Where to Eat: Lunch at Bistrot Chez Remy at Walt Disney Studios Paris
Published: June 27, 2014 at 5:05 PM
Walt Disney Studios Paris' only table service restaurant until now has been Café des Cascadeurs, serving a limited range of American diner staples such as burgers and hot dogs – essentially upgraded versions of what can be found at the park's many counter-service outlets.
The new restaurant's exterior, situated on La Place de Rémy, is styled well – Parisian sophistication meeting the right notes of unpretentious charm that should characterise a bistro. Our true introduction however comes not on the path outside but at the end of the neighbouring attraction Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy, which unloads with a direct view onto the new restaurant.
Setting restaurants into the layout of a themed attraction isn't a new idea. But what's unique to Bistrot Chez Rémy is how integral it is the to story of the ride – we see Rémy's team at work in the kitchen preparing the food, and reaching his restaurant is our reward for escaping Skinner. After all this, it would be a disappointment not to stop in and try the cuisine, non?
I can't think of another ride that serves so thoroughly as a sales pitch for a dining option – and the world we inhabit here continues with just as much attention to detail in the restaurant. The walls of the lobby area feature cleverly-designed awards in Rémy's name, a plaque bearing Gusteau's five stars, and other memorabilia that establish the narrative of the restaurant for anyone who's managed to skip the headline ride.
(It's a shame the logistics of guest through-put require us to break the “shrunk to the size of a rat” narrative between ride exit and restaurant entrance. A way to keep this through-line would have been a nice touch.)
The restaurant's décor comes to life upon stepping into the dining room. Impressively accurate to the final animated scene of the ride, almost everything has been custom-designed by Walt Disney Imagineering (in rat-scale, of course) to appear crafted from kitchen odds-and-ends – you'll find bottle-top chairs and champagne cork stools, and cocktail parasols above ramekin tables.
The furnishings managing to be comfortable and – unlike many theme park eateries – conducive to a pleasant eating experience, while always to consistent to the narrative world. In today's theme park landscape, culinary experiences drawn from guests' favorite stories are big business. So it's hard to overstate the importance of Disney getting this opportunity to engage with the Ratatouille world right. An environment as thoroughly and imaginatively custom-designed as this can't have been cheap.
Ratatouille-theming aside however, Disney's sights here definitely are set on recreating the classic bistro experience. And make no mistake, we definitely are in pink-checked tablecloth territory. When I spoke to Head Chef Ludovic Mallac – who moves over from the highly considered Walt's at the resort's original park – I asked him what had inspired the restaurant's design and menu. He spoke with knowledge and passion about the city's great bistros – they were keen for Bistrot Chez Rémy to follow in that tradition of simple, high-quality French staples with a twist of the chefs' own personalities. (In this case, “chefs” plural – the real man and imaginary rat.)
On the day, we were served a fixed menu chosen specially for the day. (Where possible, I've noted changes from the regular menu.) But guests will find the menu refreshingly limited – restaurants often damn themselves by overloading with too many options, but here the ethos is on a few items, done well. (And no doubt with half an eye on the quicker turnaround as a result.)
The entrée (UK: starter / US: appetizer) was a mixed leaf salad with grated cheese and an olive oil, balsamic and sesame vinaigrette. (At the media event the salad came with the addition of brie croutons, which I'm told have since – wisely – disappeared.) A good bistro salad should welcome you to the table with clean, fresh tastes and nothing overpowering, and this did the job. There was enough variety in the leaves to keep each bite interesting, and the tart vinaigrette sat well against the sweet cherry tomatoes.
If I had a criticism, I'd suggest the grated cheese wasn't necessary. There were enough flavours in here that the cheese overcomplicated the bowl and detracted from the lightness of the leaves – I pushed most of it to the side, saving my palette for a richer main course.
The plat (main course) was the house speciality – as it should be in any self-respecting French bistro – entrecôte, served with homemade ratatouille (of course), French fries and the chef's sauce. Listed on the menu simply as a “cut of grilled beef,” there's no guarantee what that cut might be when the restaurant is open to day guests. But mine on the day struck the right balance between tenderness and flavour, which would suit well the variety of families no doubt filling this restaurant.
