Nestled among the many cafes and bars on the rambling Rue Vieille du Temple is a Marais institution, the pocket-sized cafe, Au Petit Fer à Cheval. The name of this cafe literally means ‘Little Horseshoe’ after its horseshoe shaped zinc and marble bar that dominates the small interior.
Au Petit Fer à Cheval exudes a personality that’s been cultivated over a hundred-plus years. Fortunately, not much has changed since it opened its doors. Reclaimed Metro benches for seats, patterned mosaics on the floor, elaborate mirrors, vintage posters, old clocks and gilt-edged lettering on the signs.
The renowned French restaurateur, Xavier Denamur, transformed Cafe Brazil into this retro bistro in 1989. He stated then, “this street will bring me luck”. Four of the venues on the Rue Vieille du Temple are now owned by Xavier Denamur – L’Etoile Manquante, La Belle Hortense, Les Philosophes and Au Petit Fer à Cheval. La Chaise au Plafond, around the corner in Rue du Tresor, is also in the Denamur stable.
Thankfully, Denamur argues for transparency in restaurant menus and supports a consumer-rights bill that will force restaurants to label that their dishes are prepared from fresh ingredients in their own kitchens as ‘fait maison’ or ‘home-made’.
The name of Au Petit Fer Cheval is very appropriate. It is small, very small. The tiny entrance, bordered by few tiny pavement tables, leads into a very tight bar area, bringing people and waiters together and forcing conversation. This is not a place for introverts or social phobics.
Past the bar is a dining area where the tables are so close that you will hear your neighbour breathing and possibly what they are thinking. You can have lunch and dinner throughout the day from Noon to 1.00 am.
We arrived about 2.00pm and managed to get a table. It seemed impolite in such a tight crowd to take photos of our meals. We chose the blackboard specials of veal (€12) and fish (€18) and a small carafe of wine (€12). All meals are served from a small servery that also doubles as the door to the kitchen.
The chef, Pierre Beco, is also known for his duck confit and Aubrac beef sirloin served with fried potatoes and green vegetables. Tarte Tatin with fresh cream is also a speciality of the house.
Their hot chocolate is real chocolate, smeared around the mug and served with a jug of hot milk, to add as you wish. It is ideal on a cold day.
The service was prompt, professional and efficient. All in all, a lovely atmosphere, good food and classic Parisian vibe. Be sure to check out the stainless-steel toilets inspired by the interior of the Nautilus submarine in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
If you’re looking for authenticity, you won’t get much closer to Paris than Au Petit Fer à Cheval. If you can get a seat outside, you’ll have a prime view as Marais is all about people-watching.
Au Petit Fer à Cheval
30 Rue Vieille du Temple 75004 Paris
+33 1 42 72 47 47
Hours: 9.00am to 2.00am (every day); kitchen open from Noon to 1.15am.
Metro: Saint Paul, Hotel de Ville, Pont Marie. Bus: 69, 96, 76, 67