"Before the so-called Forts des Halles – the strong men who worked nights lugging meat and produce at Paris’s famed Les Halles wholessale food market – decamped for the suburbs, Au Pied de Cochon at five in the morning was the wildest party in town," writes Jay Cheshes in his article "Nighthawks at the Brasserie" for Saveur (issue No. 107). "As Paris awoke and the market disgorged its blue-collar workers, the nearby brasseries’s dining room and bar heaved with with life; haulers and off-duty butchers took their seats alongside Paris’s nocturnal creatures, who were only just winding up their revelries, and slurped oysters and chilled beaujolais.“
Apparently the place doesn’t really get going until after midnight and back in it’s heyday, it was not uncommon to find revelers passed out on banks across the street as the sun rose and the 9-5 set made their way to work.
Cheshes also recalls a story, retold by French food critic Pierre Rival, author of a book titled "Au Pied de Cochon", about French icon Serge Gainsbourg, a regular back in the 70’s. He "walked in with a coterie of hangers-on just before dawn. The place was bustling and Gainsbourg ordered lavishly...When the bill arrived, Gainsbourg, in one of his moods, refused to pay. 'Come, Monsieur Gainsbourg,' beseeched the waiter. 'Be nice.' The singer pouted: 'I don’t feel like paying.' Though Gainsbourg was a regular, the management was hardly prepared to forgive the tab. When a few gendarmes walked through the door, he finally relented, but only on the condition that the police officers sit down and dine with him. 'Then the police drove him home in the back of their van,' Rival said."
And so it was for a bit of this revelry, history, nostalgia and simple curiosity that we headed to Au Pied de Couchon at the slightly early but still respectable hour of 11 pm for dinner.
The oysters were divine – salty, fresh, slippery, good. My pied de cochon farci périgourdine, a boneless pig’s foot stuffed with foie gras kind of reminded me of a giant tatter tot. It was not bad but it did not impress the way it could have. Ellen and Sylvain were very content with their cote de boeuf and Alessia’s tartar was one of the best she’s ever had. Nathan was less than pleased with the sole menueirre and Eva found the „vegetarian“ options lacking (though I suppose one shouldn’t expect much by way of vegetables at a place called the Pig’s Foot).
The deco - kitsch? Nostalgic? Too much? Just right? Morg seems to like it ...
Ohh but the onion soup...
The pied de cochon farci perigourdine i.e. the giant tatter tot..
Apparently, you do not come to Pied de Cochon for the food; rather the atmosphere, the history. And atmosphere was abundant. At around 1 am, a Swiss theatrical group came in and sat down across from us. A group of Czech women broke into song at a table around the corner and suddenly, the curtains went up and it was SHOWTIME. The Swiss group followed suit and we sat back and enjoyed the show.
Morgan and I have been known to put on a raucous yet heartfelt production of showtunes while out in Kabul and so we thought what better time, in this palace of nostalgia, for an encore performance in the company of fellow late night singers. What we didn’t take into account however was that the Swiss group was professional – i.e. they did this for a living and we did it for temporary loss of proper reasoning. Regardless, after a quick "rehearsal" outside, we marched back in and after a brief word of introduction from Sylvain, we hit the Von Trapp family with a heartfelt rendition of „Consider yourself at home“ from the musical 'Oliver'. They politely exploded into an overzealous bout of applause and we took a bow and made like oysters and slipped out of there.
After a slightly average meal, but way-above-average convivial atmosphere and fellow dinner commaraderie, we headed home, another evening of French food and cantankerous company ending in song.