I was disappointed after ordering my steak rare to find it medium-rare at best – pink, rather than a satisfying red, will little juice on the cut. As a Brit (where burnt-to-a-cinder is the depressingly default option for steak) it's often a struggle to get steak cooked how I'd like in bigger French cities – I assume my accent suggests I don't understand what I'm ordering. I'd had higher hopes for Bistrot Chez Rémy, but I'll know next time to be clearer, or just overshoot for blue.
(Perfectionists will no doubt be irritated by the plastic Donald Duck prickers, indicating how the steak has been cooked. I was having too good a time with the meat to mind too much, in truth.)
While the steak is the highlight, it's the ratatouille that patrons will no doubt have the highest hopes for. Perhaps because of that expectation, it turns out to be surprisingly low-key in its presentation.
Unlike the grand, artistic statement of Rémy's signature interpretation in the movie, it arrives here a simple bowl to the side, topped with a roasted baby tomato and slice of aubergine (US: eggplant). The taste doesn't disappoint however – the vegetables retained their individual flavours, and the dish as a whole had enough of a sweet note to hold its own.
The French fries were crisp and the skin an inviting brown – combined with a handful of watercress, they added to the rustic flavors of the plate. True to tradition, Mallac wouldn't reveal the ingredients of his sauce, despite my persistent interrogation. (It would be worth checking if you have allergies – a béarnaise is available on request.) With a good cut of meat and flavorsome bowl of ratatouille in front of me – and not being so much of a steak sauce fan – I didn't take more than a couple hits. But it had a pleasant creaminess that wouldn't detract from the meat, with some shades in there to explore if a thick sauce is your thing.
For our dessert, we were offered a surprisingly generous slice of Brie de Meaux, served with vine peach jelly and fruit bread. I found the jelly and bread to be over-sweet – particularly with such a mild brie – but perhaps this is a concession to visitors from outside France. It is a dessert option, after all. I used the table bread – cut from a simple brown baguette – to accompany the cheese instead.
There are more dessert options on the menu that for any other course, but I was impressed that Disney had chosen to make this simple plate the default option for our preview meal. Once my table mate and I discovered that there was a secret profiterole dish doing the rounds, however...
I can only assume this hasn't made it onto the restaurant's menu for its size. Bistrot Chez Rémy is likely to remain primarily a lunchtime restaurant for at least a few seasons – so after a substantial steak dish as a main course, I suppose there's not much call for this beast of a dessert. But it's a satisfying, indulgent plate – the crisp pastry crust and light filling taking the creamy ice cream and rich chocolate sauce well.
And the little icing version of Rémy makes a cute addition. (This was perhaps the only moment in the meal where the narrative of the restaurant jarred. I'd have felt guilty munching into Rémy if he hadn't also been surprisingly delicious for a block of icing sugar.) If the restaurant extends to dinner hours, I'd be surprised if the profiterole doesn't make an appearance.
As a final note, I think the espresso might have been the best I've ever had on resort. (Not that there's much in the way of competition – but it was an important success for a bistro experience.)
We were offered a variety of wines throughout the meal, with an emphasis on the two bottles created specially for the restaurant. (As a former film student, I was disappointed to find my cry of “If anybody orders Merlot, I'm leaving” falling on deaf ears.) The Lanson Champagne seemed to be the hit amongst our group in general, but for me, the highlight was the Saint-Émilion – which was particularly well suited to the meal chosen for us.
There is no a la carte option here – you pick from two set-price menus depending on how many courses you'd like. (Under-12s, interestingly get a dessert whether they want it or not with the Menu Petit Chef.) At €29.99/$41/£24 for the Menu Rémy (Entrée and Plat) and €39.99/$55/£32 for the Menu Émile (Entrée, Plat and Dessert, plus a non-alcoholic drink) Bistrot Chez Rémy isn't exactly a bargain – particularly considering the relatively insubstantial salad, for which there is no alternative option. (€16.99 for the Menu Petit Chef isn't a bad offer, however.) If you're visiting Paris as part of your trip, you won't have to search too hard to find an equivalent meal at a somewhat lower price.
But this is a solid table service offering in a park that desperately needed one. The opportunity to step off such an immersive attraction and continue your engagement with that narrative is an appetising one, and the attention to detail – both in the culinary offerings and the décor – are charming. If you're looking for something more nutritious, and not on a budget, Bistrot Chez Rémy is a welcome addition to the resort's roster of options.