the bowl was simply placed in the centre of the table – we had to ask for a plate each in order to eat, and they take a while to arrive, which was tiresome as we really wanted to get stuck in!
For the main dish, we chose a filet of bass – not a huge serving but perfectly melty, with vegetables cooked to perfection and more delicious olive oil – and a “vegetarian plate with roasted vegetables from our allotment”.
The restaurant does indeed take great care in selecting the produce it uses – the website (scroll to the bottom of the page) gives lots of details. We learned that the vegetables are organic and that the ‘allotment’ in question is at the Château de Courances, where they are picked every Monday and Thursday, and received the next day.
Château or not, the vegetable dish was astonishingly good, with great scoops of lentils, richly-coloured vegetables perfectly cooked, a good mix of sweet and savoury flavours, and a simple but charming presentation.
It’s not often that a restaurant amazes us with its vegetarian option, so hat’s off to them!
With our main dishes finished, we ordered a cheese plate to share, a good choice and the perfect end to the savoury part of our lunch, especially with the great crunchy bread that accompanied it.
Unfortunately, things went slightly downhill from here, with a couple of awkward problems that could easily have been avoided.
For example, we ordered a dessert – the rum baba (the most expensive dessert on the menu at 14€). Two minutes later, a different waiter brought us… the bill!
We sent it back of course, and the waiter apologised, but afterwards the dessert itself took a while to arrive, and we were told that we could add as much rum as we like ‘within reason’ (à discrétion), meaning “don’t go over the top, OK?”. All this despite the fact that the bottle only had 2cm of rum in it anyway!
This indiscrete comment seemed a little unnecessary and mean.
Luckily, the baba itself was a huge success – light, heavily saturated with rum (thanks to us – and why not eh?) with whipped cream that was light and not at all sickly.
The meal was over, and we asked for the bill (after all, now was the time). The waiter said he would go and fetch it, and went inside. When he came out, he was holding cleaning products and proceeded to clear and wipe down a table. Then he went inside again, and came out again to clean a different table. Our bill was nowhere to be seen.
At this point, the restaurant was almost empty. No-one was waiting for a table, but our waiter spent ten minutes going in and out of the main room, cleaning up and wiping down. Meanwhile, we were still waiting to pay. I caught the waiter’s eye, he smiled, went back inside and came out… without our bill!
In the end, we got up and went to pay at the bar. Lunch for two came to around 100 euros. At that price, even taking into account the garden, a few of the problems we had experienced should be fixed.
We really enjoyed the food, but with a dirty fork, chipped glass, cheap serviettes, the bill arriving before we’d finished (and then not arriving at all), we left a little unsatisfied.
Let’s hope that the management team can correct these details – the garden is beautiful, the cuisine excellent, and it would be a shame not to go back.
The restaurant La Démocratie (here) is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11am-11pm non-stop, and Sundays from midday-4pm for brunch
Book by e-mail or telephone: +33 7 67 69 85 33
To check out all our photos of La Démocratie, click here.