I would not be unduly surprised, if I discovered, on some future trip to Paris, that the legendary Café de Flore had been frozen in aspic, to preserve it for eternity, and declared a national monument by the French government. It is after all one of the grandes dames of Parisian cafés which opened its doors to the coffee imbibing public way back in 1887. And, of course, it’s a place where the rooms echo with the ghostly voices of some of the literary and philosophical greats (including Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Ernest Hemingway …) who ate, drank, and wrote there in earlier epochs.
The Café de Flore has a duality about it: on one hand it’s the quintessence of a Parisian café, and on the other it’s a bit of cliché beloved by tourists. The Flore divides opinion. I like it and often return to it when I am in Paris and I did so again, for a late lunch, on my most recent visit to the City of Light.
The café is on the Bouelvard St Germain, at the junction with the Rue St Benoit, in the swish sixth arrondissement, not far from: the banks of the Seine, a ton of interesting shops, and Notre Dame itself. The Flore has: tables and chairs on the pavement; a covered terrace; a ground floor room filled with dark wooden tables, and chairs and banquettes covered in red leather; and a first floor room decorated much as the ground floor except in neutral colours.
The waiters, who are all male, look as if the came straight from central casting: they hold their trays aloft as they weave their way between the tables, and in their black and white rig-outs, they look, for all the world, like penguins on roller skate as they glide around. They seemed to have drunk in Sartre’s dictum that – ‘hell is other people’: they are aloof and unsmiling. However they are polite and utterly professional and the food arrives pretty pronto, exactly as you ordered, which considering the café is an uber busy tower of babel-esque spot, is semi-miracalous.
I normally, when I am there for lunch, have the Flore version of Welsh Rarebit, which I love and recommend. However on my recent visit, in a bid to break my creature-of-habit ways, I ordered a Caesar salad. It was ok-ish, but definitely not the salad Caesar Cardini had in mind when he invented the dish, I suspect the slices of cheese on top and some extraneous ingredients may have had him spinning, like a gyroscope, in his grave.
The food the Flore serves is far from being the best, or the best value in Paris but nonetheless, I think, a visit to the Flore at some time on a visit to Paris is almost obligatory, if not for a meal at least to sample a coffee or hot chocolate while watching the world go by.